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INSIDE POLITICS

Donald Trump Lifts All Sanctions In Turkey; Donald Trump: "Let Someone Else Fight Over This Long-Bloodstained Sand"; Donald Trump: Small Number Of U.S. Troops Staying In Syria; White House Calls Taylor Testimony A "Smear Attack"; Mitch McConnell: "I Don't Recall" Speaking With Trump About July 25th Call. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If that is case though Kate, the question becomes why did it have to be done in such a chaotic manner? Why did have to be done in such incoherent way? Why couldn't it have been declared plan in a much more decisive way?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Carissa, it's great to see you, thank you. Sam thank you so much. The ripple effects of these remarks from President Trump are going to go far and wide. Thank you very much for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you Kate. Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. We begin the hour with a remarkable statement just completed by the President of the United States in the diplomatic reception room of the White House.

The President taking what he considers a victory lap for the operation the Turks just completed inside Syria. The President saying this could not have happened without American leadership. The President in a long statement that often veered from the facts, the facts what has happened over past five days and facts on the ground in Syria now somehow saying that because of his leadership, Turkey and Syria are a safer place.

The President, listen here, taking credit. He green lights essentially the Turkish operation. Now he says he has stopped that military operation and the United States alone deserves the credit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're willing to take blame and we're also willing to take credit. This is something they've been trying to do for many, many decades. Since then, others have come out to help and we welcome them to do so. Other countries have stepped forward. They want to help and we think that's great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The President also announcing it will be interesting to see what the reaction is in the United States Congress. The President saying he has now lifting sanctions he imposed on Turkey at the beginning of this military operation.

Again, the President saying it's time to get U.S. troops out of Syria. The President describing facts on the ground in Syria that are not in sync with what we are hearing both from officials there and our correspondents.

Let's begin our coverage right there with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh who has been tracking about the Turkish military offensive the reaction of the Kurds who feel betrayed by the President and more. Nick, the way the President of the United States just described this, where does it match up with the reality on the ground and where is it wildly divergent?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's extraordinarily hard to see the kind of gentle overlap between reality and the world that's just been described. The major problem of course is that the cease-fire that seems to have set in essentially has very little to do with U.S. involvement here at all.

Yes, they implemented in Ankara last week an agreement which saw a calming in the fighting but essentially just paved the way for the deal we heard yesterday in Sochi where Russian peace keepers came in along with the Syrian regime and are now effectively patrolling the border.

So, yes, Turkey may kind of come forward and said that it is willing to permanently abide by that cease-fire but essentially that is because it's got what it wanted through a deal with Moscow. Russia and Moscow not mentioned once during that particular news conference. The Syrian Kurds look, they may have rung up and told the General Muslim who may have rung up and told Donald Trump that he was happy and he will continue forward.

He hasn't frankly got much choice at the end of the day. We know for a fact, having seen for ourselves Syrian Kurds stop U.S. military vehicles that tired to go through commercially and yell at them, they are not happy at all. This is a gross betrayal. There are a couple of things that are quite disturbing to hear too.

He talked about how they've been in U.S. presence in Syria for about nearly ten years it was supposed to be a 30 day mission, well, that's nonsense, I mean they've been in for about four to five on also on and off to fight ISIS. It was never meant to be a 30-day mission. He also talked about how people have tried to pull this off for decades.

I'm not quite sure what he's referring to. This is not a permanent sort of settlement between the Kurds of this region who part of who Turkey considers to be terrorists against whom they're launching this operation. And there's also some slightly flippant remark too where is he referred to the cease-fire being permanent if any cease-fire or anything is permanent in that part of the world.

And the safe zone, well, he hopes it will be made safe eventually. So disturbing frankly to see how jarring a distant from reality this was and some of the flippancy in which the President spoke to this grave crisis for U.S. policy and the Syrian Kurds themselves John. KING: So all right. Nick Paton out here from Washington, you're on the ground there and you've covered the region for years. The President described this as a great American victory. Is it not a fact that as a result of this is whether you agree or disagree with the beginning of it is that Assad is stronger, Putin is stronger. A NATO ally Turkey is now working with the Russians in Syria and Iran is stronger and perhaps ISIS is stronger. Is that a fair statement?

