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Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) Discusses Trump Choosing His Doral Resort to Host G-7, the Syria Crisis, the Passing of Elijah Cummings; Hillary Clinton Suggests Russia "Grooming" Gabbard as 3rd-Party Option; Romney: Trump's Syria Decision a Bloodstain" on U.S. History; Op-Ed on Syria: Trump's Pushing Republicans Too Far on Syria; Mattis Hits Back & Mocks President Trump. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Next year's G-7 summit will be held at Trump National in Doral, Florida. And the White House insists it has nothing to do with lining the president's own pockets.

However, a source now tells CNN that none of the Trump properties were even on the original list of venues given to the White House because of ethics concerns.

In fact, people involved in the search process said they were stunned when the suggestion was made, despite Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff, saying this at yesterday's press briefing.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not the only place. There's others. There's difficulties with going various places. Some places don't have the transportation that you need. There was one place, I won't say where it was, that we had to figure out if we needed oxygen tanks for the participants because of the altitude. So, yes, there's limitations in other places.

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

I get the criticisms. So does he. He will be criticized regardless of what he chose to do.

But, no, there's no issue of him profiting from this in any way, shape or form.


KEILAR: Let's talk to Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown.

Congressman, you are on the Ethics Committee.

What's your reaction to this?

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD): Let me start by saying that the House Ethics Committee, perhaps, fortunately, doesn't look at the conduct of the president. That may be the government Oversight Committee and Reform.

Let me say, what we saw yesterday and what we're seeing is really unprecedented in which a president inserts himself into a procurement process. This would be problematic whether or not it involved a Trump property or not.

But the fact that it includes a Trump property, President Trump directing that an official government business, which is hosting the G-7 summit, be held at his property? That's self-dealing at its worst, if not all outright corruption on his part.

So we've been seeing this time and time again. We see it at the old post office where the Trump Hotel is here in Washington, D.C., and we host foreign officials. We see it with the U.S. Air Force, who are housing airmen at Trump properties in Scotland at prices that far exceed what they get at other properties.

This is a problem. And it has been for quite some time with this self-dealing president.


KEILAR: Mulvaney essentially said Trump does not need the money because his brand is strong. But it's certainly worth pointing out that Doral is one of his underperforming properties. What is your reaction to that case that Mulvaney is making?

BROWN: It doesn't really matter whether the president needs the money or not. It's a conflict of interest. Either it's an actual conflict or certainly an appearance of a conflict when the president of the United States injects himself into a process that is usually left to procurement officials many, many pay rates below the president.

He injects himself into this process, circumvents the law, the process that is in place to identify sites to host these types of summits. That in and of itself is problematic and ought to be considered so by the American people and certainly is by members of Congress.

KEILAR: You serve on House Armed Services. You are a veteran. As you are watching what's happening in Syria, the president is making a case that he's stopping endless wars. He's pulling U.S. out of Syria, even as he redeploys these troops into really the same region.

What do you make about his argument that this is about ending endless wars?

BROWN: I think we can all agree that we don't want U.S. servicemen and women in harm's way unnecessarily. But we also know that when there's a real threat, like ISIS and

certainly, in this case, in Syria, the likely reemergence of ISIS, and having a small footprint like we had with Special Forces in Syria to train, advise and assist a much larger Kurdish force, that is acceptable and necessary in order to ensure our national security.

What the president has done in sending Vice President Pence and Secretary Pompeo yesterday to Turkey, that wasn't a negotiated cease- fire, that was a capitulation. We got nothing out of that.

But what we did was we've emboldened Turkey to flood the zone with refugees, not worry about ISIS and who is going to ensure that ISIS doesn't reappear, and I think what we'll see is more civil strikes between the Turks and the Kurds in northern Syria. Unfortunately, it may cause us to have to return in larger numbers to Syria.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Congressman Elijah Cummings. He passed away this week. He leaves quite a legacy, especially in your state of Maryland. What are your reflections --

BROWN: Well, first of all --

KEILAR: -- as your state and as your caucus says goodbye to him.

BROWN: We say goodbye to a dear friend. And our hearts go out to his wife, Maya, his children, his family, and the city of Baltimore. He was a unique public servant with a keen intellect, a passion for the work that we do.

He could bring both of them together just at the right time for the right effect to really make progress on an agenda that was always focused on the people.

Whether he was wielding the gavel of the Government Oversight Committee or a bullhorn on the streets in Baltimore to bring calm to a city in the aftermath of Freddie Gray, you could always count on Elijah to provide the necessary leadership.

So our heart goes out to the family. It's a big loss for the country, for Congress, for the city of Baltimore, and it's a sad time now for our country.

KEILAR: Congressman, thank you so much. Congressman Anthony Brown.

BROWN: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Hillary Clinton appears to have suggested that Russians are, quote, "grooming" Tulsi Gabbard for a third-party run.


Also, after President Trump called him overrated, General James Mattis is mocking back at his former boss, mocking everything from his bone spurs to his love of fast-food.


