Return to Transcripts main page


Some Republicans Slam Mulvaney for Admitting to Quid Pro Quo Case with Ukraine; Kurdish Forces Accuse Turkey of Violating Hours-Old Syria Ceasefire; President Trump to Host Next Year's G7 Summit at His Florida Resort. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Friday morning to you. Boy, this week has been a ride. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. And we made it to Friday, everyone. We're glad you're with us.

All right. Let's get started. Say it out loud and say it proud. At least at first, road-testing a new strategy, President Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in plain sight admits to a quid pro quo with Ukraine. After weeks of denials by the president and allies, Mulvaney claims holding up military aid for political purposes is just, you know, business as usual in the Trump White House.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he -- to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about.

KARL: To be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.

MULVANEY: We do -- 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.


HARLOW: Those comments didn't go over so well with Mick Mulvaney's boss. A source close to the president says he was, quote, "not happy" by Mulvaney's performance there. And White House lawyers are privately pretty worried as well. That likely explains why Mulvaney later tried to put the Genie back in the bottle claiming in a statement that what he said in front of the whole world earlier that day wasn't really what he said at all -- Jim. SCIUTTO: Yes, it's almost Orwellian, but we've seen that. All of

this happening at the same time and no coincidence, mind you, while U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Trump appointee, Gordon Sondland, was testifying to Congress that President Trump told him and other diplomats over their objections to work directly with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on all things related to Ukraine.

Let's make this clear. In the span of less than a month, the president and the White House have gone from attacking the whistleblower's biased and based on hearsay to granting much of what that whistleblower said while denying a quid pro quo to now conceding, even defending a quid pro quo.

Joining us now CNN's Lauren Fox who's on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, we've heard from Democratic lawmakers reacting to Mulvaney's comments. Perhaps not surprising. Some Republicans, though, are also expressing concerns. How broadly and how seriously have you heard those concerns?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the key word there is some Republicans are expressing concern. We heard from Francis Rooney yesterday who argued, you know, these comments were troubling, and he said that it's not a good thing that Mulvaney said what he said yesterday.

And then of course we heard from Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, who has broken with the president on issues in the past. And she said, yes, absolutely, that's a concern of what Mulvaney said. She said, "You don't hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative."

Meanwhile, while a lot of Republicans are still defending the president against this impeachment inquiry, I am told that there are some growing concerns about some details that are coming out of there, of course. The concern over Giuliani and what is still to come in terms of what we will learn moving forward -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

HARLOW: We appreciate it, Lauren.

Joining us to talk about this, Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for the "Washington Post," Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor, joins us on the law.

But let me begin with politics, Rachael. What was Mick Mulvaney doing? What was he doing?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, no, look, it's clear he was testing out a new strategy as you said in your opening there. You know, this whole notion of admitting it and saying get over it. We do this in foreign policy all the time. I mean, clearly, he was going out on a limb and very quickly was walked back by the president himself who was not happy with the strategy. I mean, the president has said there was no quid pro quo. This is

sort of the line he has taken over and over again even as we have seen this growing body of evidence that really substantiates this whistleblower concern that started this whole thing. We've had the whistleblower complaint. We've seen the transcript that substantiated that complaint and over the past two weeks, an increasing number of diplomats have come out and said that they had concerns about what they were seeing in terms of Trump sidelining experts on Ukraine, putting his allies in charge of Ukraine policy to specifically pressure them into investigating political allies.

Then you have Mulvaney admitting it, but once you sort of squirt the toothpaste out of the tube, you can't put it back in even though he's trying to walk it back. So it's a problem for them right now.

SCIUTTO: Renato, does the president's chief of staff credibly float that defense without the president's OK? Is it more likely in your view that this was an intentional strategy with the president's blessing?


RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a great question. I can't be sure what's going on in Mick Mulvaney's mind or Donald Trump's mind, but I agree with Rachael that this is something the administration has done before. I think one important question now legally is, to what extent does this lock in Mulvaney and other members of the administration going forward? In other words, if Mulvaney gave testimony, I think it would be very hard for him under oath to say oh, there's no quid pro quo. We don't do things like that, et cetera, given what he already said publicly on the subject.

And then I think the question is, would he be in a position to know, how involved was he in this. Is he just saying, you know, I was speaking for the administration but I really wasn't in the thick of this? I think he was based on everything that we know publicly. I think that creates a problem for other members of the administration like Pompeo who may also be called to speak about this later.