WALSH: That's all fair. The other thing too is that now the Russian military police are patrolling NATO's southern border because that is what Turkey is a member of. That is something that Vladimir Putin could never have wildly dreamed would have ever happened while he was in the Kremlin. In fact, when there were NATO troops on Turkey's southern border Russia and Georgia, Moscow absolutely freaked out.

The reversal here has happened with the blessing frankly or the assistance of the U.S. Commander in Chief. That is startling. And remember John, the U.S. are not going home. They're simply having to carry out the same mission they were doing inside Syria, now with the Syrian Kurds with their ground troops frankly hating them and the mission must be carried out from Iraq, who's just said they don't really want those U.S. Special Forces here anymore.

[12:05:00]

WALSH: And potentially with just a hundred or so difficult to protect them properly down in the south in this sort of slightly delusional mission of securing Syria's oil. Syria doesn't have that much oil and the U.S. is one of the biggest hydro carbon exporters in the world. So this sort of slightly 1980s notion that they need to stick around and defend the oil interests here, that also leaves me baffled to be honest, John.

KING: Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate the reporting in the breaking news situation from someone with a lot of experience in the region who said the facts straight. Nick, appreciate it. Let's go straight now live to the White House. Kaitlan Collins, take us inside the decision here. I know the President is mad that he's being criticized by his own party in Congress.

He's decided to lift sanctions here. He told the Vice President don't go to Michigan for a political event because I want you standing behind me. What is the strategy here? Because as Nick just laid out pretty clearly and plainly, a lot of what the President said in that statement is simply not matched by the facts.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was interesting. You saw the President having Pence and Pompeo, of course the two that he dispatched to Turkey last week, a trip that I went with them to Turkey to broker the cease-fire as he was essentially building off of that declaring victory here saying that not one drop of American blood had been spilled.

But there are a lot of questions about what is going to come out of this? The President himself seemed to question some of those. He was talking about this cease-fire that has been agreed too. He says it's permanent now though, even he in his own words said that a cease-fire in that area as the President said is questionable so they're going to wait to see if that is something that holds.

He says if it doesn't, he'll re-impose those sanctions that he's announcing he's lifting those sanctions that he recently authorized. But of course, there are going to be questions about what exactly the strategy here is going forward, because the President said that there are going to be U.S. troops that remain in the area.

Those are those troops that left Syria, went next door to Iraq. The President is saying that they're going to remain in the area. But just yesterday we heard the Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying no they're only going to stay in Iraq temporarily and then they'll return to the United States that seems to contradict the statement that President put out last week saying that they were going to remain there so there wasn't a resurgence of ISIS essentially what happened in 2014.

The President also claimed, John that a lot of those ISIS fighters who have escaped during this Turkish incursion and what has been going on with Kurds no longer able to protect some of those prisons have been largely recaptured. John, that goes completely against what the President's top Envoy to Syria just testified today on Capitol Hill.

When actually he said that over 100 ISIS fighters have escaped from those prisons and they do not know where they are. Those are going to be the questions going forward. The President also didn't answer questions about what else the top envoy to Syria said, which that there have been war crimes the United States believes that have been committed in Syria by these Turkish led opposition forces.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. I appreciate that in this big breaking news day. Let's get some perspective now. With me to share the reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson Michael Shear with "The New York Time, Laura Barron-Lopez with "POLITICO" and Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post" joining us from Cambridge is David Gergen.

David, I want to start with you. You've worked for four different Presidents in the White House. You've been there for difficult moments. You've been there when frankly you need to spin a situation that's not so great and try to make it look a little bit better.

As you listen to the President there and you know the facts on the ground, I suspect a part of this actually I know, I'm told a part of this was to try to change the conversation on cable television away from the damning impeachment testimony that we have today, Thursday we lost that shot I used to. From what you heard, I mean, why, to what end?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: Toward what end it was his speech today?

KING: Yes.

GERGEN: Well, listen John, we have to start with the fact that most Americans, two-thirds of Americans in poll say they're exhausted with all our efforts in the Middle East and there is a desire to pull troops back. But the way the President described it today will strike I think almost everyone who's covered the Middle East for any length of time as "Alice in Wonderland".

