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Trump Defends Syria Decision As U.S. Troops Pelted With Food; Trump: Republicans Need to Be Tougher On Impeachment; Trump Backtracks On Using His Doral Resort For G7 & Calls Emoluments Clause Phony; Whistleblower's Claims Have Been Corroborated By Evidence, Testimony & Trump's Own Admissions; Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Discusses Trump Blaming Democrats For Reversal To Host G7 At His Hotel; Facebook Announces Russian Trolls Are Back, Actively Meddling In Politics. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 13:30   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Would you like to stay for Larry's remarks? Because he's a great, great remark maker.


Larry? After that whole thing, Larry, get up and go get it.


I'm sure it will be great.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, let's take a look at this because there's a lot to digest. The president, a more circuitous than we normally see from President Trump, but one of the things he stressed was the Democrats want him out via impeachment because it's the only way he says that they can win, to get him out, because he says they can't win in 2020.

And let's also talk about -- let's just fact-check some things, shall we? One of the things he was talking about was, based on Doral, the fact he was going to have the G7 summit at his own resort, he pulled back over the weekend and decided not to do that because Republicans weren't able to defend him on that because the Constitution says that a president is not supposed to make money from foreign interests.

To be clear, the phony Emoluments Clause isn't phony. It's constitutional. It's right on the screen You can read it right there.

He also said that he doesn't run his business. And he said that he's put stuff in a trust. Well, he's put it in a blind trust that has one beneficiary. That would be him. And it's run by his family and a close associate.

He also said other presidents have done the same thing. He talked about President Obama and the Netflix deal, a book. None of that was done while the president, while President Obama was president. It was a long time afterward.

He also said -- he was talking about the whistleblower who was the one who put out -- put forth a complaint about the president's call with the Ukrainian president.

And he said the whistleblower has gone. He said the informant. Because remember the whistleblower did have sources within the White House who was talking to this person because they were very concerned about this phone call. He said the informant. There was more than one source, according to the whistleblower complaint.

He said it may be Adam Schiff, the House Intel Committee chairman. That is not based in any sort of reality or any sort of reporting.

What we know is that the whistleblower complaint, which hews very closely to the call transcript that President Trump had with the head of Ukraine, what we know is that this was informed by White House officials.

I want to bring in my panel.

Did I miss anything, Gloria, Julie, J.W.? Is there anything else there?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you covered it. He was clearly on defensive on Syria and the Syria decision, as well. And kept going back to the campaign rally in Dallas, saying, you know, the place went crazy when I said we're going to bring our troops back home.

What I think we're witnessing here was a president who is nervous, he is worried, who is full of grievance. I think we saw his inner dialogue in a funny way go public. This is what he is thinking.

And as he weaves these conspiracy theories about Schiff being the whistleblower, and Emoluments Clause being phony and all that, he's giving talking points to people. We got a glimpse into his real thoughts.

One thing about Donald Trump, he tells you what he's thinking and it can be disconcerting at the very least.

KEILAR: It does not feel cohesive or linear for sure.

Let's talk about Syria, because he was saying, "It would be much easier for me to let our soldiers be there, let them continue to die. I go out to Dover and meet parents. It's the most unpleasant thing I do."

He said it would be easier for him to leave soldiers over there to die.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a commander- in-chief we hear talk about the military in these ways often. He talks about - in my experience, no other president has talked in vivid terms the sort of pain and visceral horrific scenes at Dover when they do the returns --


KEILAR: The dignified transfer.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: The dignified transfers, right.


KEILAR: -- dignified.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Right. And people generally do not talk about this. They go there, stand there silently, maybe they talk with their families. But you certainly don't hear them publicly bring them up in ways to personally defend themselves.

Clearly, the president feels like he's under attack about this decision

You've also heard him say we still have a great relationship with the Kurds and the Kurds are very happy with us. We've seen the pictures of people, the Kurds throwing rocks and vegetables at U.S. troops because they are so angry at the way the American military has handled this.

On some level, even though he was saying -- he was defending it, he knows this is a huge problem for him. No just public opinion-wise either.

