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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney Attempts to Backtrack on Comments about Possible Quid Pro Quo between President Trump and Ukrainian President; White House Announces G7 Will Not be Held at Trump Property in Doral; New Report Indicates Hillary Clinton Email Mishandling of Classified Material Unintentional. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The also mangled the name of his defense secretary for what it's worth.

First and foremost, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is trying to take back his admission that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats in exchange for military funding. And then there is the big reversal, hosting the G7 summit next year at the president's golf resort in Miami, he's not doing that anymore. According to the "Washington Post," the president backtracked after a series of phone calls revealed that impeachment weary Republicans, they were tired of trying to defend the president.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So all this comes at a precarious time with the impeachment inquiry heating up. The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, will testify tomorrow. The career foreign service officer was forced into forced into public eye, you'll remember, following the release of his text messages that questioned the quid pro quo and an arrangement with Ukraine. Taylor joins a parade of State Department and national security officials, most of whose names you do not know, but they will be deposed this week by three House committees.

So joining us to talk about everything that is happening in Washington, and around the country, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and federal prosecutor, Abby Phillips, CNN political correspondent, and Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary.

So Joe, let's talk about the reversals, because they've been really interesting to watch. Usually, as we know, President Trump makes a decision, sometimes it's outlandish or Democrats consider it outrageous, and he digs in. Not so with this. So Doral, they came out loud and proud, announced that they were going to be holding it at Doral because that was the best place. Almost immediately they changed that.

Then there was the reversal on Mick Mulvaney admitting that there was a quid pro quo, and then now saying no there wasn't. And then most importantly, U.S. troops are not coming home. They're not coming home. That was the president's rationale for why he would abandon the Kurds in Syria, and now they're going different places and a whole new contingent is going to Saudi Arabia. And you think that all of this shows a shifting dynamic.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I do. And I think one of the things that we learned in 1998 was President Clinton had kind of unique relationship with the hill, which he sometimes sided with Republicans to get votes, and they called it triangulation. But when we got to impeachment, we understood that the bottom line was keeping Democrats in the Senate happy. And the balance of power shifted a little bit, and the Senate, Democratic senators were more powerful and could dictate more of the terms of the political debate.

And I think that's what's going on now. I think you saw -- take Doral, for example. It should have been no surprise. Trump floated this months ago and it caused a stir. They knew it would cause a stir. They were trying to bury it in the Ambassador Sondland's day of testimony, I believe. I think now what they're figuring out is there is a new dynamic in Washington, which is Trump can't go and do anything he wants because he needs to make sure that he checks with Mitch McConnell first. And he found out that they did a couple things here I don't think he had gotten approval from the Senate, and they've had to climb down.

Over the next coming months, between now and whenever this gets to the Senate, he has to make sure that he holds that firewall. And I think that is directly related to why you've seen these climb downs. They come much quicker and more decisively, Doral being an example. But even Mulvaney having to go and eat his words. Republicans in the Senate said, we can't say that a quid pro quo is no big deal. We won't say that. And if you keep that position, you're in trouble with us. So I think that's a very subtle change, but I think there is a change.

BERMAN: Do you buy the Lockhart theory, the Lockhart corollary that there is now a Republican check on the president?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I do. I remember when I was covering Joe Lockhart in 1998 and impeachment, what they were always obsessed with was not the Republicans, they knew the Republicans were against them, but they were afraid that Richard Gephardt, who was the majority leader in the Democrats in the House was going to abandon them. As long as impeachment is seen as a partisan enterprise, the president is going to be OK. The risk to a president in impeachment is when his own party abandoned him. That's what happened in 1974 when Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and John Rhodes went to Richard Nixon and said you have no more support from your fellow Republicans. That's what forced him out of office, and that's what any president under this kind of investigation has to worry about.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Here's the problem. The damage is already done. It would be one thing if the White House checked with Mitch McConnell, and Mitch McConnell was like, we can't support you on this. They already announced the Doral thing. They already admitted the quid pro quo. It's already out there. So it really -- the climb back is maybe a little too little too late. It has already put Republicans in a really tough position. And it's emboldened Democrats.


Regardless of what happens with impeachment, whether the president is actually removed from office or not, Democrats are now armed with half a dozen examples of corruption and self-dealing that they could use in a political context going into this next election up and down the ballot. So it's really a tough position that Trump has already put Republicans in. Yes, they don't have to continue to defend it, but Mick Mulvaney tried to take back words that he already said is not really a thing that works when we have televisions or we can just play it. We can show people what he said.