Have we heard from our troops there on the ground that they're celebrating this? No. They're all being very critical. They think it's a betrayal of the Kurds. Did we see pictures of American troop leaving? The Kurds throwing flowers at them? No, they threw rocks and threw potatoes at American troops as they left because they felt betrayed.

Did we seen Erdogan heading off to Washington to figure out how to make this work with the President of the United States? No. He went to Russia to work with Putin. Putin is now basically the dominant player in Syria and in this part of the Syria in particular. He's become a major, major figure in the Middle East.

I can't tell you the Presidents I worked for. They worked so hard, they worked for years to get Russia out of the Middle East. We've invited them back in and that's not good news.

KING: David, - bring it to the room. To that point, the President said as Kaitlan just mentioned the President's envoy to the region said the Turks during this operation committed what he has believed to be war crimes. The President of the United States just said he hopes to see Erdogan soon.

[12:10:00]

KING: David Gergen knows Erdogan went to Russia, not to Washington to figure out how to make this work? But listen to the President saying Erdogan is a great guy. So he can think of him as a nice guy as you give me your congratulations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Through much work, we have done things that everybody said couldn't be done. Today's announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned and now people are saying, wow, what a great outcome, congratulations. It's too early to me to be congratulated, but we've done a good job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Who's saying, wow, what a great outcome?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think Russia is saying what a great outcome, I think Turkey is saying what a great outcome; I think Assad is saying what great outcome and I think ISIS is probably the wow a great outcome. He said there that there were some ISIS folks who were on the run they were captured. We'll see. I don't think there's any evidence of that.

We'll also see what Republicans do? It does seem like that Donald Trump was able to quiet a lot of the evangelical leaders who were coming down on him. Pat Robertson said that he lost the mandate of heaven, for instance with his withdrawal using some of them essentially say we don't really agree with them on this but they essentially still support him.

We'll see what happens in Congress. All sorts of sanction bills are floating around, both in the House and the Senate, probably more likely out of the House. We'll see what happens and that Senate Graham has a bill, there are all sorts of bills. We'll see. What Mitch McConnell laid out in that pretty scathing op-ed in "The Washington Post" on Friday pretty much captured where Republicans are the question is what are they going to do there?

KING: And just as week in the middle of all this McConnell went to the floor and said he wanted something stronger in the Senate than what was passed in an overwhelmingly by partisan basis in the House but drafted by Democrats well they run the House. McConnell said this is the President of the United States essentially poking his own majority leader directly in the eye here saying; go away, I'm lifting the sanctions. He is looking for the Republicans not to shut up.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. We were heading into this next week basically being a time in which we would see those sanctions bills come back up, at least on the House floor. We've seen McConnell's promise. It's almost like a dare for the President that he is saying this is done I'm going to lift the sanctions you can't push me on this.

It doesn't seem like on this issue that either party in Congress is actually in a mood to back down. This cuts too close to what they believe is kind of not just the central tenet of how the Middle East works but how the United States is supposed to work? When it comes to geo-political rivalries and how you treat your allies?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This isn't going to offer his party anything to latch onto. This is sort of up is down, black is white kind of description of what's actually going on there will not suddenly give his Republican allies, McConnell and others some sort of ammunition to say, wow, now we can grab onto this thing the President said and like come to his defense if anything, the exact opposite. It will cause them more grief and more frustration and more anxiety about how do we deal with this but also on the politics of it how do we defend a President whose saying such things?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And it bolsters Pelosi's argument that she is not making last few weeks that all roads lead to Russia. The fact that Trump started the sequence of events that created this situation and now at the end of it as we just heard from the CNN Correspondent, Russia has patrols on the ground, something that they never expected they would be able to have at all.

And also to Nia's point about the ISIS escapees, I mean, the Pentagon Chief Esper just said that he couldn't say that they were largely recaptured and it wasn't just a few that escaped, it was at least a hundred.

KING: So we'll continue to track to see if there is reaction from Capitol Hill. Our team up there watching to see that we'll continue to see if the White House can explain clearly the things that don't match from the President's lips. It don't match the facts. Up next for us though the White House responding to explosive testimony on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry.

