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Soon President Trump Speaks at White House About Situation in Syria; Amb. Bill Taylor Testimony Ties Trump to Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; 2 Dozen House GOP Members Storm Impeachment Inquiry Room; Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) Discusses Bill Taylor Testimony in Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- ISIS prisoners are secured, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, he acknowledged to CNN in interview released yesterday that more than 100 ISIS prisoners have escaped.


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Based on the intelligence we have, the reporting we have of the 11,000 or so detainees that were in prisons in northeast Syria, we've only have reports of a little more than 100 have escaped.


BOLDUAN: A little bit more than 100 is still more than 100. So with that, what kind of a statement will the president be making in a few minutes? You can be sure the eyes of not just the country and Congress but the world will be listening in to hear exactly what the president says.

CNN Boris Sanchez joins me from the White House.

Boris, what are you hearing from this statement?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Neither the White House or the National Security Council will say much about what President Trump will say in this speech in a few minutes. But judging by his tweet you can expect him to spin a crisis he created to essentially declare victory where there's none.

It's important to remember how this all started with a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Erdogan. The president deciding to withdraw U.S. troops from the region, opening the door for Turkish troops to enter this safe zone, this territory, where the Kurds were usually pushed out of if not massacred.

The president drew widespread condemnation from fellow Republicans, even going against the advice of his advisers. But he tried to clean this up. He sent the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey to try to negotiate with Erdogan, ultimately to save face, Kate. Even people within the administration acknowledge that Turkey got everything that they wanted in this deal.

The president has tried to spin this saying it's a deal that the Kurds wanted, which is clearly false. This is not a situation that the Kurds were looking forward to.

Further, the president has tried to spin this, saying he was trying to bring U.S. troops home. Troops are not coming home. They're headed over to Iraq.

The president here, no matter how hard he tries to spin this will try to say this is a success. By no stretch of the imagination is this a success -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Honestly, his word matter. The president's words matter all the time. What he is about to be saying is going to matter a great deal for what happens next and lives are at stake. Make no mistake within it comes to this announcement he will be making about Syria.

As this is happening, Boris, there's another huge issue facing the White House as the White House has really entered a new chapter. The country has entered a new chanter with this impeachment investigation. The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine directly tying the president to a quid pro quo with Ukraine in testimony yesterday.

How is the White House dealing with what Bill Taylor laid out yesterday?

SANCHEZ: Well, Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary, put out a statement following news of Taylor's testimony saying this is a coordinated smear campaign. We saw some of the same attacks that we saw related to other witnesses, suggesting that this is hearsay. Suggesting that this is you know a plan by Democrats to attack this president.

But we know that this is really getting under Trump's skin. Just the other day, he called for Republicans to show more unity, lamenting that he was receiving so much criticism from so many different sides.

We know that along with congressional Republicans, some of the president's attorneys were here meeting at the White House yesterday talking about the strategy toward impeachment, telling the president he should accept the fact the House will likely impeach him and they should be more aggressive, Republicans, in dealing with this inquiry -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Boris, thanks so much.

An eye on the White House as we are waiting for the president to come out any minute.

Boris, thank you.

We have reporters there. We will see if the president will take questions. We do not yet know.

I do want to go to Capitol Hill where another official is testifying as we speak. Quite honestly, folks are trying to absorb everything they sent him yesterday.

CNN's Manu Raju is in Capitol Hill for us.

Manu, what is happening there right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura Cooper, who is a top defense official, is expected to testify today. She's arrived for this testimony. She's expected to be asked about the military aid withheld.

But this testimony has been delayed? Why? House conservatives, two dozen, many not on the key committees investigating, involved in this impeachment investigation, have essentially stormed the room.

I have been told from members in the room who came out afterwards, essentially they've gone into a secure facility criticizing this process, railing on what they have been saying for weeks now, what they are calling a sham, process, saying they should be opened to the public. Saying this is not a true impeachment inquiry if there's no vote. The president is denied his due process, echoing the line of the president.

Essentially disrupting these proceedings. So this testimony, the moment has been delayed as a number of members have essentially stormed the room. I am told two members were essentially yelling in the room. They're not on the committees. They were yelling about the process.


They even brought in, these conservatives brought in electronics in the secure facility. They had to be confiscated. You are not allowed to bring them into a secure hearing room.

One of the members that left, Mo Brooks, of Alabama, I try to engage him on the substance of what we heard from Taylor's testimony yesterday, the president had asked for, apparently wanted a public declaration of these investigations that can help them politically from Ukraine to be announced, before releasing military aid and Brooks pushed back.


RAJU: But, Mr. Brooks, the opening statement says very clearly, this is -


RAJU: Hold on, let me finish what I'm saying. Let me finish my question.

REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): You cannot be relying on it.


