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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Crisis in Syria. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:34:21]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our world lead today, facing criticism that he abandoned the Kurds and effectively green-lit their slaughter, a defiant President Trump said today that the U.S. never promised to protect the staunch U.S. ally forever.

This comes as Kurdish civilians delivered an unmistakable message of despair and frustration towards evacuating U.S. troops who are withdrawing from Syria, hurling rotten potatoes at American convoys.

As CNN's Barbara Starr reports, a small number of U.S. troops may remain in parts of Syria to stop ISIS from regaining strength.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A convoy of U.S. troops leaving Northern Syria pelted with vegetables by protesting Kurds, and unprecedented language for an American commander in chief.

[16:35:07]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would much easier for me to let our soldiers be there let, them continue to die.

STARR: Instead, a possible expanded role for some U.S. troops that are staying behind in Syria for the next several weeks.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our forces will remain in the towns that are located near the oil fields. The purpose of those forces -- a purpose of those forces, working with the SDF, is to deny access to those oil fields by ISIS and others.

STARR: U.S. officials say their proposal is for some 200 Special Forces to stay in Syria for now to protect oil fields and fight ISIS with limited support close by.

But using U.S. troops to deny access to oil could put American forces in the role of targeting Russia, the Syrian regime, and Iranian forces. That is very different than the longstanding mission of fighting ISIS.

Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposed the president's original withdrawal plan, is now happy oil is on the table.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Guarding the oil fields in the south so Iran doesn't take them over is smart.

STARR: Graham suggesting something that might appeal to the president.

GRAHAM: You could actually make money in Syria if you took those old fields over and shared the revenue.

TRUMP: We want to keep the oil. And we will work something out with the Kurds, so that they have some money.

STARR: While most U.S. forces in Syria are now headed to the relative safety of Western Iraq, they are not going home just yet, despite the president's promises.

TRUMP: And we're using our economic power, much more powerful in certain ways than playing with guns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Playing with guns.

Well, the reality is, some U.S. forces now will stay in the eastern oil fields. Some additional forces will be down south. So troops coming home, well, not just yet.

And analysts, experts are increasingly worried, we hear, that all of this confusion about what's really happening on the front lines in Syria may someday lead to some very grave miscalculation -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Take a listen to what President Trump said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Where is an agreement that said we have to stay in the Middle East for the rest of humanity, for the rest of civilization, to protect the Kurds? And we have protected them. We have taken very good care of them. And I hope they are going to watch over ISIS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Certainly, it's true that the U.S. was never supposed to be in the region forever.

What's your reaction to what the president is saying?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, first of all, the president has dramatically increased the number of American troops that are in the Middle East, so nobody should get away with him trying to pretend that he is the great military withdrawer from the region.

In fact, we have thousands more troops in the Middle East, many of them guarding Saudi Arabia, than we did before the president took office.

Second, this idea that the Kurds are better off, it's just absolutely nonsense. Yes, sure, we didn't guarantee the Kurds' safety for the next 1,000 years, but we absolutely told them that, if they fought ISIS on our behalf, that we would protect them from a Turkish invasion.

We not only convinced them to fight with us, but then we convinced them to take down their defenses against the Turks because we would protect them.

This is an outright double-cross. And there is no way that the president can spin it any other way.

TAPPER: What do you make of the plans to -- for the U.S. to leave a contingency force to protect Syrian oil fields from ISIS?

MURPHY: Well, they're clearly making this up as they go along every single day.

And there's two issues with this new plan to leave a couple hundred behind to guard the oil fields. First of all, if we're prepared to guard the oil fields from the Turks, then why weren't we prepared to guard Kurdish homes from the Turks?

I mean, that looks just incredibly unsavory. And now the idea that we're going to somehow nationalize these oil fields and take the revenue ourselves and share some of it with the Kurds, that's absolutely disastrous.

Second, the Kurds aren't fighting ISIS right now. The Kurds are fighting the Turks. The Kurds are trying to survive this onslaught from an invading army.

So, the idea that we're going to ask the Kurds to protect the oil fields from ISIS just belies the fight that they're actually in today. And if what the president is saying is that U.S. troops are now going to be directly fighting ISIS, that's not what the plan has been for the last several years.

We have been there as advisers to the Kurds as they take the fight to ISIS. So if the president is now suggesting we're going to do that fighting directly, then there's going to be many more U.S. casualties than anyone ever imagined.

TAPPER: Senator Mitt Romney last week, after this news was announced, called for hearings to figure out why this decision was made, how this decision was made.

[16:40:06] Republicans control the Senate. And Mitt Romney notwithstanding, have you heard of any of your colleagues, including the chairman of your committee, showing any eagerness to figure out why this happened?

