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Trump Declares Victory In Syria As Putin & Erdogan Reshape The War; Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Presidential Candidate, Discusses The Syria Situation, McConnell Contradicting Trump On "Innocent" Ukraine Phone Call; In Tax Hearing, Trump Lawyer Argues If Trump Shot Someone On Fifth Avenue, He Couldn't Be Charged While In Office; Federal Judge Orders State Department To Release Records On Ukraine Scandal. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 14:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: President Trump today orders all sanctions lifted on Turkey as he defends his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. He's calling it a victory. But Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes a deal with Erdogan to reshape the 8-year civil war.

At home, bipartisan criticism mounts over President Trump's decision. A short time ago, President Trump offered his take.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let someone else fight over this long, blood-stained sand.

How many Americans must die in the Middle East? In the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts? After all of the precious blood and treasure America has poured into the deserts of the Middle East, I am committed to pursuing a different course.


BALDWIN: During this morning's statement, the president made several false claims, including his assertion the U.S. military deployment to Syria lasted almost 10 years when it was supposed to last a mere 30 days.

Both of those numbers are incorrect. U.S. ground troops didn't arrive in Syria until 2015. And there was never a specific timetable attached to the deployment.

Left in the lurch in this decision, the Syrian Kurds. A spokesperson for the Kremlin said if they don't vacate the border region between Syria and Turkey, they risk being, quote, "steamrolled" by Turkish forces.

Nevertheless, President Trump is spinning his deal as a win for this ethnic group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Countless lives are now being saved as a result of our negotiation with Turkey, an outcome reached without spilling one drop of American blood. No injuries, nobody shot, nobody killed.

I have just spoken to General Mazloum. A wonderful man. The commander-in-chief of the SDF, Kurds. And he was extremely thankful for what the United States has done. Could not have been more thankful.


BALDWIN: Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, is also a Democratic presidential candidate and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Bennet a pleasure. Thank you for being on.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Brooke, thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: I have to get your initial reaction to the president's comments basically declaring mission accomplished in Syria?

BENNET: It's so pathetic. I mean, it's such a -- such a sad day for our foreign policy. I'm as frustrated as anybody with the mistakes made over the last 20 years in the Middle East.

But this specific mission that President Trump has abandoned was successful. Over five years of trying to defeat ISIS, we lost six American soldiers. That's -- it's a very sad that we lost six Americans but the Kurds lost 10,000 soldiers over that period of time. And we managed to shrink the ISIS caliphate down to the prisons that are now existing in northern Syria.

We've now walked away from that, abandoned the Kurds, our allies, and we abandoned our ability to continue to put a ceiling on top of ISIS and we capitulated. It wasn't a negotiation. We capitulated to what Erdogan and the Russians want.



BENNET: Go ahead.

BALDWIN: Do you buy the president's argument it was Turkey that agreed to stop military operations in Syria?

BENNET: What I believe is that Turkey and Russia and Iran, who we haven't talked about for that matter, and Assad for that matter, are all taking a long-term view.

Donald Trump looks at something in a news cycle then is satisfied about his winning that news cycle and then the next day does the same thing.

The Turks and Iranians and Russians and Assad are playing for generations. And it's -- and we don't, we have a president who simply doesn't understand the Middle East, doesn't understand American foreign policy, conducted both by Democrats and Republicans.

And he's learned the wrong -- he's learned from -- instead of learning from our mistakes in the Middle East, I think he's repeating them.

So here we've ended the one mission that you could point to and say, very low loss of American life, six soldiers over five years, very high degree of success, which we can't say about most of the things we've done there.

And now he's completely abandoned it and turned it over to Russia and turned it over to Turkey and to Syria and the Iranians.

BALDWIN: What about the U.S. troops? Let me read a tweet for you. This is from Senator Bernie Sanders. Quote, "President Trump announced he will keep forces in Syria to protect oil fields. Last I checked, Congress never authorized U.S. forces to be deployed to secure Syria's economic resources. Putting U.S. forces in harm's way for this reason is illegal and unconstitutional."

