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Iraq Requests U.S. Forces Leaving Syria Not Stay in Country; Bill Taylor Testifying in Impeachment Inquiry Today; Facebook Antitrust Case Considered in Washington. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 10:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: In just a few hours from now, the five-day ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Syria will end. The problem is, no one knows what exactly will happen next.

Just yesterday, President Trump defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They hated ISIS. So they were fighting ISIS. But we never agreed. 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? It never said that.

And we have protected them. We've taken very good care of them. And I hope they're going to watch over ISIS.


HARLOW: Barbara Starr joins us again from the Pentagon.

So right now, at least, Barbara, the official line from leadership in Iraq is that U.S. troops cannot stay there as they head there from Syria. Esper's in the region, what does this mean?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're looking at is several hundred U.S. troops cross the border into the relative safety of northwestern Iraq as they left Syria. This has always been the designated place that they were going to go.

The Iraqi government, putting out a statement saying that they had permission to come in, but it wants them out of there, that they simply cannot stay.

Esper, traveling in the region, the defense secretary, is expected now to talk to the Iraqis about this and try and work it out. There may be a situation here where the Iraqi government has issued this statement pretty much for domestic political consumption, that's one theory. It's always very tough for that government to be seen as just having an open door to the U.S. military.

But there's a deeper issue here. Do you still need troops in that region to -- U.S. troops to fight ISIS, to conduct surveillance, to know where ISIS is? And, in president Trump's desire to help protect the oil fields.

So even if the troops stay for a while, they will eventually come home. When they come home, a big question. What will their mission be as they are in Iraq --


STARR: -- that's the other big question.

HARLOW: And it's an important one. Barbara, thank you so much --

STARR: Sure.

HARLOW: -- from the Pentagon for us this morning.

There is a lot going on today. Here's quick look at "What to Watch."

TEXT: What to Watch... 12:15 p.m. Eastern, Larry Kudlow discusses future of infrastructure; 7:00 p.m. Eastern, V.P. Pence speaks at Heritage Foundation gala; 8:07 p.m. Eastern, First pitch of the 2019 World Series



HARLOW: Top Democrats, raising new concerns about protecting the whistleblower's identity as the president, once again, goes on the attack. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is with me next to discuss.


HARLOW: The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine is on Capitol Hill this hour, behind closed doors. He is the latest key witness to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. And this, as top Democrats raise new concerns about protecting the identity of the whistleblower, whose complaint about President Trump's Ukraine call sparked the entire impeachment inquiry.

With me now to discuss all the developments, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Good morning, Director Clapper.


HARLOW: Bill Taylor, widely respected career diplomat, behind closed doors. Remember, it was he who texted this to the president's E.U. ambassador in September. Quote, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." TEXT: Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the E.U.: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign...

HARLOW: He was told by Sondland to call him, and we know Sondland conferred with the president over the phone about what to say in response. How big of a potential threat to the presidency is this testimony from Bill Taylor today?


CLAPPER: Well, I think it's pretty damning already, just based on the revelation of the text exchanges that Ambassador Taylor was part of. So -- and I don't know how he can, you know, walk those back. So I think it's potentially quite damning.

But also, observe that I think what he'll say is corroborative. In other words, supportive of previous testimonies. And what we already know from the whistleblower complaint itself, as well as the memo of the conversation published by the White House, of the actual phone call between the president and President Zelensky of Ukraine.

HARLOW: I'd like to spend some time talking about the whistleblower. Because we're just -- we're in uncharted territory, right? The statute that protects whistleblowers in this country, the way it is written never even considered someone blowing the whistle on the president or having to protect the whistleblower -- a whistleblower from a president. But here is what the president said about that person yesterday.


TRUMP: The whistleblower gave a false account. Now, you have to say, well, do we have to protect somebody that gave a false account? You know, these whistleblowers, they have them like they're angels, OK? So do we have to protect somebody that gave a totally false account of my conversation?

HARLOW: What do you make of that?

CLAPPER: Well, first of all, it's wrong. First point is the law requires -- and this is what was done in this case -- the intelligence community inspector general to do what he -- within 14 days, to corroborate the content of the whistleblower complaint, which he did. And he found it credible and urgent. And so on the face of it, what the president's asserting is incorrect.

And, yes, you do need -- you are required to protect whistleblowers no matter about the veracity of what they allege. And the reason for that is to ensure that wrongdoing -- fraud, waste, abuse, moral, ethical lapses, whatever -- that there is a legitimate and protected conduit for intelligence community employees to convey that to the appropriate authorities, in this case, the inspector general of the I.C. (ph) and in turn the Congress.

HARLOW: Director Clapper, is there any reason to believe that the president may know who the whistleblower is?

CLAPPER: Well, he may not know but just -- and as loathe as I am to contribute in any way to identifying the whistleblower, just based on what's been in the media -- since I don't know him, I don't know who it is. But given his home agency -- his or her apparent home agency affiliation and apparently on rotation to the NSC, and an expert on Ukraine, well, that's a fairly small population of people so it's hard for me to believe that somebody in the White House doesn't know who it is.

Now, if they are -- if people in the White House are shielding that or insulating the president from that, well, good on them for doing that.

HARLOW: How small a population of people are we talking about here? Because if the --

CLAPPER: Well --

HARLOW: Go ahead.

CLAPPER: Not very many. You know, use all your fingers on both hands and not -- you know, both hands and not use all the fingers. I don't think that population -- if you do the Venn diagram, that's not very many people.

HARLOW: So we saw Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer write this letter to the acting DNI and the ICIG, saying, tell us what you're doing to protect this person. Do you have confidence that this person is being protected to the utmost extent? What protections are in place to ensure that?

