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Mulvaney Tips Over His Own Words On Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; President Donald Trump Holds Cabinet Meeting Amid Impeachment Inquiry, Doral Reversal and Troop Movements In Syria; Donald Trump In Cabinet Meeting: GOP Needs To Be Tougher On Impeachment; Donald Trump: U.S. Never Agreed To Protect Kurds Forever; Senator Elizabeth Warren Says She'll Release Plan On How To Pay For "Medicare For All". Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 12:00   ET



ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the amazing thing here is no one was killed and no severe injuries. But there are some 100,000 people without power and network is already tried to restore all that as quickly as possible.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Yes, from the images we can see from up above and on the ground that we're so thankful that the injuries that there were injuries that normally we would see after something like this. Thank you Ed, thank you so much Ed Lavandera on the ground at Dallas. We'll be there for throughout the day. Thank you for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate, and welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump is in a cabinet meeting this hour talking to reporters right now. We'll bring any news from that ASAP.

Plus more big witnesses this week as the impeachment inquiry gains steam. The President's Acting Chief of Staff is in hot water, trying now to take back what Democrats call his Ukraine corruption confession. And Bernie Sanders has a new sidekick.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you consider the Congresswoman as your running mate?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D-NY): I think I'm too young for that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you work in a Sanders administration or Sanders White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she would.


KING: Back to 2020 politics a bit later in the program. But right now the President inside a cabinet meeting at the White House. He's talking to reporters. We'll bring you the view from inside that room as soon as we have it. We begin the hour with west wing personnel drama that factors big time in Washington's impeachment conversation.

Two answers from the Acting White House Chief of Staff, one which is a lie. Thursday Mick Mulvaney admitted to the Ukraine quid pro quo at the center of the Democratic impeachment inquiry, the investigation into a 2016 rumor in exchange for military assistance. But Sunday Mick Mulvaney says he said no such thing.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: You again said just a few seconds ago that I said there was quid pro quo. Don't use that language. There was never a quid pro quo. Reporters will use their language all the time. So my language never said quid pro quo. Can I see how people took it the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo because there isn't.


KING: Mulvaney chalks up the discrepancies between his two stories to word choice. But even if you take Mr. Mulvaney's Sunday words at face value it don't line up with what we know about the testimony given so far for House investigators. That testimony from State Department officials including some very loyal to the President say the White House is running an off the book policy operation.

What John Bolton reportedly referred to as a drug deal being brokered by Mick Mulvaney. Now there are legitimate reasons to hold up foreign aid including corruption concerns. But listen here to Mr. Mulvaney's repeated struggle to tell his current story, that the investigation the President wanted had nothing to do with money flowing to Ukraine.


MULVANEY: There were two reasons that we held up the aid. Let's get to the heart of the matter. Go back and look at that list of three things. I'm not acknowledging this again let's go back--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said three reasons.

MULVANEY: I recognize that. Go back to what actually happened in the real world. And by the way, go to the phone call.


KING: CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us at the White House. I assume Mick Mulvaney is in that cabinet room right now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John he was on the list of the White House release saying he was going to be someone who was in the room if that gives you any indication of his standing. It comes after my colleague Jeremy Diamond reported that Mulvaney got a round of applause during a staff meeting today after it became what he acknowledged was a tough week for him. And of course that comes after CNN reporting that right before Nancy Pelosi announced this impeachment inquiry. There were efforts underway in the west wing waiting to replace Mulvaney as Chief of Staff. What's notable about this John is that it seems to have subsided now the White House is being forced to face this impeachment inquiry, and of course it has started these questions about who it is that would want to take this job especially now given what they're up against Capitol Hill.

And whether or not Mick Mulvaney is insulated given the fact that he knows so much about the Ukraine scandal that is at the center of that impeachment inquiry. We're waiting to see essentially what it is the President says. Of course, a lot of the president's indication of sometimes how things are going and how someone standing is in the west wing depends on the news coverage something that the President has paying attention to closely.

Right now in that cabinet meeting, he's defending his Syria decision, saying that he believes the cease-fire is holding, even though we know yesterday the defense secretary admitted there was some intermittent firing still happening after that cease-fire had been brokered by the Vice President Mike Pence but he also said generally he believed it was still holding up.

And in that cabinet meeting, John, the President is saying that his decision was the right one. He knows more, he says, than the news media and the pundits that are criticizing him. It is a lot of Republican lawmakers and military experts who are also criticizing that move.

