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THE SITUATION ROOM

Rick Perry Defies House Subpoena; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Syria Tensions; Ukraine Scandal Escalates; Trump Tries To Downplay Mulvaney Quid Pro Quo Debacle As Sources Say He's Angry And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Calls It A Confession; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Blasts Trump's Syria Troop Pullback, Calling It A Grave Mistake Creating A Strategic Nightmare For U.S. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:08]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: strategic nightmare.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasts President Trump's decision to pull back U.S. forces in Syria, clearing the way for Turkey's attack on U.S.-allied Kurds. McConnell calls it a grave mistake. And, tonight, he is pressuring the president to reverse course.

Perry refuses subpoena. The Energy Department has just informed House Democrats that Secretary Rick Perry will not comply with their demand for Ukraine documents for the impeachment inquiry, arguing that it's unfair and unconstitutional.

Cleanup chaos. A wobbly walk-back after Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted the administration tied Ukraine aid to investigating Democrats, then denied it hours later, amid President Trump's outrage. Has the White House clarified anything?

And U.S. arms in Yemen. Amid new fractures in Yemen's brutal civil war, we have uncovered new evidence that U.S. military hardware intended for forces backed by Washington are falling into the hands of rebels and separatists instead. It's a CNN exclusive.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, a key congressional ally blasting President Trump's decision to pull back U.S. troops in Syria, clearing the way for Turkey's offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.

In a blistering new op-ed just out tonight, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, calls the president's move a grave mistake and says the resulting fighting is creating what he calls a strategic nightmare for the United States. Also, breaking: With a subpoena deadline approaching, the Energy

Department has just sent a letter to House the Democrats saying that secretary Rick Perry will not be turning over Ukraine documents they're demanding.

And we're also following the Trump team's efforts to try to clean up the mess created by the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. He struck at the heart of the president's impeachment defense when he told reporters the United States did tie Ukraine military aid to that country's willingness to investigate Democrats.

Amid the president's displeasure, Mulvaney later tried to walk that back and said there was no quid pro quo.

We will talk about the breaking news, much more, with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary and Armed Services committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to the White House.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on the scene for us.

Jim, the president and his team want to move on from Mulvaney's remarks, but Democrats and even some Republicans aren't letting them.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump, he dodged the question today when asked about acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's admission of a quid pro quo connecting aid to Ukraine to investigating Democrats. The cleanup continued over here at the White House and up on Capitol Hill, as Republicans echoed the president's muted response to the Mulvaney mess.

But Mr. Trump caused more confusion earlier in the day of his own on his green light to Turkey's invasion of Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Station, this is President Donald Trump. Do you hear me?

ACOSTA (voice-over): After speaking with astronauts on the space station, President Trump tried his best to defy the gravity of the moment.

ACOSTA (on camera): Mr. President, do you want to clarify what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday? Was the aid to Ukraine...

TRUMP: I think he -- I think he clarified it.

ACOSTA: ... contingent upon investigating the Democrats?

TRUMP: And I do have to say this. We yesterday had a tremendous day in Texas. ACOSTA (voice-over): Pressed on acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's admission of a Democratic-dirt-for-dollar scheme with Ukraine, the president dodged, no surprise, as a source close to the White House said the president was not happy with Mulvaney's Briefing Room confession of a quid pro quo.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

ACOSTA (on camera): What about the Bidens?

(CROSSTALK)

MULVANEY: I'm talking to Mr. Karl.

That is going to happen.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mulvaney later clarified in a statement, there was no quid pro quo.

And while some top Republicans on Capitol Hill appear to be reading from the president's talking points:

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think you saw Mick Mulvaney clarify his statement.

ACOSTA: A growing number of GOP lawmakers are finding Mulvaney's comments troubling.

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): Well, yes. Whatever might have been gray and unclear before is certainly quite clear right now, that the actions were related to getting some -- the Ukraine to do some of these things.