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[12:15:00]

KING: To the impeachment inquiry now and proof that looks can be deceiving the President's allies in the House today staging a protest of sorts, storming the Committee room where the impeachment inquiry is taking place. They are complaining about the process at a time when their own staff lawyers are telling them the substance of the testimony is beyond damning and damaging to the President.

Substance before stunts here, the top diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor testified yesterday for nearly ten hours. He drew repeated clear lines from the President to a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Taylor says he raised concerns about vital security aid being held up, but he says it was told that the no comes from the top and the President made clear Ukraine gets nothing until it first commits to investigate the Bidens in a long debunk 2016 election conspiracy theory.

Taylor puts Trump's Personal Attorney Rudy Giuliani at the center of all this and said Giuliani's work often undermined the efforts of the career professionals. There's no way to read Taylor's testimony and not see deep trouble for the President. The White House, though, choosing a familiar strategy, smear the source, railing against what it called, "Coordinated smear attack from far left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats".

Taylor is a west point grad and Vietnam veteran who has served in both Democratic and Republican Administrations and a man who has a sterling reputation but the Vice President of the United States also joining the character assault.

[12:20:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We have some extraordinary men and women in our diplomatic corps who know their work and who are strong and are out fighting for America's interests. But there's no question when President Trump said we're going to drain the swamp that an awful lot of the swamp has been caught up in the State Department bureaucracy. We're just going to keep fighting it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us live from Capitol Hill. Phil, this public message of outrage about the process attacking Bill Taylor behind the scenes, though, at least my incoming is Republicans understand the potential damage here.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me give you some context of things. You make the key point the public message right now is process. That's it. Nobody is really arguing on the substance here but a couple of the President's most ardent defenders laying questions into what William Taylor said and trying to point to what other people said as perhaps carrying precedent over what Taylor testified last night.

Last night after Taylor was done with his deposition, I was talking to a Republican lawmaker, a very close defender of the President who was laying out why he thought there were problems with Taylor's testimony. Then he paused and then he said look, if I'm going to be honest with you, today wasn't a great day for us. And I think that's the reality here and everybody recognizes that William Taylor based on his career and based on how detailed his testimony was and based on what we were hearing that even though he didn't present them yesterday.

He has extensive notes and documentation, that 15 page opening statement was based. There is recognition that this is a potential issue. That said Republicans have made very clear both in the Senate and in the House that process is the fight that they want to have right now. That's how they feel they can get their message across.

That's where the President is right now. Senator Lindsey Graham close ally to President told me last night he's going to introduce a resolution in the Senate condemning the Democratic process saying it has no historical precedent. You obviously saw - I guess you could call it in the security room earlier today.

So that is where the fight is right now. But there's recognition that Taylor's testimony is very problematic. And I think there's also recognition if you want to have the process fight, Democrats have made clear, there will be public hearings, there will be more closed door depositions, then there will be public hearings.

Obviously if the House votes to impeach, there will be a very public trial so all of this is going to keep coming out John. I think right now Republicans are trying to unify around a message. For them, at this point it's not substance, its process.

KING: Phil Mattingly, I appreciate the live report from Capitol Hill just to button up Phil's point there. The Republicans are complaining this is being done behind closed doors and that it's an impeachment inquiry. They are right in the sense that in the Clinton impeachment inquiry and the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the full House had to pass a resolution essentially endorsing the inquiry.

But they forget they wasn't all that long ago, they had a month long Benghazi investigation that yes in the end had public hearing but had months of witnesses behind closed doors, months of document requests behind closed doors. They forget the history as they and let's show it, let's be fare. Here are the Republicans today saying what the Democrats are doing is not fair to the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R-LOUISIANA): It should be the people of this country who decide who's going to be President, not Nancy Pelosi and not Adam Schiff in secret behind closed doors.

REP. MATT GAETZ, (R-FL): The millions of Americans that we represent that want to see this Congress working for them and not obsessed with attacking a President who we believe has not done anything to deserve impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a sham and it's time for it to end.

REP. JIM JORDON (R-OH): What is happening here is not fair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a total political hit job on the President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Those are what I call and good for them that's what they believe they want to do to stand up for the President, but those are the always Trumpers in the House. They have safe Republican districts. This is the number two Republican in the Senate John Thune earlier today. The picture coming out of it based on the reporting that we've seen I would say is not a good one.