KING: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate the live reporting at the White House. We should hear from the President directly now within a few moments. We'll bring you that as soon as we get it. With me in the studio, to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash, Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post" Alex Thompson with "POLITICO" and Julie Pace with "The Associated Press".

We'll wait to see and we see if this issue comes up again about the Chief of Staff with the President in the room there. We played some of the Sunday show Mick Mulvaney at the top of the show. I never used a word quid pro quo. There was no quid pro quo.

I just want this we start the conversation. A about his job security but B much more importantly what's true and what's not true because that's much more important to the impeachment inquiry. This is Mick Mulvaney in the briefing room just the other day saying something very different.



MULVANEY: This is a corrupt place, I don't want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets. Did he also mention to me in past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that and that's it, that's why we held up the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just described as a quid pro quo. It is funding won't flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.

MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy.


KING: You can't take that back. You can't take that back. Did he also mention to me the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that, but that's it, and that's why we held up the money.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I stand by the reporting that we were getting pre-news conference last week, which is that - obviously Mulvaney was one of the people involved - was trying to kind of test-drive a strategy of saying, okay, we want to investigate corruption.

It was related to the money for Ukraine but it was about the past, it was about the DNC server. It wasn't about the future because that's much more nefarious, the President trying to affect his future reelection by getting dirt on his opponent. Does it make it right?

It doesn't mean that he's not in trouble, it doesn't mean that he's not twisting himself into a million pretzels, but it seems to me that that is still where he was at the time and realized, oops, that didn't play so well because I completely undercut what the President said, and the President himself from the road, he was out campaigning, sent word to Mulvaney, clean that up, please.

KING: Undercut the President but also undercut what all the President's allies on Capitol Hill had been saying at a time when, if you just follow the testimony, you can have a debate about whether it's an impeachable offense but if you just follow the testimony about a rogue operation, Rudy Giuliani running the show, all the career people objecting to that, many of them complaining about it.

Some of them thinking it wasn't just bad, it broke the law. If you follow that and you're a Republican, it's hard to go out and defend the President. A lot of them have said no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo, and Mick Mulvaney, what you just described is a quid pro quo. We do that all the time with foreign policy.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: They've put Republicans the people who want to defend this President because they look at their home states their own home districts and see the support for the President is still strong. It puts these lawmakers in a horrible position.

They come out and they say, yes, we don't love maybe the conversation the President had with the Ukrainian leader but there was no quid pro quo until certainly there was a quid pro quo. So Republicans are now trying to figure out what they can say publicly that will not be undermined later by someone on the staff. It's almost an impossible task for them because the story keeps changing here.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Exactly. What we have heard from Republicans over and over are a lot of the comments saying - okay, maybe I wouldn't have done it, but we don't see this as an impeachable offense, there hasn't been an explicit quid pro quo but again, Mulvaney going out there and basically admitting to it really undercut all the defenses.

We talked to a lot of lawmakers later Thursday and early Friday morning as the repercussions of those Mulvaney comments were kind of still continuing to percolate. You couldn't really find a Republican who could explain it or defend it.

And I thought Senator Lisa Murkowski who obviously she is her own political animal but when we told her about Mulvaney's comments, she said, that is absolutely a concern. And now she is going to be - if this makes it to the Senate she is going to be - and the impeachment trial and the President really does need to work overtime to keep everyone he can on board.

KING: And we're going to talk about that as we go through the hour in the sense that the President has hurt himself with Republicans about Syria. The President has hurt himself with Republicans about his now abandonment decision but last week we're going to hold the G-7 at a Trump resort in Florida.

On this one, if you're a Republican on Capitol Hill, A, the evidence is coming, and Seung Min makes a key point, most House Republicans will stay with the President in different state districts. If you start you've already have a Mitt Romney saying things, now Lisa Murkowski, then a Susan Collins and then a Corey Gardner then it's not two thirds to convict but you may get a majority for some of the motions that would come up in impeachment trial and the President is on shaky ground here.

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I mean, we're not close to two thirds, but you could see these are the early cracks in the dam, and people like Senator Romney and like several of the Representatives, you can just see that they're back on their heels as they're trying to defend the President from several fronts.

KING: And I just want to read from the cabinet meeting, the President saying during this cabinet meeting that the Republicans need to get tougher. President likes that word he made efforts to impeach him speaking at the cabinet meeting, he says, Democrats are trying to hurt Republicans ahead of next year's elections as the GOP needs to fight those attempts.

If this is the President, though, try to keep people in their tribal corners. Make this about us versus them as opposed to just about him. Because if Republicans come to the conclusion this is just about the President and we can't defend this conduct, he's in trouble.