ACOSTA: Still, the rarely seen White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, gave Mulvaney a pat on the back.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He did a great job. He mentioned the same message over and over and over. And now the media, of course, is -- we put a statement clarifying some of the things that the media got themselves in a tizzy over.

ACOSTA: The reaction from Democrats? Not so fast. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mulvaney's remarks a confession.

QUESTION: What's your reaction to the Mulvaney walk-back last night? Was that enough to satisfy your concerns?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I didn't find it the least bit credible.

[18:05:01]

ACOSTA: The president is trying to spin his way out of trouble, latching onto a "Washington Post" report that career diplomat George Kent talk lawmakers he had raised concerns in 2015 about former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine.

TRUMP: He excoriated the Obama administration and Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son, saying that he has tremendous problems, tremendous problems with Joe Biden's son and the Ukraine.

ACOSTA: The Biden campaign released a statement, saying: "On Joe Biden's watch, the U.S. made eradicating corruption a centerpiece of our policies toward Ukraine, including achieving the removal of an inept prosecutor who shielded wrongdoers from accountability."

In response to fighting in Syria that appeared to signal Turkey's violation of a day-old cease-fire, the president insisted he was on top of the situation. Mr. Trump then made the bizarre claim that the U.S. is somehow in control of oil assets in the region, something that's just not true.

TRUMP: We have ISIS under control. We have taken control of the oil in the Middle East, the oil we're talking about, the oil that everybody was worried about. We have -- the U.S. has control of that. And there are no shots being fired. And a lot of people are doing a lot of things.

ACOSTA: At his rally in Dallas, the president minimized the conflict between Turkey and Kurdish U.S. allies as a schoolyard fight.

TRUMP: 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 VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's policy in Syria, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just posted a scathing op-ed in "The Washington Post."

In it, McConnell does not directly criticize the president by name, but we can put this up on screen. It is pretty strongly worded.

The Senate majority leader says -- quote -- "Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies and weaken important alliances."

One other development to mention this evening, Wolf, the president has announced his new energy secretary to replace Rick Perry, who is stepping down from that post after being swept up in the Ukraine investigation.

Deputy Secretary over at the Energy Department Dan Brouillette has been nominated by the president for that job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, where House Democrats have just learned that Energy Secretary Rick Perry is defying their subpoena for Ukraine documents.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, on what grounds did Perry say he won't comply?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we largely, Wolf, see the Energy Department here making the exact same argument that the White House has in resisting their own subpoena requests, questioning and arguing about the validity of the impeachment inquiry, given that the House has not formally voted yet to start a formal impeachment inquiry.

Now, in a letter just sent in the last 30 minutes to the congressional committees, the Energy Department goes on to say -- quote -- "Even if the inquiry was validly authorized, much of the information sought in the subpoena appears to consist of confidential executive branch communications that are potentially protected by executive privilege."

And Rick Perry himself, he was out defending himself today, saying that he didn't see a problem with President Trump asking him to work with Rudy Giuliani on issues related to Ukraine.

But he says that the Bidens' name did not come up in his conversations with Trump, aides or the Ukrainians. But he does admit, Wolf, that the issue of corruption, writ large, did.

BLITZER: Sunlen, Democrats have packed next week with more witnesses. Tell us about that.

SERFATY: That's right.

Despite the White House opposition, the Democrats in the House have been successful in getting many key witnesses in. And next week is setting up to be potentially a huge week.

Just look at the schedule ahead. At least seven witnesses at the moment are on the schedule from the State Department, OMB, NSC, and the Defense Department. But perhaps the biggest moment of the week could come early on Tuesday, when Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, will be up here behind closed doors.

Now, he, of course, was one of the few people that we know, according to those text messages released from the committee that were handed over by Kurt Volker, that really expressed some outward concern about the quid pro quo. Here's one of those text messages, where he calls it crazy and asks

the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland -- quote -- "Are we now saying security assistance and White House meetings are conditioned on the investigation?"

Certainly, Democrats very eager to hear from Bill Taylor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they are.