TOOBIN: Fortunately, facts sometimes still matter.

CAMEROTA: When there's videotape.


CAMEROTA: Let's talk about if there are fissures in the Republican support, because we've heard just a little bit, obviously Francis Rooney came out and criticized the president's decision on a couple things, Ukraine primarily, and then immediately announced his departure. He'll be retiring.

But tell us about the meeting of moderates. I think that this is more significant. And it was -- there were no cameras there, and so what's your reporting on what happened and what message the moderate Republicans sent to the White House this weekend?

PHILLIP: Well, they gathered at camp David with Mick Mulvaney, and moderates were basically like, we cannot do this anymore. We can't defend the president on some of this stuff. You're putting us in a difficult, untenable position. The combination of all of these things for Republicans is getting very difficult. Francis Rooney is one key example. He paired his breaking with Trump with an announcement that he was willing to give up his political career in order to do it. That's really significant, because I think it actually tells you a lot about how deeply held about that belief he was willing to give up his seat, in other words, in order to do it. But it could be a sign of trouble to come for the White House if more Republicans like him, moderates, people who have longer histories with the Republican Party than the president himself, decide this is not worth it for them.

TOOBIN: But let's see when there's a Republican who stays in office and says, I don't care, run a primary against me, I am breaking with the president. That's what we haven't seen yet.

PHILLIP: That's going to be the test.

BERMAN: We saw Mitt Romney last night on "Axios," play this, play this, because Mitt Romney basically said it looks like the president broke the law. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R-UT): Going on TV on the White House lawn and saying China, will you investigate my political opponent is wrong. It's a mistake. It was shocking in my opinion for the president to do so. We certainly can't have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is after all, against the law.


CAMEROTA: That's a real Republican right there.

TOOBIN: Yes, but he is in a unique position. He's the former nominee of his party. He was just elected in Utah. He's not facing the voters for quite some time. Let's see a member of the House who is facing the voters in 2020 in a Republican district saying the president is wrong, I don't care about the political consequences. That's what's -- Rooney hit --

BERMAN: Adam Kinzinger has said it. He hasn't said he would vote for impeachment yet, but there are all Republicans who are raising their hands and saying this is wrong. It's not 100 of them.

TOOBIN: It's not many.

BERMAN: It's not 100 of them. But it's one or two.


BERMAN: And then a week later it's another one or two. And you have some of these guys retiring.

LOCKHART: I think it's a little less relevant in the House because I actually think you might pick up some Republican votes who say all of this is troubling, the process is not allowed the president to defend himself, let's give this to the Senate and they will have a trial and we'll decide.

The Senate is where it matters. And I think the senators you should watch are those who are on the ballot in 2020. Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, Thom Tillis. These are the people who are going to have to wear Donald Trump as a scarlet letter if he continues along this path. That's the group.

Now, remember what their political dynamic is. If they break with Trump, they almost certainly lose because Trump voters stay home or there's a third party or something. So it shows the dilemma that they have. But none of them want the current defense to be used. I think where they're all going to get to, and they want to get there quickly is, yes, there may have been bad judgment and this loose quid pro quo, but none of it rises the level of removing the president, which is why the Democrats I think have to package this as a pattern of abuse, not one single element, Ukraine.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about a new topic, Hillary Clinton's e-mails. And I'm not kidding. This is back because the State Department just concluded their widespread and comprehensive, I think, investigation into what happened with Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and they concluded, I'm paraphrasing so correct me if I'm wrong, something to the effect of they were mishandled, they were inappropriately handled in terms of the classification system, but it wasn't intentional.


And so after all of the drama, obviously, throughout 2016, on a Friday, they come out and sort of discreetly and quietly announce that conclusion.

PHILLIP: Yes. And it's been interesting to see how this very same fact pattern that you just described is being interpreted dramatically differently on the right where many Republicans are saying, well, they mishandled the e-mails. But clearly the amount of hysteria around this subject was not warranted.

But even to this day, President Trump is still talking about Hillary Clinton's e-mails and the missing e-mails and whether or not there's a server in Ukraine and so on and so forth. So it's unlikely that the issue is going to die. But it just -- we have to be careful about how some of these false controversies get blown up for political purposes, which is exactly what happened with the e-mail.

TOOBIN: This is also a story about the new media, about how much time we spent on that, and that's something that I have felt a great deal of personal responsibility for, because I talked about the e-mails here at CNN, I wrote about it in "The New Yorker," and I think I paid too much attention to them, and I regret that. And I think -- I hope a lesson is learned. This story turns out to be -- you paraphrase, I'm paraphrasing too -- a big nothing. And we spent months on it. Hillary Clinton very likely lost the election because of it. And I think I should have been talking about other issues, not about the e- mails.