BASH: Exactly. That's exactly what he's doing but he himself is making it so much harder to have the dynamic of the past three years, which is keeping Republicans in corner to have that continue.

The serious situation which got such widespread - engendered widespread condemnation, the Doral decision, those are ways for Republicans to channel their anger. This was actually articulated to me this weekend by a Senior Republican on Capitol Hill. Ways for Republicans to channel their anger and their frustration with the President on impeachment on that phone call, but it's more legitimate. It's not much of a stretch for that channeling to spill over into the actual impeachment inquiry.

PACE: That's the risk right, is like right now you can keep it on Syria, you can keep it on the Doral issue, but you could very quickly see that that turning. If the President continues to handle this situation the way that he is which is to take steps that garner more criticism not less? It's his M.O. which is to stir up chaos, but doing it in this kind of environment, I think, is riskier than at other points in his presidency.

KING: To that point and we're going to continue this conversation. I just want you show some notes as looking, this is the Gallup weekly tracking of the President's approval and disapproval. His disapproval is now inching back up. It's at 57 percent. The high has been 60 percent, right after the 2018 midterm elections, for example he was at 60 percent but his approval rating now has dipped below 40 again at 39 percent.

If this trend continues, and you never know, but if this trend continues and the President keeps going this way and the disapproval keeps going up, politicians say whatever you want, the President has had a remarkable loyalty with his party and with his base, they follow the polls, a lot them are on the ballet next year too heading into an impeachment cycles his numbers at the moment going in the wrong direction.

When we come back, we want to remind you the President is still talking to reporters inside the White House cabinet room about impeachment, about Hillary Clinton, about Syria and more. And up next, as we just discussed, the White House changing some plans in the face of Republican pushback.



KING: Welcome back. I want to remind you we're waiting to bring you the President in cabinet room talking to reporters about a host of subjects among them Syria. The President lashing out at his critics today in that cabinet meeting, saying he the President knows more about the situation in Syria than the pundits do.

The Trump Administration of course causing some whiplash today here town reversing course on several fronts. We discussed this briefly a moment ago, a change in plans for the President's troop withdrawal in Syria, that after broad bipartisan criticism. He was abandoning a key ally, the Kurds. The President Trump has insisted he wants to bring the troop home and get out of the Middle East. But listen to his own Defense Secretary this morning saying not everybody is coming home quite yet.


MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This withdrawal will take weeks, not days. Until that time, 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 who may benefit from their revenues that could be earned.


KING: The White House also announcing, this was on Saturday night, that the President will not be hosting next year's G-7 summit at his Trump Doral resort in Florida. That after some Republicans found themselves in a put it moderately difficult position unable to defend the President's decision. More on that but let's start with Syria as we get into this. I want you to listen actually more broadly than that.

Listen to Chris Christie who the Former New Jersey Governor, sometimes advisor to the President, sometimes on the task with the White House, but apparently back on the in because he said he spoke to the President's recently as a tweet. Listen to him try to tell the President stop pushing your own party away.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR (R): I've said this to the President as recently as this week. We have to be in friend-making mode. There is a time to be combative and there is a time to be in friend-making mode vis-a-vis your own party.


KING: But will the President listen?

THOMPSON: I mean if you read Chris Christie's memoir, there are so many instances of him giving advice and then the President just completely ignoring him.

KING: So there is a long list of people.

PACE: But it is like look he makes a good point. I mean, the President is - whether he thinks he's going to be removed from office or not through impeachment, he is at a perilous moment in his presidency and he does need a support system around him. If you look at the support system around him within his own administration, it's pretty small in part because so people many have left and they're having a hard time getting other people in.

He's surrounded by the small group of people in the west wing mostly loyalists, mostly family at this point. He needs a party around him to back him up, to help him out through this process, and he just keeps taking steps that alienate them. In areas where he know, I mean the Syria decision, this is not a surprise what the reaction would be, because he's heard from people like Lindsey Graham for months and a couple years on this front, yet he chooses to this anyway.

KING: And to the point as we jump in, just more from the President in the cabinet meeting we'll bring you the video of this as soon as we can, but he's again defensive about his decision to withdraw. He says United States never agreed to protect the Syrian Kurds forever and he says that the Kurds are now leaving the region intelligently.

That's actually contradicted by which you see on the ground there. So a lot of what the President is saying even though he says he is smarter than the pundits about his, is not what we get from our reporters who were there on the ground about the Kurds who feel - you were about to jump in.