Senator, is it?

BENNET: Bernie Sanders is 100 percent correct. And not only that, but if word gets out in the Middle East, as no doubt it is today, that we are not willing to deploy troops to stand with our allies the Kurds, but we are willing to, to deploy them to protect some out-of- the-way oil well that isn't actually even producing that much oil, and isn't remotely near any of the action with respect to ISIS, people are going to say, you're only here to steal our stuff.

And Bernie's point is correct, which is, the AUMF, which is what gives the president the authority to act in these matters in the Middle East, gives him no authority to protect oil.

I mean, he said he was going to station troops in Iraq and the Iraqis said, nobody asked us, told us.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

BENNET: He's treating it like it's his chess board.

And the main point I think that Americans should take away is that America has demonstrated profound weakness here, not profound strength. We've been rolled by dictators in Russia and in Turkey. We're being rolled by dictators in North Korea and China as well.

This is the opportunity cost of having somebody as our president who has no idea, no earthly idea what he's doing.

BALDWIN: Let's move on to Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Just yesterday, he directly disputed one of the president's claims about their conversation about his phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: He read my phone call with the president of Ukraine, Mitch McConnell. He said, that was the most innocent phone call that I've read.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president has said that you told him that his phone call with the Ukrainian president was perfect. Do you --


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We've not had any conversations on that subject.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:: He was lying about that?

MCCONNELL: Again, I don't recall any conversations with the president about that, about that phone call.


BALDWIN: So I wanted to play that, Senator Bennet, because Leader McConnell is not saying Trump is lying, but also not supporting the president's claim that the phone -- the thing about the phone call was perfect. And now you have today Republican Senator John Thune saying this testimony doesn't look good.

So my question to you, sir, is, are you starting to see cracks across the aisle?

BENNET: I think you are starting to see cracks across the aisle, because it simply can't be defended. I mean, even putting aside the quid pro quo issue for a minute, which just the issue that he's calling up foreign leaders and asking them to interfere with elections, that is usually problematic for this country.

But, second, you know, it now sounds like it's pretty clear he was threatening to withhold the foreign aid.

And, you know, Trump is the kind of guy, he makes everything up. And in this case, what he's saying is, oh, yes, McConnell said it was perfect. Then McConnell said, no, I never read the letter.

I mean, he's looking for confirmation, affirmation, Donald Trump is, to prove his lies. But even Mitch McConnell is unwilling to play that role for Donald Trump.


And I hope going forward, every one of us will step up and do or constitutional duty here whatever that looks like in the end.

BALDWIN: Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator, Michael Bennett, thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

BENNET: Thank you, Brooke. Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you. The subject of President Trump's taxes back in court today. But it's

comments from his lawyer that are raising new concerns. What was said about the president shooting someone on Fifth Avenue?

Plus, more on our breaking news. Republican lawmakers currently in a standoff in this secure room up on Capitol Hill after being disrupted, the testimony of an impeachment witness. Stand by for updates there.



BALDWIN: A dramatic scene unfolding in court today as lawmakers for President Trump try to keep his taxes out of the public eye. Today, urging the appeals court to block federal prosecutors in New York from getting access to Trump's company business records. The case could soon end up before the United States Supreme Court.

And interestingly, this 2016 quote from President Trump's campaign came back up in court today.


TRUMP: The people, my people, are so smart. And you know what else they say about my people? The polls. They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voter voters. It's like incredible.


BALDWIN: CNN's Athena Jones is with me, along with Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney.

You listened to this testimony today. Tell me exactly what happened, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All about Trump's tax returns, tax records, eight years of records subpoenaed in august by the Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance. Trump's side argues they shouldn't have to comply with the subpoena because President Trump as president has absolute immunity.

What was interesting here as you saw that clip played from the campaign where then candidate Trump says he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters.

That very idea was brought up by attorneys for the Manhattan D.A.'s office saying, if you have the scenario, arguing, you say the president is immune from prosecution, arguing he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and nothing could be done with it.