LOCKHART: I think it is a media story, and I'm sorry Jeff said that because I was going to attack him personally.

TOOBIN: Feel free. It's OK.

LOCKHART: But I do think it is a moment for the media to see whether anything is learned. But the second thing is, we have what Hillary was accused of going on in real time with Jared Kushner's and Ivanka's e-mails, with the president using an unsecured phone line to have classified conversations. This is happening now, and no one seems to care.

BERMAN: By the way, all the text messages between Gordon Sondland and everyone else are on personal devices.

PHILLIP: And the president is using his personal lawyer to conduct U.S. foreign policy.

CAMEROTA: So there are other fish to fry, it feels like, Joe. There's other stories. LOCKHART: I want it fry this one, though.


CAMEROTA: Fair enough. Thank you, guys, very much.

Up next, we'll speak to two former congressmen, Republicans, about these Republican cracks. Do they see them the same way? Is there erosion in support for the president? That's next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Republican Congressman Francis Rooney becoming the latest member of the GOP to express openly and an openness to an Impeachment Inquiry against President Trump. Here it is.


REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): The question is, is it of a great enough magnitude to justify impeachment? And I want to learn a little more about that. I want to get more counsel. I want to talk to, quite frankly, some of the leadership -- Democratic leadership -- about what they have in mind.

I think that this is a very egregious situation in the Ukraine and Syria is even worse.


CAMEROTA: Rooney then announced that he is retiring from Congress next year. So is he part of something bigger?

Joining us now are CNN political commentators, and former Republican Congressman Sean Duffy and Charlie Dent? And Congressman Duffy is our new CNN Contributor. Welcome. Great to have you.

SEAN DUFFY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, it's good to be here, Alisyn, thanks for having me. It's good to be part of the family.

CAMEROTA: It's great to have you as part of the family. Great to have you fresh off of Capitol Hill. I mean, you were just there last month. You were working as a congressman last month and so you are the perfect person to start with here. Are you -- were you sensing and are you sensing now some erosion of support among Republicans for President Trump?

DUFFY: I don't know. So I think Republicans are very honest in the sense when they agree with the President. They say it when they disagree, they'll say that to you. So they're absolutely opposed to impeachment.

They don't think the process has been fair.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Rooney doesn't sound absolutely opposed to impeachment.

DUFFY: So you said, is this spreading? So I think Congressman Rooney is, you know, one of maybe a couple, right? But when they disagree with the policy on Syria, everybody speaks out.

So people feel free to say what they want. But there is a frustration, Alisyn, with impeachment. In America, we have due process and you know, we get to confront our accusers, we get to call witnesses. We don't have secret courts. The way this has been --

CAMEROTA: Well, there is in discovery process right now. This isn't the full impeachment process. This is the discovery process.

DUFFY: Well, the process is discovery, right? We actually have -- we find the facts and the American people get to see the facts and the House gets to see the facts. They're not doing that. They're doing it behind closed doors. We didn't have closed door hearings during Nixon or Clinton. That has never happened.

CAMEROTA: Well, Ken Starr did his discovery and investigation outside of presenting all of that to the American public. My point is, they're not there yet. Okay. So I hear you that you have a problem with it. Or you think that he --

DUFFY: So the fellow members have a problem with the way the process is working because they've been excluded.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, you say that people are free to speak their minds, but I'm not sure that we've seen that. In fact, there was an off camera meeting of moderate Republicans this weekend, who told the White House how they felt there. They don't publicly speak against the President in general.

DUFFY: Well, I think this is a matter of American politics. So, you know, in in the Obama years, there's a lot of frustration with the stimulus bill and the shovel ready jobs or the lack of effort to destroy ISIS.

There was anger in Democrats as well, and they don't, you know, go against their President. They'll say it behind closed doors. So this is not a Republican problem. This is a political problem that we see happening on both sides of the aisle.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Congressman Den, how do you see it?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the dam is getting ready to break here. You know, just -- you just mentioned the moderate members who went up to Camp David this weekend. They sent a signal. This Ukraine debacle and the betrayal of the Kurds and American values and interests, I think has really set off members. Their loyalty has been taken for granted and at times mocked.


DENT: Look what it's gotten Lindsey Graham for being so close, not even a phone call that we're going to turn our backs on the Kurds. In fact, just last week, I spoke to a member who was not at Camp David

this weekend, who has been very supportive the President and told me how crazy this all is and how disgusted he is.