But I would also say that until we have the process that allows everybody to see this in full transparency it's pretty hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions. A much more reasonable take there from a Senate Republican who says if this witness can be corroborated and this comes out in public, that's not good.

LOPEZ: And with the key part of Taylor too is that yes, there was this behind closed doors testimony but a lot of Democrats would love to have him testify publicly and they're hoping that he will once they reach the public portion of this investigation. Also on Taylor, it was hinted by a number of Democrats to us yesterday that he has contemporaneous notes which are key.

It's unclear, though, whether or not those will be handed over to Congress, whether or not the State Department is withholding them or how they will be able to get that?

KING: But the administration has withheld the other documents. I was told by a Republican lawyer in the room that he had specific citations about other cables, other e-mails, other documents and other people who could back up his account. So we're going to go through this as we go. I just want to break this up - go ahead.

DEMIRJIAN: I was going to just say this is the whole chess game the Democrats are playing, tight? Is that they have these witnesses that are in the room and then they have these witnesses outside the room, the repositories of all the different information from where it came and they're kind of playing them off each other, right?

[12:25:00]

DEMIRJIAN: You've got Taylor versus Sondland; you've got Taylor versus potentially people within the President's cabinet circle as well. Ideally I think what the Democrats are trying to do is give us a taste of all that once it gets out into public which could look like a Taylor and potential a Bolton or something like that done a line too painful.

KING: There was no doubt anyway but after yesterday and the President had been told this Dana Bash done some great reporting on this. The House Democrats are going to impeach the President of the United States. We are on that path. So then this becomes a Senate issue which is why Senator Thune is so interesting. Saying let's have an open mind, let's see when this case becomes public, what the American people think?

And then there was this shot across the bow yesterday from the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The President has said on a couple of occasions, well, Mitch McConnell says my call with the Ukraine President was perfect. Mitch McConnell says never happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President has said that you told him that his phone call with the Ukrainian President was perfect and innocent. Do you believe that the President has handled this Ukrainian situation perfectly?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MAJORITY LEAER (R): We've not had any conversations on that subject.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he was lying about that?

MCCONNELL: You'll have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the President about that phone call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He speaks quietly, short sentences as Mitch McConnell does. But if you know the - you can translate. That was a Mr. President, Matt Gaetz in the House and those guys might repeat anything you say. We're not going to do that here in the Senate, get your act together.

SHEAR: And look, there is definitely maybe a better recognition in the Senate than there is in the House among the Republicans that when the time comes for the public airing of all of this, that's probably not good for them.

I mean, the Republicans have a sort of be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. When the Democrats in the House decide that it's time to take all of these witnesses public and lay out the case, you sort of imagine that the Republicans might be yelling and screaming about a circus environment in these hearings and saying why are we subjecting the public to all of this which is the opposite of what they're saying now. I think the Republicans in the Senate understand where this is heading and how damaging this could be for the President and for them?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean the conventional wisdom would has been a conventional wisdom was that somehow impeachment would be good for the President and rally his base. Maybe, it's not clear that that's the case. The conventional wisdom has also been that they can't find 20 Republicans in the Senate to remove him from office.

We don't know, right? You hear Mitch McConnell, you hear people like Lisa Murkowski and you hear people like Mitt Romney, in some ways they are the people you would expect to speak out, but you also hear sort of silence from other GOP Senators. I think the President should be worried about where the Senate is right now in terms of Republicans.

DEMIRJIAN: One thing to keep in mind is important though is that regardless of what happens with the eventual verdict on what the Senate does? The Senate Republicans know that this is going to be an election issue and they know that the House Democrats, even if they don't manage to push Trump out of office, think this is going to be something they can use to gain seats in the Senate which is the most tenuous thing right now.

And so they look like they're too closely aligned with the President, they kind of lose that ability to punch back and say we're an independent entity, vote for us and vote for people here because we're who we are and not just because we're covering for something.

KING: McConnell told a visitor yesterday, I'm told, that he was worried that he would lose the Senate majority someone who was up there to talk to him about this yesterday. Up next, two of Rudy Giuliani's associates in Ukraine plead not guilty in federal court in New York.

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