All right, Sunlen, thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's get to this sharp rebuke of President Trump.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is now writing a new article in "The Washington Post," suggesting that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria is -- quote -- "a grave mistake."

The president wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. So, how significant is this rebuke of the president by Mitch McConnell?

[18:10:03]

HIRONO: This is one time when I agree with Mitch McConnell.

But, of course, as the majority leader, he can and should do more than write op-eds, because we have a House-passed bill that would rebuke the president, sense of Congress. And then there are other bills that would impose sanctions on Turkey.

So those are the kinds of measures that Mitch McConnell has within his power to bring to the floor of the Senate. And so he has to do more than this op-ed.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard, but McConnell says he wants stronger legislation than what was actually passed in the House of Representatives. You agree with him?

HIRONO: Well, great.

Bring all of this legislation to the floor, Mitch. Thank you. I'd love to debate and get on with it, because there's no question that the president enabled Turkey to do what Erdogan wanted to do.

And the so-called cease-fire is a total capitulation to what Erdogan wanted, which is to get the Kurds out of Northern Syria. So, this is a total capitulation.

And we need to bring all of this to the fore, because we have a president who's out of control.

BLITZER: You were briefed by the defense secretary, Mark Esper, yesterday, you and your colleagues on the Armed Services Committee.

Did you get any clarity on the president's decision-making process in all of this?

HIRONO: No. No. The fact of the...

BLITZER: So, what did you learn? So, what did you learn, if anything?

HIRONO: Well, since I can't talk about the substance, but what it is that is the conclusion I and others have drawn is that the -- that Erdogan would not have risked attacking Northern Syria if American troops were still there.

He would not have risked killing, even by accident, American troops. And the president removed that risk by withdrawing our troops. And so you get what we have now, which is chaos.

And for the president to describe this as -- this situation as a sandlot fight just goes to show how infantile his thinking is.

BLITZER: Let's get into some other issues, sensitive issues.

Yesterday, as you know, the acting right as chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged that military aid to Ukraine was in fact withheld in part because of President Trump's interest in seeing Ukraine investigate the 2016 election and Democrats at the same time.

He then, Mulvaney, tried to walk that back. But how concerning is this admission to you?

HIRONO: It is an admission.

So, great. This administration is very flagrant in its abuse of power and its corruption. And I suppose, Mulvaney thought, sure, let's just put it out there that there was a quid pro quo.

And, obviously, this didn't go over very well. So now they're trying to walk it back. But we all know what we heard.

And for the White House people to start once again blaming the press for getting things wrong? Please. What are we supposed to do, not believe our, what, lying eyes? Give me a break.

BLITZER: What, if anything, can you do? Because you heard just a little while ago, the energy secretary, Rick Perry, who is leaving, he's not going to comply with House subpoenas. Other White House officials are not complying with House subpoenas.

What are you going to do about that? What do you think can be done about that?

HIRONO: The House is going to be able to -- they're going to continue to proceed with their impeachment inquiry, which is a constitutional process.

And so this is all part and parcel of what could be considered another aspect to the articles of impeachment.

But what's happening, Wolf, is that you have two processes going on. You have the -- all of the policy and political decisions that are creating chaos for our country. And there's that going on, with the Muslim ban, the immigration, the trade wars, the latest going on with Turkey.

And then you have, on the other hand, the constitutional inquiry, impeachment inquiry. And I think people should keep it straight. And on the political side, we have a chance to rebuke this president

by going to the polls and saying we can't have four years more of this kind of chaotic decision-making that exposes our country to pretty much, I would say, the ridicule of the world.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead: President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani targeted by federal investigators from the office he once led in Manhattan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:13]

BLITZER: Tonight President Trump and his allies, they're trying to downplay the truly stunning admission by his active White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who told reporters the United States did, the United States did tie Ukraine military aid to an investigation of -- to an investigation of Democrats.

Let's bring in the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks for joining us.