MURPHY: Well, so, we have some success to report.

We have a hearing scheduled for tomorrow in the Foreign Relations Committee in which we're going to hear from the president's special envoy to Syria. Now, Jim Jeffrey is not the secretary of state, nor is he the national security adviser, but he has been tasked with overseeing Syria policy for the past year.

And he will hopefully be able to provide us with some -- with some answers about why we engaged in this unconscionable decision to abandon the Kurds and what our plans are going forward.

TAPPER: President Trump referred to what the Turks are doing at the border as the -- quote -- "ultimate solution."

And he also said this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "They had to have it cleaned out," referring to the Turks committing ethnic cleansing, I suppose? I don't -- I'm not exactly sure what exactly -- how he would describe it.

But when you hear terms like ultimate solution, or had to have it cleaned out, what do you make of that? And are any Republicans in the Senate, other than Mitt Romney, upset about this?

MURPHY: Yes, that certainly sounds like an invitation for the Turks to ethnically cleanse Northeast Syria.

And it's just an absolute abomination that the president of the United States would talk that way, especially as we have watched videos of Turkish soldiers murdering in cold blood defenseless Kurds.

I think Republicans need to be focused on using the enormous leverage that they have over the president right now to get him to change his mind. Republicans are talking about sanctioning Turkey, which, frankly, is a get-out-of-jail-free card for Republicans who right now should be telling the president that he has got to change his mind and take a tougher line with the Turks.

Only the president of the United States can save the Kurds. No congressional sanctions bill can do that. And so that's where our focus needs to be. And, by the way, Trump has to listen to Republicans right now, because

they are protecting him from his list of unethical behaviors in Ukraine right now, protecting him from this impeachment inquiry. They have huge leverage, and they should use it.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks.

TAPPER: President Trump claims he has no idea who he is, but a look at the private Instagram page for one of Rudy Giuliani's recently indicted associates tells a quite different story.

Stay with us.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with this special edition of THE LEAD, White House in Crisis. The Wall Street Journal uncovering a slew of photographs from the private Instagram of Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, who was indicted in part for funneling foreign money into the conference of a pro-Trump super PAC.

The photos revealing the access Parnas had to the Trump's despite the President's claims of ignorance that he had no idea who this guy was. Parnas posted photographs of 2018 to himself with Eric Trump, a picture he took with Donald Trump Jr., Lev Parnas with President Trump himself as president. He also posted what appears to be a signed picture of President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. The note reading in part "to Lev Parnas, thank you for friendship and dedication to our cause."

Let's discuss. So Carrie, a lawyer for Parnas told the Wall Street Journal, it's no surprise he has pictures with Trump. He was a major donor. He was helping Rudy Giuliani represent the president. But it does seem like there's a little bit more of a relationship than we'd been led to believe.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The pictures look like more relationships certainly with the Trump's but also with Rudy Giuliani. I think what we're learning more and more about is just how much these roles were intermingled. And that's the question and then that's what's going to end up getting them into potential legal exposure is there were all these different roles, so they were donors, they were making illegal donations.

And according to the FBI and the original DOJ press release, it wasn't just accidental, wrong checking of a box on a forum, but it was intentional and deliberate violations of law. So you have that you have this business relationship whatever it was with Rudy Giuliani, you have the fact that these individuals were playing some kind of role on the Trump legal team.

TAPPER: Yes.

CORDERO: And so there's just going to -- I think there's more to come in terms of understanding the scope of their criminal activity and then whether that is connected to Giuliani and potentially others.

TAPPER: And Toluse, apparently these Mensa members were also the guys leading Giuliani around Ukraine and like trying to help him uncover dirt on the President's political opponent.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it doesn't look good for the White House politically, that not only do you have so many members of the President's inner circle who have already pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes, and now you have another round after the Mueller report of unseemly activity by the President's close advisers.

Giuliani has said that he was acting on behalf of the President. That's been his legal defense saying, you know, I can't be you know, a foreign agent because I was acting on behalf of the President. But if you're also acting on behalf of these two men who were indicted by the Justice Department, it doesn't look good for the White House and for the president.

TAPPER: And Amanda, another social media feed we're learning about is one belonging to Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Slate Reporter Ashley Feinberg sleuth and using information from an Atlanta.

Another social media feed we're learning about is one belonging to republican senator Mitt Romney stop slate reporter Ashley Feinberg sleuthed, and using information from an Atlantic profile of Romney uncovered this now private account under the alias Pierre Delecto. Romney telling the Atlantic, in response, is it him? He said, c'est moi.

