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GOP's Sen. Graham Introduces Resolution Condemning House Impeachment Process, Calls It "Out Of Bounds"; WAPO: White House Delayed Ukraine Trade Decision In August, A Sign Pressure Extended Beyond Security Funds; New Polls: Biden And Warren Leading Other 2020 Dems; Bennet Looking To Qualify For The November Debate As Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan Drops Out Of Presidential Race; Sources: U.S. May Move Tanks Into Eastern Syria To Protect U.S. Troops Near Oil Fields; Kim Jong-un Trying To Divide Trump From Top Advisers With Pressure Offensive. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching, we will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Out of bounds. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham announces he's introducing a resolution, condemning the House impeachment inquiry as the Republicans step up their fight against the Democratic-led probe.

Reverberating. Republican sources are telling CNN that the impeachment inquiry testimony by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine was a game changer because it was so detailed and specific and, according to one source, pointed to a quid pro quo.

Tanks moving in? CNN has learned the Pentagon may start moving battle tanks and troops into eastern Syria, to protect U.S. forces stationed near Kurdish oil fields.

And Kim's pressure offensive. North Korea's dictator touts his relationship with President Trump while dismissing top U.S. administration officials in what expert see as an effort to divide the President from his advisers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. New efforts by Republicans loyal to the President to fight House Democrats impeachment inquiry. The powerful chairman in the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham just announced he's introducing a resolution, condemning the impeachment probe, calling it out of bounds and inconsistent with due process. And while the White House welcomes the move, Graham tells CNN that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledges that the Trump team itself needs to improve its messaging on impeachment.

We'll talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman Denny Heck of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analyst are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is watching all these developments.

Manu, Congressional Republicans, they are clearly answering President Trump's call to get tougher when it comes to impeachment and to fight back.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. A more aggressive pushback from Republicans in the aftermath of that testimony from the top diplomat in Ukraine who said that the President withheld vital military aid to Ukraine. And he was told it was done so because he was pushing for Ukraine to declare that there were investigations ongoing that could potentially help the President politically.

Now after a day when most of Republicans were sidestepping questions about this. Today, a number of Republicans had to poke holes in that testimony, with even the number two Republican walking back concerns that he had just a day ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, Republicans on Capitol Hill are coalescing around a more aggressive strategy to fight back against a barrage of damaging revelations, stemming from the House impeachment probe. They're discrediting bombshell testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine and now offering a new Senate resolution, condemning the House Democrats impeachment inquiry, calling it a sham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It's out of bounds. It's inconsistent with due process.

RAJU: And it comes amid damning testimony from diplomat Bill Taylor who told House investigators that he had been informed by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that President Trump put a hold on vital aid to Ukraine until the Ukrainian government announced investigations that could help the President politically.

The day after House Republicans stormed the impeachment proceedings and delayed a private deposition from a top defense official for five hours, Republicans mounted a more vigorous defense. The GOP contended that because Taylor did not hear from Trump directly that he wanted to withhold the aid for political reasons, his testimony could not be trusted.

(on camera) Hey, Senator.

GRAHAM: Hey.

RAJU: Are you OK with what was -- came out in the Bill Taylor testimony that the President apparently had directed the military aid to be withheld in exchange for a public declaration of investigations that could help him politically?

GRAHAM: Did he talk to the President?

RAJU: He talked to Ambassador Sondland who talked to the President.

GRAHAM: Oh, that's hearsay.

RAJU (voice-over): Other Republicans echoed that line, saying they needed to hear more information first.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA: When you watch a trial and you want to get a fair assessment of guilt or innocence, you don't just listen to the lawyer's opening statements.

RAJU: And the day after Senate Majority Whip John Thune, said the picture emerging from Taylor's testimony is, "not a good one." On Thursday, he gave a response the White House would like.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: From what I could tell, a lot of the interactions and statements that he made were based on secondhand information and I think that's -- so those are obviously points that can be disputed.

RAJU (on camera): And so you said that within the picture that painted of the President wasn't great. Do you agree?