So, what's your reaction to hearing the acting chief of staff, Mulvaney, actually admit that aid to Ukraine was, at least in part, tied to the president's desire to see Ukraine investigate Democrats on his behalf?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, on the one hand, my reaction was tremendous surprise, on the other hand, not so much surprise.

It's consistent with what the former -- the acting to ambassador Ukraine thought. It's consistent with what we understand the call to have been about. It's consistent with the readout of that call. It's consistent with what the whistle-blower was told by a lot of other people.

[18:20:08]

And so they're trying to make this about language and about talking points, when it's really just a recitation of what commonsense understanding and literal understanding of the word spoken must mean.

And so, when I was a prosecutor, we accepted confessions very happily. And often there's a debate in the world of law enforcement about whether or not you can admit a confession or how credible it is, because it's just the word of the cop or the FBI agent that someone confessed to something.

Here you have it on videotape with a room full of reporters. So it makes it that much more powerful.

BLITZER: Well, was it potentially a crime?

BHARARA: Yes, I mean, it can be.

And I'm going to say the same thing I have been saying like a mantra for the last number of weeks. Maybe it's a crime, maybe it's not. The central issue now is whether or not Congress will find it to be impeachable, because we know from the Office of Legal Counsel's opinions that the sitting president is not going to be charged with a crime, maybe after he's out of office, but that's a long time away.

The thing that's happening right now is a determination of whether or not -- because there's a formal impeachment inquiry under way, whether or not it's something that rises to the level of impeachment.

My view has been that you can make a very powerful argument that it rises to the level of impeachment even if there was no quid pro quo, if there wasn't an exchange for something, because the mere fact that a president of the United States is asking another leader of a country -- the leader of another country to investigate an identified opponent politically, so, for some political advantage, that itself is an abuse of power.

And their initial defense to all of that was, well, it wasn't an explicit quid pro quo. Lindsey Graham said that on television.

And now we know that not only was the initial request made, which I think is an abuse of power, but it's multiplied many times over by the fact that lots of people understand it to be a quid pro quo, and the chief of staff to the president of the United States said it and said, get over it.

And I don't think Congress is going to get over it.

BLITZER: Yes, you are probably right on that point.

Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani's role in all of this Ukraine material. Both you and Giuliani previously served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is now looking into Giuliani.

What are the potential legal implications of all of this for Rudy Giuliani?

BHARARA: That's hard to say.

So I would caution people not to read too much into the fact they're taking a look. There were cases that we looked at all the time. There were people that we investigated from time to time. Some became known, some didn't become known. And they don't always end up being a criminal case.

The office that I used to lead is full of very thorough, dogged, dedicated professionals. And if they see some smoke, they investigate it. And, clearly, they saw some smoke with respect to at least two of Rudy Giuliani's associates who are from Ukraine who have been arrested and charged with campaign finance violations.

So maybe he has some connection there, although they said clearly in the indictment that that scheme was hidden from the candidate and from other people.

It's possible, depending on how you construe the law, that really Giuliani, in connection with being the president's kind of ombudsman in Ukraine to try to figure out how to get through this quid pro quo that we have been discussing something of value back to President Trump, maybe there's a campaign finance violation or maybe something else.

We're told that they're looking at a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he was lobbying on behalf of government. His excuse seems to be that he was doing it at the behest of the president of the United States.

I don't know how you lobby the U.S. government, when you're saying you're also doing it at the behest of the leader of that government. So it's a little confusing, a little murky.

But I would caution people not to read into it too much just yet.

BLITZER: Yes, he was also making a lot of money from Ukrainian interests at the same time. I'm sure they're looking into that, as you correctly point out.

He's been pretty quiet this week, so I assume his lawyers are telling him this is a good time to remain silent, in the face of this kind of an investigation.

(LAUGHTER)

BHARARA: Could be. Could be.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, as usual, thanks very much.

Coming up, we will have more on the very messy attempt to clean up the Ukraine quid pro quo debacle by the acting White House chief of staff.