BASH: Absolutely. That's critical, and we are also waiting to see what happens when this very tenuous, very limited cease-fire runs out, which is tomorrow, I believe. But on the whole notion of what Chris Christie was saying about not wanting to make people angry right now, I think what he was also reminding the President is you have it pretty good.


BASH: People have been so worried about the backlash from their own constituents who are very much Trump fans, especially, as you mentioned, almost all the House Republicans because they're in such red districts. He hasn't had the dynamic, for the most part, for his whole presidency of having to care about what Republicans think because he's called the shots, but that is going to change.

KING: You do see a changing in the sense that Adam Kinzinger a veteran a more moderate Republican who gets in the President's face more frequently than other Republicans, but essentially trolling the President on Twitter, re-tweeting about Will Hurd and saying that Trump Administration playing checkers in Syria allies are playing chess and then tweeting another piece from the - one of the Kurd commander saying how they have been betrayed on the battlefield.

I don't want to put you all in the position of being Dr. Freud, but in the sense that you have Lindsey Graham who told the CNN the other day this was the dumbest decision of the presidency pulling out on Syria, and then speaking to a probably thinks a different audience on Fox news he says this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): The President is right. They had a conflict for a couple of days. All of them saw how bad it would be. The President has a chance now to straighten this out. What Trump has done is actually pretty smart. President Trump has actually done something really smart.

A couple hundred of us working with the Kurds to keep the 10,000 from coming back is really smart. Guarding the oil fields in the south so Iran doesn't take them over is smart. I want to give him a lot of credit for weighing in and stopping the fighting.


KING: The dumbest decision of the presidency is really smart. That's easy to follow.

KIM: That is Lindsey Graham trying to speak directly to the President through television, but Julie made such a good point earlier about that support system within the administration shrinking. The support system on Capitol Hill is also shrinking. Once it comes to the Syria decision and you do see some signs that perhaps the administration may be trying to appease Republicans by keeping some number of troops in Eastern Syria.

That was actually a move that was kind of predicted by Senate Republicans last week when Senator Graham was telling us immediately after the news of the cease-fire he predicted that some of will have to remain. That's just inevitable to kind of stabilize things.

And Senator Jim also said something interesting as well, he is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and he said several of us had very specific commitments that trips wouldn't be moved so far that they wouldn't be able respond to an isolate the situation in Syria which I thought was really interesting comment.

KING: Well, part of the problem for the Trump Administration now is that it's very hard to put everything back in the box. If you read something in national reporting from Turkey, this has really emboldened Erdogan and put Erdogan's position on their own heels the fact they're feeling emboldened to resist the national community. It's going to be very difficult to reverse all this.

PACE: That's a really good point. It's - Trump's decisions are not made in isolation, and he may be solved his relationship with Lindsey Graham, but not only is Erdogan emboldened the alliances on the ground have shifted, now Russia has emboldened the Syrian government, the Assad regime is emboldened. So there are consequences to these actions that extend far beyond what happens in both ends of the Pennsylvania Avenue.

KING: And he sense that he makes the decision and then afterwards he gets the push back and that becomes confusing in its own right again we should hear from the President momentarily. You can hear his own words and how he tries to explain and describe all this. Up next, though, unless the President's remarks comes to us a shift of 2020 politics Elizabeth Warren responding to pressure on just how see plans to pay one of her biggest ideas.



KING: Live pictures there. You see Senator Elizabeth Warren doing an event in Des Moines, Iowa. She's out with another plan today while promising an even bigger policy decision will be ready soon. Education is today's focus, the Massachusetts Democrat proposals pouring billions into the funding in expansion of public schools while eliminating funding for charter schools. Senator Warren says her proposed wealth tax would pay for this new

plan. The education roll out comes as Senator Warren crunches numbers on an issue central to the Democratic campaign healthcare. She has come under fire from rivals who say she's not being honest about the cost for Medicare for all. Now she promises to clearly detail the math soon.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now the cost estimates on Medicare for all vary by trillions and trillions of dollars. And the different revenue streams for how to fund it, there are a lot of them. So this is something I've been working on for months and months, and it's got just a little more work until it's finished. But I want to bring this out. I will not sign a bill into law that does not reduce the cost of health care for middle class families.


KING: I want to bring in CNN's M.J. Lee who is out on the road with Warren in Iowa. MJ, this is going to be a huge decision rollout for her now that she's saying I've been for Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all plan, but now I'm going to essentially have my own with numbers.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, this is a significant announcement from Senator Warren. This is a candidate, as we've talked about a lot on your show who has a plan for nearly everything, except for the issue of health care.