THUNE: Well, based on the reporting of what you guys were saying about it. But I went back yesterday and actually read what was said, and there is. There's a lot of secondhand information.

[17:05:01]

RAJU (voice-over): Other Republicans continue to dodge questions.

(on camera) Do you have any concerns with that, as in Bill Taylor's testimony?

Sir, did you want to weigh in about the Bill Taylor testimony? Do you have any concerns about what he said?

(voice-over) Democrats say the impeachment inquiry is pressing ahead with plans to interview a senior State Department official Saturday behind closed doors. And at least two more next week, including a top National Security Council official, Tim Morrison, who was referenced in Taylor's testimony.

Taylor testified that on September 7th, Morrison relayed a phone call between the President and Ambassador Sondland in which the President said he was not asking for a quid pro quo, but wanted President Zelensky of Ukraine to go to a microphone and say he's opening investigations of Biden in 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Lindsey Graham in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment proceedings actually praised the closed door depositions that were happening in the House Judiciary Committee. We have seen a press conference of his from 1998 that called -- that said that the depositions will not drag on. He said that it's a very smart thing to do before they have public hearings.

Now, we asked Lindsey Graham and his office about those past comments. His office said that it's not -- because in the Clinton impeachment proceedings they voted in the House to authorize that inquiry.

Now, Democrats now say that there's no need to vote to authorize the inquiry in the House. They say that they can certainly carry on this impeachment probe. And similarly like the Clinton impeachment hearings, they do plan to go public, so then they hope to have public hearings in the coming weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you.

The White House is happy to see the increasingly forceful Republican challenges to the impeachment inquiry. But one official admits the West Wing itself needs to do a much better job. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta has the latest for us.

Jim, the President is clearly sharpening his own rhetoric.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh that's right, Wolf. The White House is trying to rally Republicans behind President Trump after days of damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Aides to the President are welcoming this resolution from Senator Lindsey Graham introduced this afternoon, condemning the inquiry that other Republican leaders are backing at this moment.

The White House is also backing up the President's label for his Republican critics, which he called "human scum."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Reeling from bombshell testimony in the Ukraine investigation, the President's defenders latched on to a Senate Republican resolution to condemn the impeachment inquiry, accusing House Democrats of denying due process to Mr. Trump.

GRAHAM: I'm not here to tell you that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong. I'm not here to tell you anything other than that the way they're going about it is really dangerous for the country and we need to change course while we can in the House.

ACOSTA: The President stayed behind closed doors for much of the day, huddling with GOP senator. Including some who have raised questions about his phone call with the leader of Ukraine.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said he spoke with Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who acknowledged the White House has to improve its message on impeachment.

GRAHAM: I talked to Chief of Staff Mulvaney. I think they're working on getting a messaging team together.

ACOSTA: Right now, it's Mr. Trump who's driving that message giving a shoutout to House Republicans after they storm to the close door testimony this week tweeting "Thank you to House Republicans to being tough, smart and understanding in detail the greatest witch hunt in American history."

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was happy to see it happen. He was very supportive of it, as he should be.

ACOSTA: The White House is doubling down on the President's tweet aimed at his Republican critics, "The never Trumper Republicans," the President tweeted, "though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for country than the do nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum."

Nothing wrong with that according to Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

GRISHAM: The people who are against him and who have been against and working against him since the day they took office are just that. They deserve strong image (ph) like that.

ACOSTA: Republicans once favored close door inquiries when they controlled the House. Consider now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's defense of the GOP's Benghazi investigation.

REP. MIKE POMPEO, (R) KANSAS): Our goal was fact finding. And five minutes questions by a member of Congress and then rotating to the next one is not a very conducive way to quickly garner information, have a conversation in a setting where you can really engage. And so we felt like these closed door interviews were a much more effective way to get the facts for the American people.

ACOSTA: On the Trump administration's green light to Turkey's invasion of Syria, Vice President Mike Pence met with House Republicans who have blasted the President's policy.

Mr. Trump offered advice to Kurds abandoned by U.S. forces, tweeting, "Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region."