Plus, we will take a closer look ahead to a series of potentially key witnesses expected to testify in the impeachment probe next week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:48]

BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is downplaying the furor started by his acting White House chief of staff about whether there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Nia, Mick Mulvaney clearly screwed up yesterday. He said, flatly, there was a quid pro quo. Then he issued a statement, saying, no, there was no quid pro quo, even though he had said it earlier, for all practical purposes.

He also told reporters, "Get over it." Now the campaign, the Trump campaign, is selling T-shirts that say, "Get over it."

What is going on?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, maybe they will make a few bucks for the campaign with these T-shirts.

But, my goodness, it's hard to ignore what Mick Mulvaney admitted to yesterday. I think everybody was stunned that he essentially said, yes, that the money was held up because of them warning Ukraine to essentially investigate this conspiracy theory about the DNC server.

He tried to sort of flip-flop. But I think a lot of the damage has already been done. You heard folks, particularly Democrats on the Hill, say this amounted to a confession. You heard Adam Schiff, for instance, say, things just got a lot worse for this White House.

So it's hard to know how they sort of backtrack this, even though they're certainly trying to. It's unclear whether or not this was the unveiling of sort of a strategy that they have around this, essentially saying, so what, they did it, get over it, as the T-shirt says, and whether or not this is something that will continue.

[18:30:10]

We obviously saw them back away from it. We'll see what happens --

BLITZER: Kaitlan, what are you hear about how the president is reacting to this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, people around Trump were really surprised by Mulvaney coming out not only to announce where the G7 is going to be located but the way he answered those questions.

People were stunned that the chief of staff made that decision and came out because he was undercutting what the president has been denying for several weeks now in that form of essentially trying to dismiss these questions.

So it's surprised a lot of people. It's not just Democrats who are going after it though, Republicans too. Francis Rooney was saying, I can't essentially he just walk this back.

And the White House said Mulvaney clarified his comments. That's what the president said today when he was asked by Jim Acosta about what Mulvaney or about what the president had said. That wasn't a clarification. He essentially denied saying what he said on camera.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, what do you think?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, in the substance of what he said and the idea of get over it, Mick Mulvaney very deliberately or perhaps by -- inadvertently effaced a very bright line. Yes, the U.S. does in its foreign policy and its distribution of foreign aid sometimes try to condition that on the advance of national goals, our goals in the world, in foreign policy and security. It is a very different thing to condition foreign aid on contributing to the president's political, personal goals. I mean, that is a very clear bright line that he ignored in the substance of what he said.

And I do think however mistaken it was for him to do this, it's understandable that he felt that this is what the administration does. I mean, one thing Donald Trump does is say out loud things in the past you would not even mutter in private and then attempt to normalize them. And I think that's probably what he thought he was doing here and what the campaign is picking up on. But this is something that I think is so egregious and so fraught with legal peril for the president and political perils in terms of the impeachment that it was clearly an error to go in that direction on this front.

BLITZER: You think, Jeffrey Toobin -- and raise your microphone a little bit. It looks like it's falling down. I want to make sure our viewers can hear every word that you're saying.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's my first time on T.V.

BLITZER: I know. I can tell.

All right. So let's talk a bit about the blunder. Everybody seems to think that Mulvaney had made a major blunder yesterday. What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, Michael Kinsley, who was one of my mentors in journalism, used to define a gaffe as unintentionally telling the truth. And what he did was he told the truth. I mean, look at the evidence that has come out with all these witnesses who have said that American foreign policy was geared not towards the national interests but towards Rudy Giuliani's efforts to dig out dirt on the president's political opponent, quid pro quo. We'll give you the money if you give us the dirt. And that's what he admitted to yesterday.

It's a bad thing to admit it but this is what happened. And that's why the walk back sounded like the scene from the Wizard of Oz, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I mean, we could all see the man behind the curtain and that was the truth that Mulvaney mistakenly uttered.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more on all the breaking news that we're following. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and analysts. We're following the breaking news.

