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Syria Tensions; Interview With Doral, Florida, Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez; Ukraine Scandal Escalates. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It says: "The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon discovery."

We reached out to Boeing. They say they are cooperating with the investigation.

So, Ana, as you said at the top, more problems for Boeing.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: OK. Rene Marsh, thank you.

Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera. You're watching CNN.

New fallout today for the White House today after acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo in this ever-expanding Ukraine scandal. Today, Mick Mulvaney is walking that back that admission, but the damage has been done.

His comments undo what the president has been saying as his defense now for weeks, that there was no exchange of any favors when he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

And Mulvaney's bombshell now caps a week full of them. Let's just pause for a moment and take in just how bad it has been for President Trump since this week began.

On Monday, in testimony that's part of the impeachment inquiry, Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is called a hand grenade for his shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. The same day, longtime U.S. ally the Kurds work with America's adversary Syria, after Trump failed to stop Turkey's advanced into the war-torn nation.

Then, on Tuesday, grieving parents from the U.K. say President Trump ambushed them at the White House with the American woman accused of running over and killing their son.

Wednesday, President Trump has a reported meltdown at a meeting over Syria, with his effort to smear Nancy Pelosi backfiring. And she ends up using his photo of her on her Twitter page.

Then, just yesterday comes the admission from the president's right- hand man that the U.S. withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that the Congress appropriated in order to push Ukraine to conduct specific investigations.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is joining us from the White House.

Sarah, talk to us about the fallout now that Mulvaney may be facing from his comments that he has since walked back. Any concerns he may get subpoenaed now in this impeachment inquiry?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Ana, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has already received a subpoena from House Democrats way back on October 4, so well before that press conference yesterday.

And, actually, the deadline for that subpoena is today, but Democrats certainly are scrutinizing what they heard from Mulvaney yesterday. Sources tell CNN that White House aides and attorneys were baffled by what they saw from the acting chief of staff in the Briefing Room yesterday.

The aides had prepared Mulvaney to go out and have a briefing on the announcement that next year's G7 summit will be held at the president's Doral Florida property. He had not necessarily prepared by those aides to answer the question at the heart of the impeachment proceedings, really, which is whether the president's decision to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine was politically motivated, whether it was motivated by his desire to see Ukraine conduct investigations that were politically advantageous to him.

Mulvaney confirming that.

Now, President Trump was asked by our colleague Jim Acosta today about this. He said he thought Mulvaney had already clarified what he said yesterday.

And, indeed, yesterday, White House aides realized pretty quickly that what Mulvaney had said was problematic. Within hours, they had huddled and released a statement that tried to backtrack on Mulvaney's acknowledgement that there was a quid pro quo at the center of the president's dealings with the Ukrainian president.

But, of course, Ana, the damage there already largely done, and just contradicting weeks of the president himself and his allies denying that there was ever any quid pro quo, denying that the motivations for withholding that aid were political.

CABRERA: Sarah Westwood at the White House for us, thank you for that reporting.

Now, part of the president's awful week includes the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry each day, either a former or current member of the Trump administration going before the House.

And after learning their testimony, it's not only Trump facing added scrutiny, but also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is getting blamed for failing to act when his ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was forced out as part of Giuliani's shadow foreign policy in Ukraine.

That's according to testimony.

CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood is here with the story on Pompeo.

Kylie, he's frustrated. Tell us why.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes.

So, in the past few weeks, Secretary Pompeo has gotten increasingly frustrated as this Ukraine impeachment inquiry has heated up. And there are a number of reasons for that, the first of which is that two senior State Department officials have resigned in the recent weeks.

They were close with Secretary Pompeo. He thought that both of them were doing a good job. He was frustrated that they both left. He's also frustrated because he's getting increasing criticism, claiming that he has not done enough to defend the outgoing Ukrainian -- U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Ambassador Yovanovitch.

But the thing here is that, even though he's frustrated, he's trying to distance himself from this Ukraine impeachment inquiry, writ large. So we have seen him traveling, keeping up his continued busy schedule. He was visiting Italy. He was visiting with the pope when Kurt Volker testified.

[15:05:15]

This week, when his current U.S. ambassadors were up on the Hill, he was in Turkey, along with Vice President Pence. He's been on the road. He knows that he doesn't want to get too intimately involved in this situation.