The President Syria policy has outraged key Christian conservatives in his base.

PAT ROBERSON, TELEVANGELIST: And I promise you as I'm sitting here right now, Russia is going to come against us. Turkey is going to come against us. China is going to come against us. It is like the President of the United States is modeling double chamberlain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:10:12]

ACOSTA: And the White House is also taking another shot at the media, clearly frustrated with the impeachment inquiry, instructing federal agencies to cancel their subscriptions to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." The move, the White House says will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars even if the decision won't impact the coverage of the impeachment inquiry. And Wolf, getting back to the President's meeting with senators earlier this afternoon over here at the White House, our Capitol Hill team tells us, Wolf, that one senator there, Lindsey Graham and others said that the President was lashing out at the impeachment inquiry, called it "unfair" and those senators told the President to focus on governing the country. But clearly, Wolf, the President is very frustrated with how things are playing out this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly is. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this, joining us now, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington, stated member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

REP. DENNY HECK, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: So you heard Lindsey Graham just a little while ago condemning your impeachment inquiry. You're one of the congressmen leading this impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. He says it's a secretive process, in his words, shutting out Republicans and denying the President of the United States due process. How do you respond?

HECK: So, Wolf, imagine if you will for a moment if the House of Representatives were to pass a resolution directed at the Senate that said, dear Senate, you know that proposed the Cabinet nominee that you have before us? We suggest you vote up or down, doesn't matter which.

We all know exactly what Senator Graham's response would be, which would be, this is our constitutional responsibility. You stay in your lane.

So my messaged to Senator Graham is you stay in your line. It seems as though, especially after the stunt yesterday of the storm-in of the SCIF and the egregious, egregious violation of security protocol that when the President says jump, they ask how high on the way up.

BLITZER: Why not hold a formal vote to -- on the floor of the House of Representatives to authorize the impeachment inquiry?

HECK: So, I'm agnostic on whether or not we do that. If we do that, that's fine. There is no requirement to do it.

BLITZER: The precedent though was -- it was done --

HECK: No, no, no. Wolf, Wolf, this is not the precedent.

BLITZER: No, no, I'm not saying a precedent, but it was done before the Bill Clinton impeachment. It was done before --

HECK: Wolf, that's not the precedent. In both the Clinton --

BLITZER: But in both of those instances there was a vote on the House floor. HECK: That is not correct. In both the Clinton and the Nixon impeachment proceeding, they were preceded by special prosecutor or special counsel investigations.

BLITZER: So then there was a vote?

HECK: Yes. But we are in that investigation phase. We are exactly parallel to that. So it is not true that --

BLITZER: But what's the downside of doing a vote now? You have the votes. You have more than 218 Democrats alone.

HECK: This is what they want to talk about when they refuse to answer the question, is it OK for a President of the United States to solicit campaign assistance and threaten to withhold national security assistance in order to achieve that result? A clear black letter law of violation. That's what they want to talk about, process. None of them wants to answer the question, is it OK what he did?

BLITZER: At what point do you open up the hearing and have public --

HECK: Soon. Soon.

BLITZER: What does that mean soon?

HECK: Well, I don't have specific date. Chairman Schiff has committed himself to that. I am confident that we will do that. The fact is the transcripts are going to be made public. The fact is we will transition into open public hearings at some point.

But we're in the investigation phase, Wolf. This is the part where we depose witnesses. This is the precedent established under Republican Republican-adopted rules of the House.

When Trey Gowdy chaired the Oversight Committee, he threw fellow Republican Darrell Issa out of a deposition because the rules of the House require them to be made behind closed doors. Why? We don't want witnesses coordinating with one another. Why? Because we're trying to get at the truth, we're trying to get at the facts.

BLITZER: So your -- what -- your fear is that if you open up these hearings, the depositions right now, it could tailor what other future witnesses might say?