J.W. VERRETT, FORMER ADVISER, TRUMP PRE-TRANSITION TEAM: The problem is not just disengagement I'm one who sympathizes with the Rand Paul school of disengaging in the level of the troop deployment we have. But it's the fact it was done with no semblance of strategy, strategic interest of the United States. It was random. It was so Donald Trump asked, spur of the moment, let's just do it.


We go nothing for it. We could have negotiated for something in exchange for the withdrawal, some safety for the Kurds.

And the fact it coincides with Russia's strategic interests. It was done in the worst way possible.

KEILAR: Also, I just want to say, you cannot liken what was going on in Syria to say what is going on in Afghanistan. The sheer number of troops, the risk to life. We're talking about, yes, it is dangerous. But the degree of danger for the servicemembers in Syria was small.

If you talked to someone who was deployed there, they weren't worried about their safety the way they would be if they were deploying to another conflict.

He seems to be betting on the fact that most people don't know the difference, that Syria is Afghanistan, that it's been going on for all of these years, there's been all of these troops there. It's not the same thing.

BORGER: Am I wrong that at one point, did he describe a military mission as playing with guns at one point?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: He doesn't make a distinction between the two places. He doesn't make a distinction between the two engagements. I don't if he thinks people don't know the difference or whether he didn't acknowledge there's much difference.

What he kept coming back to you with was that his crowds love him for having done it. When he talked about bringing people home, bringing the troops home, he was referring to Syria. People may hear something else but there's a huge cheer. If that's what's driving the policy or the strategy here, that's --


BORGER: He says it's not popular inside the Beltway but he didn't talk about the generals who may disagree with him, the generals --


KEILAR: Inside the Beltway, you have a lot of experts on foreign policy who know what they're talking about, and they'll say this move to pull troops out means in the long run you're putting more troops' lives in danger. That's a concern. That's a concern to servicemembers, too.

I want to go back to what he said about emoluments. It seemed to be a revealing moment where he's talking about a clause in the Constitution and he calls it phony. But this is -- J.W., I wonder how that will play. Does he realize what he's doing, do you think?

VERRET: As a constitutional conservative, I'm not comfortable with calling any part of the Constitution phony.

I think that's a result of him sitting down, lectures from the White House counsel's office. And he's tired of lectures, doesn't like briefings, doesn't like words on PowerPoint displays.

Ultimately, this comes down to Donald Trump has been successful because he lovers the limelight, he loves drama. Part of it is he's having the time of his life right now. But he didn't realize the danger he's in. He doesn't realize his style makes this so much worse, because the unfolding drama that he's this perfect sort of flawed character makes it easier for the impeachment process to resonate with the American people.

I think the trial in the Senate will be best thing for him.

BORGER: Don't you think he realizes this a little because he was talking about how all the Democrats stick together, but Republicans, well, I have Romney I have to deal with, that's enough. But it was clear that he sees the cement cracking a little bit among Republicans and he's nervous about that. Or, you know, it sort of set him off.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: But I think you're right, too, in some ways, this was talking points that he was reading to the Republicans, and his would-be allies who he wishes would be more aggressive in defending him.

There's a vote this evening. There will be a vote on this resolution to censor Adam Schiff for the opening statement he gave when the whistleblower complaint first became public, where he was saying, this conversation, if you read the transcript, boils down to, and then he gave sort of dramatized version.

Clearly, the president seized on this and did what he likes to do in situations when he feels he's under attack, where he throws the exact same attack on someone else because he wants to shift the focus on anybody but him.

BOLDUAN: Guys, thank you so much.

The president defending his Syria decision as we see stunning video of American troops being harassed and pelted with rotten food and rocks by the Kurds, who the president says the U.S. has a great relationship with. CNN is live in northern Syria next.


As all of this goes on, just in, Facebook announcing the Russian trolls are back and they're actively meddling in politics. We'll have details on which candidate they're targeting.


BOLDUAN: Stunning video of Kurds in northern Syria venting their anger at U.S. troops as they pull out of the zone along the border with Turkey. They threw rocks and rotten vegetables at departing U.S. soldiers. And Syria Kurds say the U.S. abandoned them as Turkish forces came in to push the Kurds out violently.