HARLOW: Guys, can we just take a moment and listen to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska? Because she is someone who is pretty measured. She chooses her words carefully. We don't -- I'll read it to you. Here it is. Look. So she was asked about the Mulvaney exchange. The quid pro quo admission. And she said, yes, comma, "Absolutely that's a concern. You don't hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative, period."

She's echoed a bit by, you know, Florida Republican Congressman Francis Rooney who will be on the show next hour. But are they again going to remain on this somewhat isolated island, Rachael, or is that going to become a growing chorus at this point?

BADE: I mean, there's clearly frustration behind the scenes and clearly Lisa Murkowski saying right now this is not appropriate. We haven't seen Republicans generally break with the president through this whole controversy. But, look, I mean, the administration right now is really playing with fire. I mean, Mulvaney going out there and admitting this is what was happening when Republicans were trying to sort of downplay it and sort of taking the no quid pro quo line that the president had directed them in terms of answering questions.

It complicates that and beyond just Mulvaney's press conference you have the whole situation with Trump saying or them announcing yesterday that they were going to host the G7 at his resort in Florida.

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: And increasingly, how are Republicans going to answer for this? I mean, a lot of them have been dodging questions from us saying that, you know, trying to change the topic and focus on the impeachment process. But these are things that you know if Obama was president right now, they would have already impeached him over this sort of thing. So it's increasingly becoming a problem for Republicans. I don't know that it's going to break them in terms of supporting impeachment. I'm still skeptical, but clearly they're in a very uncomfortable position right now.

SCIUTTO: Renato, the Doral G7 thing is explicitly, publicly steering a taxpayer-funded government contract to your own business. And he had his chief of staff come out there and say it. He didn't deny it. He didn't do it in secret. Explain to folks at home who may not be familiar with the emoluments clause or other aspects of federal law and policy. Is that illegal?

MARIOTTI: So in the Constitution, our founders who wrote the Constitution were very concerned about foreign influence in our government. And so one clause that they put that you call the Emoluments Clause essentially says that foreign leaders, whether it's -- they use the terms king or prince or any type of foreign government should not be providing gifts or any kind of emolument as a cash, any kind of money, to the president of the United States.

And so that's a very clear prohibition in the Constitution. But -- and it does appear to do that but it's unclear whether or not that can be enforceable in the courts.


HARLOW: Yes. Go ahead, Rachael.

BADE: Oh, I'm sorry. Just to jump in there. What -- I mean, this whole thing does -- the Doral situation, is it completely undercuts Trump's attacks on the Bidens and on Hunter Biden. I mean --



BADE: Republicans want to talk about, you know --

SCIUTTO: Yes. BADE: Biden's son being on a board and how that created a conflict in

Ukraine. But, look, this is the president, from the Oval Office giving contracts to himself that benefit his own bottom line.


BADE: I mean, if he wants to talk about Biden's son who is not even Biden himself, how does he do that without -- with, you know, this elephant in the room where he's helping his own bottom line?

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, Rachael, that would be the case in a world where principles still survived, right? We've entered this shame-free zone that it just -- folks don't make the connection. It's mind- boggling at times.

Rachael and Renato, thanks for trying to keep us sane. You made a little progress there.

HARLOW: We appreciate it, guys.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, despite the Trump administration's claims of a cease-fire, fighting appears to be ongoing in a key border town in northeast Syria. We're going to be live as only CNN can on the ground there.


HARLOW: Also, former Defense secretary James Mattis, like you have never heard him before. Taking jabs at the president.


JAMES MATTIS, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've earned my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor. So --



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. There are concerns growing in the GOP this morning. This after the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney stood before a group of reporters and seemed to admit that there was a quid pro quo over military aid to Ukraine.


At least, two Republican lawmakers have already expressed their worries publicly.

Alaska GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski called the comments absolutely concerning. Florida Republican Congressman Francis Rooney is going to be on this broadcast shortly, described Mulvaney's comments as troubling and quote, "not a good thing." I'm pleased to be joined now by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's also a veteran. Congressman, always good to have you on the broadcast --

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Good to be with you on such a slow news day.

SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly, nothing is happening this week.


SCIUTTO: Last month, you tweeted when the whistleblower complaint first came out, that there were two big unanswered questions --


SCIUTTO: That you needed to get more information on. One was, why was the aid to Ukraine suspended and, two, what role did Mr. Giuliani play in foreign policy. It appears that now we have those questions answered. I mean, you have a whole host of administration officials saying that they were told to route Ukraine policy through Giuliani.