BROOKS: If you were in a court of law, if you were in a court of law, would you rely just on the opening statement of an attorney?


BROOKS: Without the first witness at all or would you have cross examination? Would you allow rebuttal witnesses to determine to explore whether the first witness --


RAJU: I'm asking about the substance of what he said.

BROOKS: It doesn't make any difference. We don't know whether it's true or not because of the sham process that's being used.


RAJU: So it went on like that for some time.

What I was referring to was the opening statement we had obtained yesterday, we had widely reported now about what exactly apparently the president had been demanding, according to his sworn testimony. You can see the Republicans railing on the process, with I they are considering a sham -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That is really remarkable, by the way, Manu, that exchange with Mo Brooks.

One other thing, our colleague Ted Barrett has sent out a note that, off camera, Republican Senator John Thune had this to say about Bill Taylor's testimony about quid pro quo: "If the picture coming out of Bill Taylor's testimony is not a good one. The picture coming out based on the reporting we have seen I would say is not a good one."

That's very contradictory to what we are hearing.

RAJU: That's a significant statement. Absolutely, breaking exactly from the House Republican defense of this president. Some are weighing in on the substance and realizing this is not a good picture for this president -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Manu, great work. Thank you, man. It's like unbelievable seeing that exchange with Mo Brooks.

Joining me to talk much more about this again, as we keep our eye on the White House, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, and CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for the "New Yorker," Susan Glaser.

Gloria, let us start with what we just heard from John Thune, to be quite honest. Because I was going to begin with reading some more of Bill Taylor's statement. I'll read one line from Bill Taylor's opening statement just to set the groundwork here. This is one a lot of folks have read. Then I exhibit to get to John Thune.

Here's what Bill Taylor said, in part, in his opening statement, "In August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned that a relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular and formal channel of U.S. policy making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons."

That's one of several times that Bill Taylor talks directly to this. And now you have John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, saying this picture is not a good one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course. And you know despite what Congressman Brooks is doing, when you know when you don't have the facts, maybe you argue the process.

And when you look at the testimony of Taylor yesterday, you see somebody who is a 50-year public servant, credible, despite the fact the White House called him a radical unelected bureaucrat.

He is anything but radical. He has worked for Democrats and Republicans. And what he saw as he said, I'm going to read something else to you. He said, "It was a rancorous story about whistleblowers, Mr. Giuliani's side channels, quid pro quos, corruption and interference in elections."

All the while he said Ukraine was in an existential battle for its very survival losing 13,000 people in a fight with Russia.

So, this is -- this is an argument that the White House can try and have and destroy a public servant like Taylor or talk about the process, but when you see someone like Thune come out, who is a thoughtful guy and who is going to have to listen to this trial in the Senate, say this is disturbing, I think you have to listen to him.

Because what he did was read the opening statement of this well respected -- you can call him a bureaucrat, but he is a well-respected diplomat within the community and I think that you know he knows he needs to be taken seriously.


BOLDUAN: And Dan Balz, of the "Washington Post" put it, it's been quoted. I think it deserves being put it. "It is no longer a question of how this happens, it's how the president explains it and lawmakers especially Republicans choose to respond to it."

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Just this morning, we are seeing two divergent ways of responding, between John Thune and Mo Brooks as we saw it play out.

Sam, to what Gloria was just touching on, I think the most important thing to show the impact of Bill Taylor's testimony is the statement from Stephanie Grisham when she says, "This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution."

This is what they're saying about Bill Taylor who everything we know has really shown that he has unimpeachable credentials. Nothing like a radical. Nothing like someone who was trying to wage war on the Constitution.

He is someone that Mike Pompeo asked to come out of retirement to serve in this post.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Gresham's statement really sounds like she is describing herself. She happens to be an unelected bureaucrat, where Bill Taylor served five decades serving his country.

What we are seeing is those accused of abusing the Constitution, like President Trump and the people around him, are accusing the people, as you mentioned, Kate, one impeachable credentials of some kind of political campaign.

But Bill Taylor's testimony really reminds us what actual diplomats do. Taylor came out of retirement to actually serve as a diplomat to advance U.S. policy.

Kate, let's ask ourselves what reason would Bill Taylor have to make any of this up? He came out of retirement, went the Kiev against the wishes of his wife, knowing the former ambassador was insulted by the administration because he wanted to serve his country.

What this testimony shows me is that Bill Taylor did what any diplomat is supposed to do. Try to advance U.S. national security and make a very careful record of any attempts to derail that we understand from his testimony that he sent a cable back to Washington expressing concerns. He wrote a memorandum for the record expressing concerns.

He was trying to do his job while all this pressure was on him and I think what we find out from this testimony is that he no longer felt that he could pursue the actual responsibilities of his job, because of this irregular process.

BOLDUAN: He's trying to stay in the job. He is heading back to Ukraine right now. How long he will be able remain in the job, that is something we can continue to see.