Rooney -- you know, Rooney is a guy. You know, Francis Rooney is a guy who is, you know, he is well-established. He is very wealthy. He can do other things. And these guys are worried about their legacy.

I don't think this is going to be a simple trickle. When it breaks, it breaks because this increasingly erratic behavior by the President is placing these members in this completely impossible positions, and so the President is going to have to adjust his behavior at some point or these guys are going to -- some of them are going to walk on him.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, do you see increasingly erratic behavior?

DUFFY: Well, so in part I agree with Charlie in the sense that Republicans are angry about the Syria policy from the President, wholeheartedly and a lot of them have said it publicly. Some have said it privately, but they're not there on impeachment.

I mean, I think these are two different, you know, problems that the party is grappling with right now. And so I think in part, Charlie is right, yes, frustration, but they look at the Impeachment Inquiry and the lack of transparency and the base facts around it and there is great frustration.

CAMEROTA: Okay, I hear that you're drawing a distinction, but what about the erotic behavior? What about the reversal on Doral? That was an unforced error? Or what about what Mulvaney said about quid pro quo? Yes, get used to it. Did you find that any of those bother you?

DUFFY: So when you talk about Mulvaney, we spent -- and you and I talk about this a lot -- we spent two years talking about a Russia you know, collusion, you know, Russia influence in our 2016 election. What Mick Mulvaney was talking about was actually trying to find the server that was the D.N.C. server, which was at the heart of the Russia investigation.

CAMEROTA: But that's a conspiracy. That's a conspiracy theory.

DUFFY: No, but hang on one second. Where it's at might be what -- is it in Ukraine or somewhere else? That might be conspiracy, but the fact that Mick Mulvaney is talking about advancing that investigation, the 2016 Russia investigation, we should applaud that. We should be going great.

CAMEROTA: Yes. In exchange for military assistance?

DUFFY: Listen, I think we do make sure that people cooperate with us all the time for our assistance. I think it's --

CAMEROTA: That's a quid pro quo.

DUFFY: Mick Mulvaney did not do a good job at the press conference. CAMEROTA: You're saying the same thing. You're saying we this is

what we do.

DUFFY: So Joe Biden said, I'm going to hold up a billion dollars of funding unless you fire the prosecutor.

CAMEROTA: That's a pure foreign policy. That's not about his political opponent.

DUFFY: This is about his son and enriching his son, which is even worse. And this is about not about -- this is not about politics. If you would say, I'm going to hold up money unless you investigate my political opponents. That's one thing.

CAMEROTA: That's what they were saying.

DUFFY: No, they weren't. They were saying, give us the server so we can give it to the F.B.I. because the F.B.I. never got the server, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Ukraine doesn't have the server, Sean.

DUFFY: They might not, yes. They might be wrong on that. They might be wrong on whether Ukraine has the server.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And you're going to hold up military assistance because of that conspiracy theory.

DUFFY: But are you going to hold up a billion dollars of loans unless you fire the one prosecutor who was investigating my son, which is what Joe Biden did and no one had a problem with that.

CAMEROTA: The rest of the world thought that that prosecutor was corrupt. He wasn't doing enough investigation.

DUFFY: Listen. Hold on a second. If you're saying we have corruption in Ukraine, which we do, and I want to say there's 50 people that got fired, 25 -- there's only one person that Joe Biden had fired in Ukraine, and it was the guy that was going after his son. That is corrupt.

CAMEROTA: Not aggressively enough actually, but hold that thought.

DUFFY: Corrupt.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Charlie Dent, go ahead.

DENT: Oh my, I guess there's so much to say here. But you just -- look foreign assistance, of course, it's condition based. It always is condition based, but the conditions are never that you're going to investigate the political opponents, your own political opponent. You can't do that.

I mean, you know, I was on the Appropriations Committee, State and Foreign Assistance. I used to do this all the time, we would withhold money, but it was for some public policy purpose. We're withholding military aid to Egypt until they release American

NGO workers, you know, to advance an American interest.

I mean, look, this administration, the wheels are coming off the wagon. I mean, who in their right mind thought this Doral was a good one? I mean, for the President to direct, you know, a business to his own company. I mean, I was Chairman of the Ethics Committee. My goodness.

CAMEROTA: So Sean, let's go with that. Because Charlie is saying that this shows that the wheels are coming off the bus. He sees that something is changing and that things are becoming more erratic. Let's just stick with Doral for a second.

DUFFY: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Since there's no conspiracy theory there.

DUFFY: No, none.