And it seems based on that Mulvaney's comments, that there was a tie between the Ukraine aid and investigations going back to 2016. Has that changed your view on impeachment?

KINZINGER: No, it's -- look, it's quite concerning, and I think we're going to get more information as we're seeing this happening rapidly. It's one thing though to jump and say, this is where we are at, it's impeachable. We have to get more details of it. You know, with Mulvaney, I have no idea why he said what he said. He's walked it back since.

Was he talking about just general corruption or was he talking specifically about the Biden issue. The Biden issue would be what's very concerning because it would be using, if it's true, using taxpayer-funded aid and policy --


KINZINGER: For a political reason, which is totally wrong. Now, if it's general corruption, we are right when you hear people say that we do that all the time for corruption, but it depends on what the purpose is on it. So, a lot of concern in all of this and I think we're going to hear a lot more probably very soon.

SCIUTTO: You know the importance of this military assistance.


SCIUTTO: I mean, I remind folks on the air as often as I can. Ukraine is fighting a war with Russia, more than 13,000 people have been killed.


SCIUTTO: And during the time that -- I've spoken to Ukrainian officials during the time that this aid was suspended, there were shelling. People died during this time. Does that -- you know, does that -- even that possibility that this aid was somehow compromised, how significant should that be to Americans at home?

KINZINGER: I think it's significant and it's concerning. And we'll get more information on the details of it, I have no doubt. I have been begging for aid to Ukraine since this whole thing kicked off. The prior administration gave them thermal blankets, not lethal weapons, they now have lethal weapons.

So, we have to recognize that, that's a good thing.

SCIUTTO: Right --


KINZINGER: Now, within the intermediary -- and I remember sitting on a Foreign Affairs Committee and hearing that we were suspending this aid, at least temporarily and I was flabbergasted. You know, what's the reason behind it? And I think that was about that July time frame --


KINZINGER: And no doubt we're going to find out more.

SCIUTTO: OK, I want to talk about Syria.


SCIUTTO: As you're aware, the president was touting a cease-fire yesterday, the Turks called it a pause in the fighting. But there are reports this morning from our Kurdish allies or former, I suppose I'd call them on the ground, that there are already violations of that cease-fire. Is that a cease-fire in name only?

KINZINGER: It depends. I mean, any time you have a cease-fire, there's going to be skirmishes still, people that don't get the word they don't care. I think the next 24 hours will show how that develops. Any time, you can stop fighting, it's good. Now, the question is, what does this look like? I think Erdogan is meeting with Vladimir Putin shortly, like in four days.

So, in the midst of a cease-fire, what do they negotiate? We ceded effectively Syria over to Russia and Turkey. They are the major players in it, in Iran. So, when they get together, are they going to basically carve out Syria for themselves? That's a question and that's a concern I have. So cease-fire in and of itself, good, but a cease- fire that says now the -- basically, the Kurds have to evacuate, they have to get out.

De facto gives Turkey what they wanted through military objectives. And we still have abandoned our allies. We had to bomb our own military base --


KINZINGER: For God-sakes. It reminds me of Somalia and South Vietnam. And it's disheartening, and I think -- I think the impact isn't even being felt yet. We see an immediate, you know, action, consequence response to American isolationalism. But I think over the next decade especially, but even the next few years, the impact too when we need allies now --


KINZINGER: In the future is going to be felt. And it's -- you know, leaving is one thing. But leaving in the way we did in a hurry, where we have to bomb our own base for -- you know, it was the right move because we couldn't compromise it, but unbelievable.

SCIUTTO: As a result of this, is today's America seen as strong or weak in the Middle East?

KINZINGER: You know, I think weaker in the Middle East. I don't want to say weak, we're still America. We are the biggest power in the world. But our policy in the Middle East, and we have to be fair here. I do think the weakness started with the failure to enforce the red line in Syria. And it followed with the Obama administration allowing Russia into Syria. Russia's expansion, and then this administration initially started out good, enforcing the red line where chemical weapons were used.

And then last December when the president said we're out, he paused and then of course, this has put us in a far weaker position.


SCIUTTO: Yes, I have to ask you before we go about the president's very public decision now announced by his Chief of Staff at the White House podium that the G7; a major international summit, a massive -- you could call it, taxpayer-funded contract that the president's awarding it to his own property. Is that acceptable for a sitting president?