And it's pretty significant, Nia, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, writes an op-ed just posted a little while ago in The Washington Post a sharp, very sharp rebuke of President Trump's Syria policy, saying this. Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and Homeland less safe, embolden our enemies and weaken important alliances. How significant is that?

HENDERSON: It is a sharp rebuke of President Trump's policy but it never really mentions President Trump by name, right? I mean, he's critical of Obama, mentions him twice, and he's critical of the Democrats candidates running for president, he's critical of Chuck Schumer but he never really goes directly --

BLITZER: But it's clear what he's --

HENDERSON: It's clear who it is.

What's also clear is how far apart Republicans are from this president. If you look at this op-ed, what Mitch McConnell is asking for, he is asking that the U.S. limit Turkey's incursion, have a more enduring ceasefire, anchoring conditions of further reintroduction of U.S. troops. None of these are on the president's list of what he sees coming out Syria. He has basically said he has managed to get a deal that people have wanted for 15 years. It doesn't really make any sense because that's not really what's happening. Basically, Turkey has gotten everything out of this deal and the U.S. hasn't gotten much of anything. We'll see where this goes, right?

I mean, they're so far apart. You've heard Republicans talk about maybe sanctions. But what would sanctions do at this point given everything that's happened on the ground in terms of Turkey and Russia ascended in that region in a way that they hadn't been for years.

[18:40:03]

BLITZER: Kaitlan, you had a unique perspective. You traveled with Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey to work out this so-called ceasefire, as the U.S. calls it, the Turks call it a pause. And you came back with him. He then -- I understand he called Mitch McConnell. Clearly, it didn't have much of an impact on Mitch McConnell.

COLLINS: Yes, it's been an interesting position for Mike Pence because, of course, he's kind of seen as the liaison between the White House and Capitol Hill. Before going to Turkey to attempt to broker the ceasefire, he heard an earful from people like this who disagree with the president's decision to withdraw those troops.

So after he negotiated with the Turks for several hours on the flight home, we were told that he was making calls to several lawmakers, including Democrats, Republicans, the chairs of the relevant committees, we were told. But I've just learned that he also call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell obviously attempting to inform him of what happened.

But that conversation clearly didn't satisfy McConnell since he published this op-ed, condemning the decision today. And he doesn't name President Trump, of course, but he doesn't really have to. It's pretty explicit whose decision it is that he's disagreeing with it.

BLITZER: How significant, Ron, is it that these Republicans are now, without necessarily mentioning the president by name, but clearly rebuking, distancing themselves from his policy?

BROWNSTEIN: I think both parts are equally significant, that they are rebuking the policy but not criticizing him by name. I mean, to me, one of the most interesting things about this entire episode is what it says about President Trump's belief of his control over Republicans. I mean, he is at a moment where he needs the Republican Party to lock arms to defend him against an impeachment inquiry that is almost certainly going to lead to a vote to impeach him by the House.

And yet, during in the midst of that, he pursues a foreign policy in Syria that he knew was offensive to virtually every Republican, not just almost every Republican. And in the midst of that, he sends Mick Mulvaney out to announce that he is awarding himself the G7 meeting at his country club in Miami. Again, something that he has to know would be offensive to almost everyone in Congress.

And all of that says to me that he believes that he has the Republicans in Congress so under his thumb that they will stand by him no matter what else he does. And, I guess, Wolf, we'll see in the next couple of weeks whether any of them call his bluff on that.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Well, the real question, it seems to me, will the Republican opposition to the president remain the sort of Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Ben Sasse, sort of scaredy cat, maybe a little tiny bit of criticism but continuing to vote with the president on absolutely everything. That has been the rule so far.

The question is will it turn into actual opposition, will there be any Republican votes for impeachment, either the House and the Senate. We're starting to see that possibility, maybe Congressman Rooney in Florida.

But for the moment, when it comes to actual votes, the president seems in pretty solid shape with this party.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following, including a first for the United States in space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)