KEILAR: Hillary Clinton says Russia is planning something big for the 2020 election. She says they've already got an eye on a Democratic candidate to back as a third-party challenger.

In a podcast with former Obama campaign chief, David Plouffe, Clinton called out 2016 third-party challenger, Jill Stein, saying she's a total Russian asset. And called President Trump, quote, "Vladimir Putin's dream."

Dan Merica is here with me now.

What was interesting was she was saying something about Russia grooming someone for 2020. Pretty clear who it was.

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: She doesn't say it outright but it doesn't take a detective to figure out who she is talking about.

She is talking about Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii congresswoman, who has been accused in the past by experts on Internet security that she's gotten more coverage than other candidates on R.T. and other Russia propaganda machines. She's gotten boosted on bots and trolls on Twitter that have been tied to Russia.

It's important to note that Tulsi Gabbard has ruled out a third-party bid and she denies all of these claims. They've been dogging her campaign for a few months now. She brought it up at the debate, saying there was a smear and it was baseless.

Take a listen to what Hillary Clinton had to say in this podcast.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): They're also going to do third-party again. And I'm not making any predictions but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate.


She's a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.

I will guarantee they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most need it.


MERICA: Now, obviously, Hillary Clinton is scarred from this. She thinks Jill Stein hurt her in key states.

Tulsi Gabbard is a little bit out of the Democratic norm when it comes to Syrian and foreign policy. I reflect on the fact we both covered the 2016 campaign. This is

certainly throw-caution-to-the-wind that we didn't see on the campaign. Some of that is because she was the secretary of state, dealt with Russia there.

And it's also because she thinks this election is so important and is going to make statements like this and on a book tour and asked about them.

KEILAR: Right. She's upset, she's sounding an alarm, all these things.

Dan Merica, thank you.

MERICA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Appreciate it.

The president's former defense secretary says he won't be candid about the president's action but then he mocks him pretty savagely with jokes. Was that fair?

Plus, we've noticed a pattern. The president likes to start a crisis, then demand praise for trying to solve. See what we found.



KEILAR: President Trump is declaring victory in Syria, saying his unconventional style won the day. But that is not how others see it.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory.

The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.

Are we so weak and so inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey?


KEILAR: Joining me now is S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator and the host of "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED," right here on CNN.

S.E., you have a new op-ed on called "On Syria, Trump is Pushing Republicans Too Far."

Tell us why it is this issue is the one that has animated them in this way? And why you think President Trump should be very worried about this?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": If you look back at the course of his campaign, election, and then his presidency, really nothing has gotten Republican Congress members to unite in condemnation of President Trump.

From Ukraine, to Russian election meddling, tariffs and a trade war to allegations of rape, I mean, you name it, Republicans have largely for the most part stood by Trump.

One issue, Syria, has time and time united Republicans almost immediately and vocally in condemnation of Trump. And that should be concerning to Donald Trump because of the timing.

You know, there's a mechanism now on the table. They didn't call for it, they didn't have to, but Democrats did, and that's impeachment.

If there are Republicans who were maybe concerned about some of Trump's actions, this has really got them worried, and might have them looking for an excuse to maybe break rank. Maybe, like, at the worst time possible for President Trump.

KEILAR: On something separate. I'm so curious to see what you think about what the former Defense Secretary James Mattis said. He was joking. He was joking -- some sharp jokes, you could say, in his comments he gave at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual event dinner where there's sort of a joking element to it. Listen to this.


RETIRED GEN. JIM MATTIS, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm not just an overrated general. I am the greatest, the world's most overrated.


I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress.


So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals.


I earned my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor, so.



KEILAR: What did you think about that? To me, I thought the Meryl Streep was self-deprecating and funny. But the part on the bone spurs

CUPP: Yes.

KEILAR: Certainly, people can have their assessment about the draft deferments that Donald Trump had. But this is his former defense secretary. This struck me as the president's former defense secretary calling him a coward.

CUPP: Yes, that's how I heard it, too. And, look, Jim Mattis is very cautious, as you know, about wading into politics. So I think, you know, finally he was unleashed in a setting where he thought he could joke about it. And it was funny. I'm not too prudish to find that funny.

But I want to point out, Trump criticizing people, you know, who are public figures that is fair game. But just yesterday, Trump was celebrating the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people. When people are criticized by President Trump, there are real consequences that they're not funny, as you know.


So for me it just, right now, at this time, while the president of the United States is saying the most terrible indefensible things about a very vulnerable population, making fun of his critiques, just feels, maybe, a little tone deaf. That's just me.

KEILAR: All right. S.E., thank you so much. I think that is a fair assessment myself.

And be sure to catch "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED," Saturday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be watching.

And just in, the president's response to his acting chief of staff outright admitting the quid pro quo in Ukraine then trying to walk that back. Is this a game-changer for Democrats?