KINZINGER: No, I'm not happy with it. Now, when you -- I actually read the Emoluments Clause again yesterday, and it talks about, you know, titles and nobility and all this kind of stuff. I don't know if it's a direct violation, but it's -- I don't understand why at this moment they had to do that. I mean, do it in D.C., do it in Miami at a different resort, whatever it is. It's like an unnecessary throwing some out there --

SCIUTTO: What about the principle? I mean, it's like -- if you had a congressional event in your district, right, I don't know, let's say you owned a bar there, right? And sent the contract to that bar where you profit off, I mean, you wouldn't do that. I mean --

KINZINGER: I don't know, maybe rules against it --


KINZINGER: For even -- you know, the administration has different rules on some of those things, and even Congress does, we make our own rules. I wouldn't do it. I mean, I don't know. You know, the controversy about --for instance, the air crews staying in Scotland, I actually defended the president on that. Because I know DOD travel regulations, and there are decisions that are made not by a president, but by air crews that want to stay at nice places within the DOD guidelines.

SCIUTTO: Right --

KINZINGER: This is something that feels a little different.

SCIUTTO: So, a decision made by the president himself. Congressman Kinzinger, always good to have you on the broadcast.

KINZINGER: Yes, good to be here, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Poppy, back to you --

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: That was a great interview. That was a great interview. OK, thank you, Jim. Overnight, clashes in Northern Syria raising concerns about what the Trump administration is saying is a win, is a victory, is a cease-fire, but what are the Turks saying, and what does this all really mean because Turkey's president is dismissing reports of new attacks that others are seeing on the ground. What is going on?

Also ahead this hour, my conversation with the founder of Salesforce, one of the biggest leaders in all of Silicon Valley, calling Facebook quote, "the new cigarettes" and calling on the company to be broken up as Mark Zuckerberg tries to defend the fake ads that are running on Facebook.


HARLOW: Would you run these ads if you were running Facebook?


HARLOW: No question about it?





HARLOW: So, a major uncertainty this morning hanging over --


HARLOW: The so-called cease-fire agreement that the Vice President brokered with the president of Turkey yesterday. The SDF or the Syrian Democratic Forces say that Turkey has violated that already by attacking a town in Northern Syria this morning. Five people died in that attack. A safe zone was just not and still is not clearly defined by negotiators. So, it's unclear if this town was off limits or not. SCIUTTO: Yes, the fire is not ceasing. And by the way, the Turks

don't call it a cease-fire, they call it --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: A pause.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Vice President Pence, he referred to the five-day break as a cease-fire, Turkey not on the same page. CNN's Arwa Damon joins us now from the Turkey-Syria border. So, tell us what you're seeing here. You're on the ground, the president has touted this as a major victory, a cease-fire. Has the fire ceased?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on what kind of fires you're talking about there. In terms of what we're hearing from this specific point, which is inside Turkey overlooking though, in the distance the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn. This is one of the areas that is actually contested at this point and it is in that area where the Kurds are saying that strike you were just referring to took place.

It has been fairly quiet throughout the course of the day that we have been here. But we were talking to some residents who live in the Turkish town on the Turkish side of the border. And they say that even after the cease-fire, they were still hearing the sounds of gunfire and explosions, and even some this morning as well.

Despite that, though, Turkey is saying that it is still abiding by this agreement, and the president himself is denying any sort of major reports of violence that are said to have taken place this morning. Now, this is what's quite interesting when we look at the different ways that this agreement is actually being interpreted, because for Turkey, the agreement is very clear.

The YPG, the Kurdish fighting force is going to get out of the area that Turkey wants as a safe zone. And that area spans some 18 miles into Syria, and then goes from the Euphrates River hundreds of miles all the way to the border with Iraq. And Turkey basically is saying, as long as a YPG gets out of that zone by Tuesday night, then they will continue with this suspension and hostilities. If they don't, they are vowing that they will resume this operation with even more determination than before.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, it's basically an enforced retreat by America's allies --

DAMON: Yes --

SCIUTTO: There on the ground. Arwa Damon, good to have you there and thank you for being close to the fighting for us. Our folks always taking risks. After an absolute whirlwind of a week, it could be easy to lose track of all the chaos unfolding in Washington. So, we're going to take a step back now to absorb everything that's happened here. To take a breath and it's worth listening. HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Starting Sunday when Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that President Trump was ordering the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops out of Northern Syria, this even after Turkey had launched a military offensive into the country, threatening --