CLAPPER: Well, I believe I know -- because I've talked with them about it, and witnessed his testimony -- that the acting director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, is strongly committed to protecting the anonymity of the whistleblower, and I'm sure they're pulling out all the stops.

I don't know what's been done, and I could -- and I'd rather not speculate on it. But --

HARLOW: Right.

CLAPPER: -- I'm quite sure that the intelligence community, and specifically the DNI -- acting DNI is doing all he can to protect him or her.

HARLOW: And finally, we heard the president in those comments yesterday, even allude to the possibility -- completely unfounded, not based in fact -- that it could be Adam Schiff. Just listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Was there actually an informant? Maybe the informant was Schiff. It could be Shifty Schiff. In my opinion, it's possibly Schiff.


HARLOW: Beyond the -- obviously, it's not part of all of this, what's the danger in that? You know, regardless of politics and political party, to have a sitting president of the United States say that a sitting member of Congress, a chair of the House Intel Committee could be the whistleblower?


CLAPPER: Well, first of all, I don't know how -- I mean, this -- what this implies, I guess, is that somehow Adam Schiff was party to or listened in on the original conversation, and then provided that to somebody in the intelligence community who then was going to write a whistleblower complaint, which on its face, is absurd.


CLAPPER: And it's just another case of the president trying to change the narrative, you know, distract, et cetera. But on its face, it just doesn't make sense.

HARLOW: It does not. Director Clapper, thank you for your expertise on all of this. I appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. We are learning that federal and state officials just met behind closed doors yesterday, to talk Facebook and the possibility of major antitrust case. Much more after the break.


HARLOW: All right. For the first time in 10 years, Israel may soon have a new leader because, for the second time this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a new government. That opens the door for his main rival, Benny Gantz, to try.

Netanyahu could not convince Gantz to agree to a power-sharing deal, and there's no guarantee that Gantz will be able to form a coalition. That raises the possibility of a third general election within a year, as the political deadlock there continues.

Meantime, we are just learning that federal officials and state attorney generals met to discuss possibly pursuing a future antitrust case against Facebook. They met during a daylong session yesterday. In fact, just this hour, Congressman Ro Khanna told me yes, he agrees with Elizabeth Warren. Facebook has too much political power.

Brian Fung, our tech reporter who is breaking all of this news left and right, joins me now with more. How significant is that, that you have state A.G.s meeting with others in Washington to look at an antitrust effort against Facebook?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Well, this meeting signals that these investigators and regulators are moving forward on their investigation of Facebook. You know, we know that federal officials and state officials routinely collaborate. But in this case, you know, you have some reservations by state officials who believe the federal government's not moving fast enough or quickly enough.

HARLOW: Because some polling recently showed that I think it's like over 70 percent of Americans don't know that Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp. So they don't understand sort of the total power and reach that they have.

Mark Zuckerberg is talking. He's out, he's doing a series of interviews. We saw him on "Fox News," we saw him on NBC last night. One thing that struck me about his interview last night was the defense he gave for Facebook allowing false political ads to continue running on the platform. Let's just listen to that for a moment.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: Do you feel like you're giving a green light to politicians, that --


HOLT: -- lie, lie lie?

ZUCKERBERG: -- I believe that it is important for people to be able to hear and see what politicians are saying. I think that when they do that, that speech will be heavily scrutinized by other journalists, by other people --


HARLOW: And "The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that there has been discussion within Facebook about -- at least they were thinking, do we just not run political ads completely?

FUNG: Yes. And that's something that Zuckerberg mentioned when he gave a speech at Georgetown University --


FUNG: -- last week, defending his company's position on this. Obviously, Facebook has been caught up in an imbroglio, I guess, with Senator Warren, who's running for president, where Warren called out Facebook's policy of not sending politicians' ads to third-party fact- checkers. And in fact, Warren took out an ad herself, on Facebook --

HARLOW: A false one, to make the point.

FUNG: Exactly, making the point that Facebook, you know, falsely -- saying that Facebook has endorsed President Trump for re-election. We of course know that's not true. But you know, Warren's point was, this underscores how Facebook continues to allow politicians to lie on the platform.

HARLOW: It feels to me -- and you, this is your beat, you know it well -- but it feels to me like something is changing in Washington. Whether it's Representative Ro Khanna, who's -- Silicon Valley is in his district, he is -- he was, at least, against breaking up big tech, breaking up Facebook when I had him on in July. Today, he just told me they have too much political power.

You've got Republican Josh Hawley in the Senate, who's calling for them to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram. It seems to me as though there is a bipartisan change, and I wonder if you think it's a sea change that Facebook is up against in Washington.

FUNG: I think we'll see evidence of that, probably at tomorrow's hearing where Zuckerberg is going to be testifying in front of the House Financial Services Committee. Nominally, it's a hearing about Facebook's expansion into financial services like its digital currency, Libra. But you know, I think we can expect a lot of pushback from lawmakers about things like political ads --

HARLOW: Right.

FUNG: -- and Facebook's role in shaping our political discourse.

HARLOW: There was a really important announcement yesterday from Facebook overnight, that they removed fake accounts created by Russian trolls -- Iran, China, et cetera, trying to do the same thing in 2020.

FUNG: Yes. So you saw Facebook saying it's taken down dozens of Instagram accounts that it believes are linked to Russian operatives who are trying --



FUNG: -- to spread the same sort of disinformation that we saw in 2016. You know, those ads and -- I'm sorry, those accounts were spreading memes and images that are meant to sow discord among Americans. And, you know, you had some targeting even Vice President Joe Biden.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Brian. Good to have you. We'll see what happens in that hearing tomorrow. I appreciate it very much.

The top American diplomat in Ukraine right now is behind closed doors, testifying before Congress. He's been there for more than an hour. What insight will Bill Taylor give to House investigators in the impeachment inquiry? Stay with us for that. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.