And he has done a number of interviews, but he avoids the specific questions. He was asked if he has done enough to defend Ambassador Yovanovitch. He avoided that question.

But as these officials go up to the Hill and give their testimony, he's being drawn into this controversy more and more. Ambassador Sondland said that he had just in recent weeks received a note from Secretary Pompeo saying that he was doing a good job and that he should keep it up.

So we know that Secretary Pompeo was involved and we don't have evidence that he set up guardrails to defend between the secretary, the State Department and what they were doing and what Rudy Giuliani was doing. And that is a real key question here as we learn more about the efforts of Rudy Giuliani and how the State Department was dragged right into that.

CABRERA: There's so much we continue to learn.

Kylie Atwood, thank you for that reporting.

Let's talk to an impeachment expert now. Guy Smith was a special adviser to President Clinton during his

impeachment.

And so thank you, Guy, for being an expert and voice and giving us all some perspective here on what we're learning.

GUY SMITH, FORMER CLINTON IMPEACHMENT ADVISER: Thanks.

CABRERA: This week has been fascinating, because the administration went from absolutely no quid pro quo to the White House chief of staff, the acting White House chief of staff, admitting there was a quid pro quo when it came to 2016 and the Democratic Party and investigation into all of that, to then him walking it back, to us learning that the White House is unhappy with his performance out there.

Is it time to start a war room?

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Yes.

I mean, this illustrates perfectly that there's no one in charge. No one knows what they're doing. Talk about a gang that can't shoot straight. This is -- this illustrates what is happening, which is all the wrong things, like Giuliani with Chris Cuomo week before last.

CABRERA: Right.

SMITH: In 30 seconds, he changes his...

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Change the story.

SMITH: Mulvaney changes it within an hour afterwards. What's going to happen tonight or tomorrow?

This is -- this shows that they're not prepared. And the real danger, in addition to not being prepared, is there are 100 jurors, the United States Senate. And think about the Republican senators. For months, everybody said, oh, the Republican Senate is going to protect him. They will not convict him.

But all of a sudden, there are lots of senators that are seeing polls at home, and they're all getting questions from real people in their states: Is this OK?

And, of course, it's not OK. And the other thing is, Mitch McConnell has ICE running through his veins. If he thinks he's going to lose his Senate majority, he will throw Trump under the bus in a heartbeat.

CABRERA: Wow, when you think about it, at that.

And because of your experience, I want to ask you just about, again, how the White House is handling what they are facing. And we're hearing that Mick Mulvaney was prepped before he went out there, although maybe not necessarily to talk so much about Ukraine, more on the Trump Doral G7 summit.

We also know that apparently Trump's legal team has distanced itself from Mick Mulvaney's comments. Why do you think they put Mulvaney out there in the first place?

SMITH: Well, they needed to defend this silliness with the Doral.

And that's another impeachable defense, the Emoluments Clause. But what happens is that, when there's no discipline and nobody in charge of the specific thing, impeachment, then what his answer should have been is, I'm talking about the Doral today, period, end of discussion, that's all I'm here to talk about, and leave.

But, instead, he just kept running his mouth. And we see what happened.

CABRERA: But do you think that they thought like, ooh, this is a good opportunity to test a new defense of some sort?

Like, let's just say it was all about -- the quid pro quo was all about 2016 and the DNC server.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: A lot of us keep trying to search for a strategy.

And, sadly, I don't think there's a strategy. I think they're just playing it by the seat of their pants. I mean, if the legal counsel doesn't know about it, the Justice Department says, it's news to us, and the press office, to the extent they even have a press office, the president didn't know about it, and he's the only communicator they got.

And he's not tweeting about it. So...

CABRERA: You mentioned the Senate and the Republicans in the Senate being again the ultimate jurors.

SMITH: Right.

CABRERA: If the House impeaches the president, it lands there.

I just spoke to John Kasich, former governor of Ohio, Republican...

SMITH: Right. I saw it.

[15:10:01]

CABRERA: ... who said he's there when it comes to impeachment.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KASICH (R), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: If you're asking me, if I was sitting in the House of Representatives today, and you were to ask me, how do I feel, do I think impeachment should move forward and should go for a full examination and a trial in the United States Senate, my vote would be yes.