The joke notwithstanding, in here you can find that Romney liking the tweet, calling for impeachment. It says, "Betraying an ally about the Kurds should be one of the articles of impeachment." I mean, the idea is you can actually get a real window into how Romney really feels even though he's already emerged as one of the more outspoken Republicans and in this era. He's even more outspoken as Pierre.

[16:50:41]

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, number one, props to Romney for owning it immediately. That is refreshing. And I think we all see that he is largely a sympathetic figure.

I mean, if you look at some of these likes he's issuing, he wants more credit for speaking out against the president and doesn't feel like he's getting it primarily from conservative writers who are inclined to support him. And So, you know, Mitt Romney, maybe you just need to make your voice a little bit louder.

TAPPER: And what -- and what do you think of it all. Does it make you like him less more, what do you think? JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's like letting the world into the dirty little secret we all have. We've worked for politicians for a long time, which is that they're all sensitive. They never think they get enough credit. They're always a little mad at the press, but always want to be loved by the press. So that's what we see a little bit here.

I do think it makes him more sympathetic not just because he is more forward-leaning on impeachment than even he is publicly, but because you're seeing a human side of him and that's always appealing when it comes to politicians.

TAPPER: My favorite was a Pierre Delecto liking a tweet by Devin Nunes' cow.

CARPENTER: I like that one.

TAPPER: In which it was attacking Newt Gingrich for his various marital affairs.

PSAKI: Welcome to Twitter.

TAPPER: Well, welcome to 2019, Pierre. Riding the debate momentum, Senator Amy Klobuchar's strategy to try to turn her renewed attention into actual votes. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "2020 LEAD" today, candidates are sharpening their attacks against front runner Elizabeth Warren. Top among Warren's critics, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota positioning herself as a more pragmatic and moderate choice. And after hitting hard at Warren on the new -- on the New York Times-CNN debate stage last week, Klobuchar reported her best fundraising day yet raising $1.1 million in just 24 hours.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joined Klobuchar on her bus tour through Iowa where she says she's drawing larger crowds though has yet to qualify for the next debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, guys. Wow.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Senator Amy Klobuchar is on the move.

KLOBUCHAR: Great to be here.

ZELENY: With no time to mince words or hold back. She's racing across Iowa, trying to turn her moment on last week's debate stage.

KLOBUCHAR: I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth --

ZELENY: Into momentum on the campaign trail. It's clear she's tapping into something. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you plan to address all the free stuff other candidates are promoting? Nothing in life is free.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, well, there we go. Well, we're going to give you all a free chocolate chip cookie when you leave.

ZELENY: At a town hall meeting in Davenport, that question was submitted by Susan Stroctbeck.

Elaborate who you're talking about. You say pretty stuff.

SUSAN STROCTBECK, VOTER, IOWA: I'm talking about Bernie. I'm talking about Elizabeth Warren and how college is going to be free, how health care is going to be free. I'm sorry, we can't do that.

ZELENY: A fresh sense of urgency is surrounding Klobuchar's candidacy as she scrambles to qualify for the November debate. Still an underdog, her confidence is rising.

KLOBUCHAR: And I have a bus? I mean, come on.

ZELENY: We rode along to ask about her increasingly pointed message toward her rivals.

KLOBUCHAR: That's why I get concerned when some of the other candidates are making promises that I don't think that they can keep. Now -- so you're saying that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are not being straight with people by how they would pay for all these programs?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes.

ZELENY: Have you made that case, do you think, to some of those progressive voters who say now's the time to think big?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, but I'm thinking big too.

ZELENY: Essentially, Senator Warren said that you're not thinking big enough. You're not thinking bold enough.

KLOBUCHAR: I guess big enough only means that everything's free. Is that what it means?

ZELENY: There's little doubt that Warren and Sanders have stirred far louder enthusiasm, but Klobuchar is testing the appetite for a moderate message in a party moving unmistakably to the left. She's signing up voters one at a time, making the case Democrats must choose a candidate who can win in Trump country.

BETSY PILKINGTON, VOTER, IOWA: For the first time I thought she came across as being a lot more forceful. She was a force to be reckoned with.

ZELENY: Betsy Pilkington took notice of Klobuchar last week and contributed to her campaign. She's one of the new donors who helped Klobuchar raise more than a million dollars in the first 24 hours after the debate.

PILKINGTON: I liked what she had to say that she was more centrist. She wasn't afraid to go up against Elizabeth Warren.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Klobuchar's aggressive questions have certainly had some results in the short term. Senator Warren is now promising to outline a new plan for how she would pay for Medicare for all. Now, Klobuchar said she eagerly awaits Warren's answer. But Jake, she added this. If she would have a good answer, we would have seen it by now.

TAPPER: That's tough, I guess. Votes are coming soon. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. I appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. We'll see you tomorrow.