HECK: Absolutely. And there's a secondary concern here, too. Even though this is unclassified, it's taking place in a classified setting. Why? Because a lot of the conversation and the questions that we have of witnesses, frankly, all have security clearances, these people. And that it may border into, may venture into, may accidentally or spontaneously reveal classified information. We don't want that to happen. We do not want to compromise methods, procedures and American personnel.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this "Washington Post" report that just moved a few moments ago. It reports that back in August of this year, the Trump administration delayed granting Ukraine certain trade privileges because John Bolton, who was then the White House national security adviser, warned that the President wouldn't want to take any action benefiting Ukraine at that time. Now, what do you make of that?

[17:15:00]

HECK: So, and I would really like for John Bolton to be one our witnesses. That's not a decision that I will make or to my knowledge has even been made.

BLITZER: Who makes that decision?

HECK: Well, Chairman Schiff, of course. In consultation with --

BLITZER: I assume he would want Bolton to testify as well?

HECK: We would have to ask him. But look, there's an incredible amount of incriminating information in the text, in the opening statements of Dr. Hill from the National Security Council, Ambassador Yovanovitch, Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Sondland, an incredible amount of incriminating information.

But the most incriminating information of all was the President's own confession as found in the record of the call he made to President Zelensky. And that confession, by the way, was signed quickly thereafter by Mick Mulvaney when he admitted it on national television.

BLITZER: Are you concerned there could be other points of leverage, U.S. points of leverage on Ukraine beyond, let's say, trade privileges or military assistance of nearly $400 million that was held up? Are there other examples that you've come upon in recent weeks that raise concern?

HECK: Well, I am concerned. But more importantly is why we're concerned. We're concerned because there's a shooting war under way right now in eastern Ukraine. Russia has invaded Ukraine. Ukraine is a bower of our stand against Russia aggression not only into Ukraine, but Georgia and also the rest of Europe, we need to check this. We need to support our allies.

BLITZER: Bottom line is, there will be open hearings in the next few weeks, more witnesses will be coming forward and some witnesses who have already been deposed will come back.

HECK: Absolutely, sir.

BLITZER: Congressman Heck, thanks so much for coming in.

HECK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Stay with us for more in the breaking news Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution condemning the House impeachment process. I'll get reaction from Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Michael Bennet. He's here in "The Situation Room, "he'll take our questions. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:34]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the impeachment fight. The Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just announcing he's sponsoring a Senate resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. Joining us now here in "The Situation room" is Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Michael Bennett, he's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: So far, Senator Graham says he has 44 total co-sponsors for his resolution, condemning what the Democrats in the House of Representatives are doing as far as the impeachment process is concerned. What does this say to you about this process moving forward in the Senate?

BENNET: What it says to me is that they're trying to make it as much of a circus as possible because chaos is Donald Trump's friend and he thrives in chaos. And I keep getting asked, Wolf, by people all over this country when are my Republican colleagues going to stand up and do their constitutional job with respect to what the President is doing? This is an illustration that today is not going to be that day. Today they're going to continue to basically be his minions and to try to create as much chaos as they can.

BLITZER: Republican --

BENNET: By the way the last time I remember this Senate letter that was signed by 44 people, it was Tom Cotton's letter that they were sending to the molos (ph) in Iran during the Iran deal negotiation. And now they're just trying to create chaos again.

BLITZER: Do you think there will be a formal vote, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, the majority leader is co-sponsoring what Lindsey Graham is doing. They have 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats, would a resolution like this, which is pretty extraordinary, the House of Representatives condemning -- excuse me, the Senate condemning what the House of Representatives is doing.

BENNET: It's going to be interesting to see because they've got a number of senators that are up for re-election in swing states where I think people will be really unamused that they sign a letter like that or if they cast a vote like that. But I guess if they want to walk the plank with Donald Trump, they're entitled to do that.

BLITZER: Or the number two Republican in the Senate, John Thune, is walking back comments that he made yesterday all of a sudden. And he was at the White House today saying this. Yesterday he said, the picture coming out of the testimony based on the reporting that we've seen, I would say, is not a good one. Today he said, I went back and actually read what was said and there's a lot of secondhand information hearsay, not hearsay in the sense that it was passed on. It wasn't a direct conversation.