And I don't say it lightly. This is extremely difficult for me, but it's what I feel I have to do. It's what my conscience tells me. You can't operate like this and withhold vital military aid for somebody because you're involved in some sort of a political -- political examination or pressure on a foreign government to do this.

It's inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: And yet he still stopped short of saying he wants Trump forced from office.

What do you think it would take for Republicans to get there?

SMITH: To be threatened politically, if Mitch McConnell suddenly thinks that Amy McGrath, who is the opponent in Kentucky, might win, and he's threatened because of this.

And what will happen -- and you're -- we're seeing it in the polls.

CABRERA: Right.

SMITH: It's -- the drip, drip, drip is showing the polls are going -- in favor of impeachment are going up, up, up.

And...

CABRERA: Right. Gallup's latest poll this week, a majority of people now are supporting impeachment, 52 percent to 46 percent.

SMITH: That's right.

And his approval is -- Trump's approval is not improving. His disapproval is getting -- more people are disapproving.

The danger for Trump and the danger for the Republican senators are women and independents in suburbs. Now, if you're in a red state and you're not up for reelection, then, at some point, you're going to look in the mirror and say, is this really OK? Is this the way -- did I get elected to protect somebody who's destroying the Constitution right in front of our eyes?

They're not even pretending. Nixon tried to hide it. These guys aren't even trying to hide it.

CABRERA: We will see what happens.

SMITH: Yes.

CABRERA: Guy Smith, thank you for your wisdom. Good to have you with us.

We have breaking news on the crisis in Syria. President Trump says the five-day pause is back on, after shelling and gunfire earlier today. We will get the reality from the ground.

Plus, the mayor of Doral, Florida, joins us after the White House says President Trump's own resort there in Doral will host the G7 summit.

And why Hillary Clinton appears to suggest Russians are grooming Tulsi Gabbard for a third-party run.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:15]

CABRERA: President Trump says not a single drop of blood has been spilled since his so-called cease-fire deal with Turkey went into effect 24 hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just spoke to President Erdogan of Turkey. We're doing very, very well with Turkey. There's a cease-fire or a pause or whatever you want to call it. There was some sniper fire this morning. There was mortar fire this morning. That was eliminated quickly.

And they're back to the full pause.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: He said that in response to reports of smoke that was seen rising above Northern Syria, the city of Ras al-Ayn, and while the White House says this is only a five-day pause to allow any remaining Kurdish fighters to leave that region.

Many of the president's critics have said he doesn't seem to understand the betrayal the Kurdish people must feel after U.S. troops were withdrawn from Northern Syria. But he has expressed loyal support in the past.

Here's a look back at what seems to be now an evolution of the president's stance on Kurdish fighters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We do get along great with the Kurds. We're trying to help them a lot. Don't forget, that's their territory. We have to help them. I want to help them.

Go ahead. What's next?

They fought with us. They fought with us. They died with us. They died. We lost -- tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS. They died for us and with us and for themselves. We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless. We want to protect the

Kurds. But I don't want to be in Syria forever. It's sand and it's death.

And I say, why are we protecting Syria's land? Assad is not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land? And Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, who, by the way, are no angels, OK?

So you have a 22-mile strip that for many, many years Turkey, in all fairness, they have had a legitimate problem with it. They had terrorists, they had a lot of people in there that they couldn't have. They have suffered a lot of loss of lives also.

And they had to have it cleaned out.

Sometimes, you have to let them fight. Like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight. And then you pull them apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a contributing editor for Atlantic Media's Defense One.

And, Gayle, I know you have a new book out soon about Syria.

That last bit of sound we just heard from the president was last night about what's taken place in the last several days. Turkey has 750,000 soldiers. The Kurds have some 20,000. And yet he's comparing this to a schoolyard brawl. What's your reaction?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, ATLANTIC MEDIA'S DEFENSE ONE: These are the folks that fought alongside the United States to defeat extremism.

And I know the president and the administration has been very focused on fighting extremism and on fighting the Islamic State. And these are the folks who more than 10,000 of their own forces died fighting alongside the United States.

[15:20:05]

And while every Gold Star family is tragic, in the fight against ISIS inside Syria, few -- there were fewer than five U.S. combat deaths in that fight. And that's because the partner force, these folks who we're talking about now, took the brunt of that.