President Trump speaking moments ago, defending the U.S. troops pullout.



TRUMP: We have a small group there and we secured the oil. There's no reason for it, in our opinion. We're working with the Kurds. We have a good relationship with the Kurds. But we never agreed to protect the Kurds. We supported them for three and a half or four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.


BOLDUAN: I'm going to bring in Nick Paton Walsh. He's been following this troop drawdown on the ground in northern Syria. Nick, tell us what you're witnessing and just fact-check the


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the United States never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lifetimes.

That is true. The partnership they had to fight ISIS was mutually beneficial. But the Kurds did most of the dying, over 10,000 sons and daughters. There was a feeling the U.S. would stay behind them as they continued to have their state in parts of Syria. Many more realistic views thought that eventually that relationship would begin to wind down.

Donald Trump also said only 28 soldiers were withdrawn from the lines, and had they stayed there, they would have been wiped out from the fighting.

Not true. Both were in a security mechanism and were preventing fighting from breaking out. It's no accident that the White House, President Trump had to pull them out before this incursion began. No way Ankara would have risked harming Americans as that incursion began.

The broader issue of, are the Kurds happy. You can see from those images they're not. I think it's fair to understand that the troops, sadly, some of whom they pelted with rotten vegetables as they left. We'll get to that in a second.

Those troops are acting on orders, but Donald Trump has left them to face their own devices, and, frankly, part of the Syrian regime.

Another thing Donald said was about security the oil. The was a mysterious comment he said about four or five days ago when he first referred to the Syria withdrawal. Nobody quite knew what he meant there.

But it turns out they will be leaving 200, maybe 300 soldiers behind in Syria to continue the fight against ISIS but also protecting the oil fields in the south. Strategically useless to a country that has a much higher take on its own than the United States. Potentially, that was what go the president to sign onto this. I'm speculating there.

Today, we saw an enormous Conway in the middle of the night, waking us up, as it drove through with air support, moving all the way through at times. It seems lots of angry locals coming out and shouting at them as they moved through in the night even then, moving across Iraqi Kurdistan.

The key takeaway from this is the mission has not changed. These soldiers are leaving Syria, going to Iraqi Kurdistan to continue the fight against ISIS. We heard today some will stay behind. But they're simply going about the same job in a much worse position.

Now, after the last fortnight, without their Syria Kurdish allies in the background. There are those on the front line doing the dying for them. Both Syrian Kurds now are left to partner with the Syrian regime, who have Moscow's assistance.

All eyes, Brianna, really on what's coming up tomorrow. That is the meeting in Sochi between Turkey and Russia. Potentially, the real deal gets made there, not the one we heard in Ankara last weekend. The real deal gets made there.

The question after that is whether or not we see peace or whether the cease-fire period expires at the ends tomorrow, local time, and potentially, President Erdogan, of Turkey, makes good on his threats to continue his campaign more aggressively.

Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that report, from northern Syria.

The president has held back off of his plan to hold next year's G7 at his Doral resort in Florida. He isn't happy about it, though.


TRUMP: I'm working with the Kurds. We have a good relationship with the Kurds. We never agreed to protect the Kurds. We supported them for three and a half to four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.

We don't think it's going to be necessary. I don't want to leave troops there. It's very dangerous for -- we had 28 troops, as it turned out. People said 50, it was 28. And you had an army on both sides of these troops. I don't think it's necessarily other than that we secure the oil in a little different section, but we secure the oil.


BOLDUAN: That was obviously President Trump trying to explain the U.S. pullout from Syria, which has come under so much criticism.

Let's talk about what he said when it came to his business dealings. He made big news last week when he decided to have the G7 summit of leaders from around the world come to his resort. Obviously, so many options in the U.S., but he opted for them to come to his resort, and that posed constitutional issues that Republicans were having a hard time defending as well.

I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, of Tennessee. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

You saw the president reverse his decision using Democrats and the media as scapegoats. But I wonder if you think it was the outrage from Democrats that prompted the president to change his mind.

[13:50:08] REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): No, the president doesn't listen to Democrats. He listened to Republicans, particularly those that were at Camp this week with Mick Mulvaney. They told him it was bad. They told him it had the appearance of impropriety, which is what Representative Rooney said, and it did. They said it was a bad decision and he needed to restreet.