CAMEROTA: Were you comfortable that he was going to direct the G7 to Doral?

DUFFY: So if you let me answer that Donald Trump doesn't take a salary. He gives his money away. His businesses have lost business. You know, Ivanka Trump has lost her line of shoes at Nordstrom -- let me finish -- and he's lost his line of clothing at Macy's. They've lost money as a family, so hold on --

CAMEROTA: You're believing them. Hold on, let me just correct you for a second, you're believing that they say that they've lost money.

DUFFY: Okay, I do believe that.

CAMEROTA: She has also gotten many trademarks from China. The business at their hotels has blossomed with foreign diplomats coming to the Washington, D.C. Trump Hotel, so I'm just not sure the math is right about that.

DUFFY: But with that said, do I think was smart with the political fire that's burning, whether you want to talk about impeachment or Syria, that he should have had the G7 at one of his properties? No, that was politically not smart to do.


DUFFY: But if he is not making any money, and we're going to spend less as taxpayers, do I have a big problem with the policy behind it? I did not. But the politics are not good.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Charlie.

DENT: This is an ethical train wreck. This is an ethical train wreck. I mean, to direct business to your own company, I mean, I just can't imagine that. I mean, most members of Congress are so careful not to engage in that

kind of self-dealing. Can you imagine if a Member of Congress, you know, directed government resources to his own business, he would be investing.

DUFFY: Well, but this isn't the point, Charlie.

DENT: I was the Chairman of Ethics Community. You would immediately be investigated.

DUFFY: He is not making money. He was going to do that --

DENT: It would probably be a Department of Justice referral.

DUFFY: It was going to be cost free. There was going to be no cost to the --

DENT: Well, you've got to get brand value. He is going to get --

DUFFY: Of course, you don't get more brand value than you know, Donald Trump is known worldwide, American-wide. Everybody knows Donald Trump right now.

DENT: Oh, you do.

DUFFY: You can't get your brand recognition.

DENT: Sean, I went to the Schloss Elmau. That is where Obama and Merkel met in Germany, a beautiful sight, the two of them walking, I went there. It's the brand value.

They talk about it all the time. It's a selling point. This is -- there's value to that and for the long term, the G7 was at our property. That's enormous value to them.

DUFFY: You would have that at every Trump property. People like to go to Trump properties if they like Donald Trump and they don't go --

CAMEROTA: Doral has been losing money. I mean, Doral -- but Sean, Doral has been losing money.

DUFFY: And they don't go to Trump properties if they hate Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: The Doral has been losing money. And so that one actually is not doing well. And as Charlie says, you can't pay for that kind of advertising that everybody now talks about Doral for the next --

DUFFY: But I'll take him on face value. I'm not going to make any money. And I see that himself, when he is giving away the $450,000.00 he makes a year, he gives it to charity.

The President isn't here to make money. I look at the President. He is making our lives better. My community is making more money.

We went shopping this last weekend. It's like Christmas in the middle of October. People are out spending money. They're making more money. There's more opportunity.

Donald Trump is going after China. People love the policy and love that he is not making money. He was elected.

CAMEROTA: And to be clear, you believe ...

DUFFY: He was elected because --

CAMEROTA: ... that President Trump and his family are not making any money.

DUFFY: He is a billionaire. I totally believe that. Yes. You can disagree with me, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Charlie. We will do the math. We will do it in a reality check. Charlie, last word.

DENT: I can't -- well, I can't imagine they're trying to -- I can't imagine they're losing money on this. I mean, this is just a head slapper. Those moderate members who went to Camp David this weekend, I am sure they told him what a horrendous decision this was at Doral.

And these members can simply not explain the inexplicable or defend the indefensible. The President is really mocking their loyalty, taking their loyalty for granted and putting him in these positions.

He should be more considerate of his allies than this and they are going to turn on him if he continues to do these things from Doral to the Kurds to Ukraine. No collusion, no collusion. That's all we heard during the Russian thing. And now here we are colluding with the Ukrainians. Unbelievable.

CAMEROTA: All right, Charlie Dent and Sean Duffy. Sean, welcome to the family. It's going to be an interesting Thanksgiving table with everybody -- all the family together now. Thanks so much.

DUFFY: Thank you, Alisyn. It's good to be here.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Doral has a 30 percent occupancy rate. Doral has a 30 percent occupancy rate in June where they were going to hold this news conference, so I think they might be better off if they had a giant conference there than if they didn't.

All right, a revealing interview with Prince Harry, finally addressing the tension with his brother and the question that brought Meghan Markle to tears.