And sure enough, one of Trump's lawyer said, that is correct. Their position. So that was very interesting.

There are a number of points the judge challenged the Trump side on. Appearing skeptical he could block the subpoena based on absolute immunity. And the lower court rejected that idea. Dismissed the Trump case trying to block the subpoena, saying that it's not unconstitutional. They excoriated that claim saying, it's repugnant, an overreach of executive power.

So it looks like a lot of skepticism for that point of view.

Remind our viewers, this is all about the hush money payments to porn star, Stormy Daniels. State prosecutors want to know is the Trump Organization, based here in New York, filed a false business records to cover up those payments. These tax returns would be part of that. That's what this all goes back to.

As you said, both sides recognize a number of times in these proceedings the next step for this will be the Supreme Court. One side or the other is going to appeal whatever the decision is going to be. We expect that process will be fast-tracked as well.

Again, all about whether the president is absolutely immune from prosecution.

BALDWIN: Absolute immunity.

And, Harry, to you. You heard Athena report out what this line, everyone remembers from the campaign about, I can shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue and you'd still vote for me.

The fact that the defense attorney said, well, yes, he wouldn't be in trouble. What did you think of the attorney's response? The Trump attorney?

HARRY LITMAN, A FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It's amazing. I mean, you know, you took this apocryphal claim and said, yes, that's correct. He wasn't speaking for the second circuit.

He's going to lose this case and going to lose it in short order. This is a claim they want to preserve for the Supreme Court. But it's as broad as can be. One person in the entire United States cannot even be investigated or looked into. That is the president.

The chief judge presiding said, look, can't we think of this in narrower terms? All the D.A.'s asking for is a third party, not Trump, his accountants, to produce records. Do we need to do more than say that now?

You can expect the opinion to issue on those grounds. But you can then expect Trump to appeal to the Supreme Court where they've reached an agreement, as Athena said, to do it in a fast-track fashion, and taking this broad, absolute position, we can't be even looked into, no way, no how.

The Department of Justice will try to temper that a little and say, you have to make a preliminary showing. That will be their claim in the petition to the Supreme Court.

BALDWIN: Got it. Harry, stand by. More for you on something else.

Athena, thank you very much.

After dramatic new testimony pointing the finger directly at the president in this whole quid pro quo scheme, is this a blatant abuse of power? We discuss.


And we are getting word that the president knew about the Republican plan to storm this witness room today. We'll talk to a Democrat who was there.


BALDWIN: More breaking news this afternoon. We've learned a federal judge has ordered the State Department to release records pertaining to this whole Ukraine scandal.


Let's get straight to our Justice Department correspondent, Jessica Schneider, in D.C.

Jessica, what exactly would be released?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this happening in the past few minutes. If these records are released that this judge ordered, this would happen in the next month, in 30 days.

What are these records you ask? This all stems from a lawsuit from the watchdog group American Oversight who filed this lawsuit last month.

And they're asking for records from the State Department dealing with senior officials' correspondence with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, about communications concerning two things: Efforts to encourage or ask for Ukrainian assistance on the political investigations into the Bidens, as well as any efforts to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

This is a watchdog group putting forward this lawsuit. Presumably, they want to kind of jive with what's going on in Congress. But it's interesting, and important, that in the next 30 days, the State Department has in fact been ordered to turn the documents over.

The key, Brooke, according to the judge and parties here filing this lawsuit, is that Rudy Giuliani isn't a governmental employee. Therefore, his records and communications with the State Department should be released.

Now, presumably here, the State Department could appeal this. They could ask for a stay on this order. Meaning, we wouldn't see those documents.

But right now, as it stands, we could see as the American public by via this watchdog, these documents in the next 30 days -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: How about that?

Jessica Schneider, 30 days is the deadline. Thank you very much.

Sneak in a quick break. When we come back, more on the breaking news. Legal analysis on this huge development, conversations between top state employees and Giuliani.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.