He retreated because he was losing his base. The president is skating on thin ice these days and the ice is melting.

BOLDUAN: He said, Congressman -- I mean, he was clearly not happy with how this all went down. He talked up Doral, almost gave it an advertisement for its various features. And he referred to the Emoluments Clause as phony. The Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, which says a president can't be enriched by foreign interests.

What did you think of him saying that about the Emoluments Clause?

COHEN: As the chairman of the subcommittee of the Constitution, it struck me as obscene. We take an oath to uphold the Constitution. We revere most of the work of James Madison and our founding fathers who grew the Constitution. To say that was a slap at our founding fathers, disrespect for the Constitution to which he takes an oath, and the most sacred paper -- most sacred document in this country. And he says it's phony?

Well, the impeachment clause isn't phony. The separation of powers aren't phony. And there are a lot of things he may think are phony that are American. And he was disrespectful of our nation's heritage and our nation's founders.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that's something that your Republican colleagues will be upset by?

COHEN: They probably will be. They may or may not say it. There are so many of them holding their tongues. If you looked on the other side of the aisle, there are half of them holding their tongues.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, we appreciate you joining us. Congressman Steve Cohen, joining us from the capitol, thank you, sir.

COHEN: You're welcome, Brianna.

BOLDUAN: Mitt Romney admits he's the guy behind a secret Twitter account, going by the name of Pierre Delecto. See what he said when he thought no one was looking.

Plus, breaking news. Facebook announcing that Russian trolls are laying the groundwork to interfere in 2020, and Joe Biden is a top target. Stand by for that.


[13:56:56] BOLDUAN: Just in, the same Russian social media trolls who interfered in the 2016 U.S. election are at it again. Facebook says social media profiles originating in Russia have already built a network of dozens of accounts posing as groups in swing states and many of those groups are focusing in their opposition to Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden.

We have CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Josh Campbell here with us to follow this development.

Donie, what exactly are these trolls doing now?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Brianna, they are laying the groundwork for 2020. We see these accounts posing as Republicans and Democrats.

And I want to show you some of the memes and graphics that they're sharing. One designed to look like it was from a Republican account, slamming Joe Biden. Also another image from an account that was designed to look like it was run by Bernie Sanders supporters. We should mention Bernie Sanders' campaign has nothing to do with it. Also attacking Biden.

These are the same tactics that these same trolls were using in 2016 attacking Clinton from both sides.

Now, we've been told by Facebook that the trolls took a lot of steps to hide their identities, to conceal the fact that they were coming from Russia.

There were some giveaways. If you take a look at this caption on one Instagram post, it may not have been written by a native English speaker. The caption here reading, "What the future for their children will be."

Quite a sophisticated operation, but there are still telltale signs in there that we can look out for.

BOLDUAN: Very good point.

Josh, it's not like law enforcement hasn't heard about these particular individuals before.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. This is a sequel to a move we've seen before not long ago. You can go back to Robert Mueller's investigation. A lot of the focus has been on the obstruction of justice part. There's a robust in-depth view of what the Russians were trying to do to influence the U.S. elections. These are some of the same people associated with an entity that Mueller indicted that are still at it.

If you think about all the of us, our viewers, those of us in the press, we start our day, plot our day, you go to school, take care of your family. There are people right now in Russia who start their day trying to manipulate public opinion in the United States. They're going to do it again in the election. We know it's going to

happen. What's troubling is not I don't think the American people know that enough and they need to be aware of this propaganda is out there.

But we also don't see the president using the bully pulpit of his office to call out this kind of influence. So it's a missed opportunity.

But more troubling than that, it sends a green light to our adversaries to continue going this.

KEILAR: Facebook has been under pressure to regulate the truth or the lies that are going through Facebook. It doesn't seem willing to do that. What is your expectation of how this is handled and whether law enforcement, Facebook can do to get ahead on this?


CAMPBELL: I don't think these media platforms are doing enough to regulate what's transiting across their system. Facebook wants to have it both ways. They want to be a platform where large numbers of people come together and they make money, large amounts of money.