Susan, I do want to get your take then on what happened -- on this I guess we'll call this the next evolution of some of the Republican response and defense of the president.

I'm going to go on my soap box for one second to just remind folks of the defenses from the beginning. First, it was the president was trying to root out corruption when it came to Ukraine. Then it was there was no direct ask coming from the president. Then it was the whistleblower can't be trusted. Then Schiff helped him write it an can't be trust.

And then it was joking, the president said, when he said on camera he would like to see investigations. Then it was there was no quid pro quo because you crane didn't know the aid was being withheld. I can read from you Bill Taylor's opening statement. That is not what he heard. Now it's the process is unfair. So you can't impeach.

I say all of this to ask, Susan, what do you do with this? SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, we are early

in the impeachment proceedings. I think you are right to point out that, number one, Republicans are, by and large, arguing the process.

And what I'm hearing is the sound of silence largely within it comes to Republicans who have not wanted for the most part to engage in a robust defense of the facts. Because, A, it's cheer they don't know them, B, they're shifting and, C, they're not very defensible.

President Trump suggested a line of defense on his own behalf this morning in a tweet when he basically tried to claim that somehow it wasn't a quid pro quo if the Ukrainians didn't know initially that the military aid was being held up.


GLASSER: I think that is not an argument we will see as a lasting one of his defenses. Just like we saw Mick Mulvaney essentially admit a quid pro quo and take it back a few hours later.

What is striking to me is the evolution in their public story is to suggest is that President Trump and his advisers are not disputing the basic facts in this case so much as arguing over the presentation of it ultimately.

BOLDUAN: Good point.


GLASSER: I think that is where we are likely to see many Republicans end up with this looks unfortunate. It's problematic. But it may or may not arise to an impeachable offence. It's not a high crime or misdemeanor.

I think, in the end, they're arguing the process right now, they're likely to argue the Constitution later when it comes to this.

I want to make another point we are about to see President Trump. And I think we can really connect the dots between these two stories, his sort of faux declaration of victory and what is actually a shameful embarrassment for the United States in the Middle East and Syria and this Ukraine story.

The thing that connects the dots here between what we are talking about and what he is about to talk about is Russia. Russia is the big winner from President Trump's decision to abandon our U.S. allies, the Kurds in Syria.

And, in fact, yesterday, the leader of Turkey spent six hours in a meeting with Vladimir Putin in which they agreed that Russia would literally come in to occupy the space recently abandoned by the United States. So, number one.

Number two, read as you pointed out that powerful opening statement by Ambassador Taylor which begins and end with the geopolitical stakes on the line for the United States abandoning its ally Ukraine and failing to provide the agreed upon military aid.

There's a war in Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian versus died as a result of this war because Russia illegally occupied a part of the country and sponsored proxies in an ongoing live hot military conflict.

President Trump has intervened in both Syria and Ukraine to the benefit of Russia. And I think that's something important that gets lost in these stories sometimes.


BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Kate, one thing, remember when Nancy Pelosi stood up and famously pointed her finger at the president and said, all roads lead to Russia. I think that may be exactly what she was talking about.

And one story really infects other when you talk about the politics of all of this. No political decision is made in a vacuum. And I think we see from Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who have said to him, we cannot defend you on Syria, even though he's going to come out and declare victory. We cannot defend you on Syria.

I think they are exhausted of having to defend the indefensible, whether it's the G-7 summit at Doral, which he changed his mind on, whether it's the testimony yesterday which is problematic for some. Whether it's his decision, his rash decision after a phone call with Erdogan.

And I think that you know after a while, one thing builds upon another. And that's a question you know that I have heading into what will certainly be some kind of a trial and the Senate will be whether some of these things will be lumped together in Senator's mind saying there's such a burden of -- for us to carry here about a president and how that will affect their thinking eventually.

BOLDUAN: Sam, go ahead.

VINOGRAD: I was going to say we are seeing some more strategy, though, by the president both on Syria and this impeachment inquiry. It's gas lighting.

He tweeted victory in Syria. We have 80,000 children that have been displaced. He said the Kurds will be safe. We have zero guarantees the Kurds will be safe from Kurdish forces outside the safe zone.

On impeachment, as you pointed out at the outset, Kate, he is pointing out things that are literally in the opening statement. The best thing the president can do now is lie. Because he has no other defense. The problem is we have written testimony by Taylor and others.

And very troubling facts on the ground in Syria and Erdogan and Putin are not going to let the president spin his own narrative here. Putin is on record saying to your point the United States is an unreliable ally.

Now the fact of the matter is, despite whatever President Trump says from the podium shortly, we have two despots that are now the guarantors of U.S. national interests in Syria. Whether that be countering ISIS or protecting Israel from Iranian aggression.