And the question is, how do you protect those people, and how do you keep the pressure on the Islamic State?

And I had the privilege of seeing that area a lot in the past two years and meeting so many young women who led the fight against extremism and against the Islamic State, from Arab backgrounds, from Christian backgrounds, from Kurdish backgrounds.

And those are the young women who will pay the price first, if you talk about what happens in -- if the pressure goes off the Islamic State. CABRERA: And we're seeing some of the pictures that you took while you were there.

What do you think is going through their minds right now?

LEMMON: It's been such a hard 10 days, Ana.

I have been talking to folks who are trying to understand what comes next for their families, right? These were people, some of whom were trying to figure out who among the ISIS families could be returned home, if their nations would take them, and who among the ISIS families was really a hard-core extremist believer.

And these folks now have to go protect their own families because of the Turkish incursion. And so I just urge folks to think about, how do you get back to the negotiating table? How do you get folks to talk about a deal? And how do you really protect the folks who fought against ISIS from airpower from the Turkish side?

CABRERA: Did Turkey get everything they wanted out of this deal?

LEMMON: I was talking to a young man who has been just a tremendous voice for stability and security in this area.

And he said, look, we're happy because we weren't massacred, but it's just tragic that it came to this. And so, yes, there is a sense that Turkey got a great deal of it. And one dad said to me, we fought ISIS. We have tried to protect our territory, and now people are calling us terrorists.

CABRERA: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, thanks for the perspective.

LEMMON: Thank you.

CABRERA: President Trump is also under fire for planning the G7 summit at his own resort in Doral, Florida. Up next, the mayor of that town, who learned about this decision on TV, like everyone else, is with us.

And the list is growing longer. Two more retired four-star military officers are speaking out against Trump, including General James Mattis, after Trump called him overrated.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:19]

CABRERA: It's a first, the president of the United States using his office to bring a contract for a major event to one of his own properties.

President Trump's golf resort in Doral, Florida, near Miami, will host world leaders for next year's G7 summit.

CNN has just learned the resort was not even on the initial suggested list of venues because of ethics concerns. But the White House signed off on it, despite the optics.

And the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said it's not a conflict of interests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Listen, I was skeptical. I was.

I was aware of the political sort of criticism that we'd come under for doing it at Doral, which is why I was so surprised when the advance team called back and said, this is the perfect physical location to do this.

So I get the criticisms. So does he. But face it. He would be criticized regardless of what he chose to do. But, no, there is no issue on him profiting from this in any way, shape or form.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: With us now is the Republican mayor of Doral, Florida, Juan Carlos Bermudez.

Thank you, Mayor.

You were told about this decision when? And how did you find out?

JUAN CARLOS BERMUDEZ (R), MAYOR OF DORAL, FLORIDA: Well, Ana, first, thanks for the opportunity to be here with you.

We were advised back in June that there was a possibility of the event taking place at the Trump National Doral. Obviously, I really found out yesterday, when it was announced, more or less when...

CABRERA: During that press conference?

BERMUDEZ: During the press conference, probably when somebody called me about the press conference.

So -- but we were, to be fair, told back in June by the administration that there was a possibility that it would be in Doral. And we did find out yesterday.

CABRERA: What was your reaction when you heard? Were you upset you weren't told sooner?

BERMUDEZ: Well, look, I'm very happy it's taking place in Doral.

I since have spoken to somebody in governmental affairs in the White House later on yesterday. And I would have appreciated being given a bit of a heads-up. But, having said that, it's a great opportunity for the city of Doral, and one of the newest, most vibrant cities in the country. We're 16 years old.

And it's a great opportunity for us and also for Miami-Dade County to make sure that this event is a success, because it'll bring world leaders, not just the president, but six other world leaders, to our city.

But...

CABRERA: So you're in support of this?

BERMUDEZ: Yes. I am supporting the event. Yes, I am.

CABRERA: It was good news for your city.

But do you see any ethical conflict of interest issues here?

BERMUDEZ: Well, you know, Ana, it's -- that, I leave to people in Washington from both parties. I think that that's a discussion that I think hasn't been finished, and I'm sure it's not going to be finished any time soon.

I look at it, as a mayor, from the perspective -- and, you know, it's funny. In all these debates that we have across the country from both parties, I think