This is no victory. This is a major loss for U.S. national security. But the president will spin this and the impeachment inquiry the same way.

BOLDUAN: If he wants to reverse what has happened, what is he willing to do at this point? That is a huge question that is going to need to come out. That's one big, one of the many questions that we're all waiting to maybe see if there are answers when the president comes to speak.

Guys, stick with me please.

We are still waiting to hear from President Trump. He is expected. He says he will be addressing the situation in Syria. The crisis that is still unfolding from the White House any moment.

Will he also talk about the impeachment inquiry? Will he be taking questions? You can be sure he will be asked about this explosive testimony from Bill Taylor if he does.


Much more after a quick brake.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We are waiting to hear from President Trump on the crisis in Syria right now. He will be coming out any moment. The statement is set to begin at 11:00. You see what time it is now. We will wait and bring it when it begins.


Meanwhile, he is facing a new chapter in the impeachment inquiry after the testimony from his top diplomat in you criminal, Bill Taylor.

Taylor's opening statement -- forget the testimony that we don't know about because it was behind doors.

Just the opening statement, 15 pages that came out, is so troubling to the White House narrative, that even a top Republican Senator, John Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, told CNN this morning the picture coming out of it, "based on the reporting that we have seen, I would say is not a good one."

Joining me now a Democratic Congressman from Colorado, Jason Crow, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: You were one of several freshman Democrats with a national security background, who signed onto - who wrote that Washington post opinion piece last month.

And in it you wrote the following and I think it's important to remind our viewers what you said. "Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election. If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense."

After Bill Taylor's testimony and the opening statement we've seen, where are you now, Congressman?

CROW: Well, we are still going through the process. We have to make sure we are following a process that's fair and transparent and gets the facts. We're doing this in a professor way, making sure we are avoiding the political feeder that I think the Republicans would really like to have right now.

This is about the facts. It's about getting to the facts and upholding the rule of law.

I've taken many oaths throughout my life. I took the first oath to this country decades ago when I first joined the military. I took my last oath back in January when I became a member of Congress. It is time for us to fulfill those oaths, get to the facts and protect our country.

BOLDUAN: What is your reaction to Bill Taylor's opening statement?

CROW: It is shocking. It really is shocking. I read the statement yesterday. I had the opportunity to digest it a little bit. I'd like to say that there's not much that can shock me anymore. But I still am.

This is a man who has spent his life in service to our nation, West Point graduate, combat veteran, a career civil servant and diplomat. Somebody that served honorably under the Democratic and Republican administrations, a lifetime of service. He is saying there was a major problem.

What we see in his testimony is this larger pattern and practice of the administration of cutting out our diplomats, top agencies, top generals, cutting them out of the feedback loop, the communications, and dealing with things in a very small group of people in the White House around the president.

And we are less safe as a result of that and our credibility around the world is tarnished as well.

BOLDUAN: Are the actions that he described in the testimony and what things he has direct knowledge of impeachable?

CROW: Well you know, I think we have to follow that process. Those allegations, if they are true -- we have to make sure we are corroborating that with other witnesses and we're going through the whole process. But if those allegations are true --


BOLDUAN: Do you have any reason to disbelieve our not believe Bill Taylor?

CROW: I do not have any reason to disbelieve that. If it's true, it is impeachable. We were clear in the op-ed last month these are impeachable offenses. We have to make sure we are verifying that, getting the people in front of the committee. We are checking things.

We have to go back to Mr. Sondland now. The testimony yesterday raised concerns about what he told the committee as well.

That's why we go through the process. That's why we have these processes to make sure we are finding the full truth and compare witnesses.

BOLDUAN: So I told your viewers John Thune says this paints a bad picture, what came out of Bill Taylor's testimony.

But the pushback we are hearing from other Republicans this morning is that -- and it does seem to be coordinating because we are hearing it from more than one. Is that there can't have been a quid pro quo because they say Ukraine didn't know the aid was being withheld.

Let me play you what former Republican Congressman Duffy said on "NEW DAY" this morning.


SEAN DUFFY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Ukrainians have to know that Donald Trump is taking something away from them to have a quid pro quo.

A perfect example of a quid pro quo is Joe Biden, who said, if you don't fire this prosecutor, I'm going to take away a billion dollars. That's one thing for another thing.

Donald Trump doesn't have that. The Ukrainians never knew anything was taken away.


BOLDUAN: Of course, just for our viewers, Bill Taylor in his opening testimony says this, "On August 29th, an assistant to Ukraine president," quote, "contacted me and was very concerned, asking about the withheld security assistance." So Ukraine did know.

But what do you say to that Republican defense now?


CROW: Well, first off, I think we have to make something very clear. There doesn't have to be a quid pro quo. If the president asks a foreign government to do something to interfere with a U.S. election, that's the is unlawful and it's unethical.