BENNET: What I would say to the American people is you deserve better leadership in Washington, D.C. than you're getting. I mean, when you've got a bunch of congressmen invading a committee meeting like that in a secured area of the capital, it looks like the kind of stuff that comedy shows put on when it happens in another country, you know, when some parliament has fallen to pieces.

And now I'm afraid to say that's happening here in the United States of America. And we can't contend with the challenges we have to face as a country if we're going to destroy the institutions the way these Republicans are doing in the name of Donald Trump.

BLITZER: It was pretty extraordinary to say when these two dozen House Republicans stormed into what's called the SCIF Act, the sensitive classified briefing room.

BENNET: Think about what the rest of the world saw yesterday when they saw those members of Congress storming the SCIF, when the President had just exceeded to every single one of Erdogan's demands and we backed out of northern Syria the way that we had. We look like a country without any leadership, a country that's out of control. And we've got to reconnect what we're doing in Washington with the best impulses of the American people or this democracy could be in real trouble.

[17:25:01]

BLITZER: The reporting has been that there was extensive military pressure on the new government in Ukraine, the new President of Ukraine, nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance was being withheld until the Ukrainian government did certain things as far as politics here in the United States were concerned.

And now the "Washington Post" is reporting that they delayed providing certain trade privileges to Ukraine until they got -- presumably got what they wanted. Were there more -- in all of your investigations, you're a member of the Intelligence Committee, was there more elements of investigation, more elements of pressure on Ukraine that we don't know about?

BENNET: I can't speak to what's happening in the Intelligence Community in the Senate. Although I will say that that committee, at least, is acting in a bipartisan way right now.

BLITZER: The Senate Intelligence --

BENNET: As we begin our process. And this is the reason why it's so important for us to have an inquiry. You know, these guys that are now saying oh, it's closed doors and all this, they're going to get their public hearings.

But we have to establish a set of facts with the witnesses and understand what the answer to your question is before people jump to a conclusion about every single thing. It makes it very hard to do that when Donald Trump is refusing to allow anybody to testify in front of the Congress. Yet thankfully, still, there are patriots in America that are willing to come testify and tell the American people what they know.

BLITZER: And Republican members of the House, they are asking questions. They're in those closed door depositions as well.

BENNET: That's right.

BLITZER: Let's get to the --

BENNET: We will get to the bottom of this.

BLITZER: Let's get to the 2020 race. You saw this new Quinnipiac University poll out today has Elizabeth Warren leading the Democratic pack at 28 percent, Biden at 21 percent. Notable difference from our CNN polling few days ago that had Biden weigh in the lead with 34 percent to Elizabeth Warren's 19 percent. But, bottom line, does this suggest right now, this is a two-person race?

BENNET: No. I think it suggests this race is wide open. Of course I would say that but I believe it.

I think the support for the leading candidates is very soft. A lot of it is based on name recognition. And then you got a whole bunch of other people that are in the margin of error in this race in Iowa which -- is where I've been focusing my attention. The undecideds have actually increased by 10 percent in the most recent polls. So, I think there's a lot of fluidity in this race and a way for us to go.

BLITZER: Yes. Congressman Tim Ryan, as you know, he dropped out of the race. The Democratic contest today, your colleague Senator Amy Klobuchar, she did qualify for the next democratic presidential debate in November in a few weeks. You have not yet qualified.

BENNET: Yes.

BLITZER: If you don't qualify for this next debate, what do you do? Do you drop out?

BENNET: No. My plan is to continue to prosecute myself case in New Hampshire and in Iowa. I think the agenda that I propose, I come from -- you know, I'm the only candidate in the race, Wolf, that's actually won two national elections in a swing state. And the agenda that I'm proposing is one that cannot just unify the Democratic base but also bring back some of the 9 million people who voted twice for Donald Trump and once -- or twice for Barack Obama and once for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: So do you see yourself as a moderate alternative to Biden?

BENNET: I see myself have a very different perspective than Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden's view is, we get rid of Donald Trump, everything is going to go back to normal.

I was here for the last 10 years. I know it hasn't been normal the whole time that I've been here. We have to overcome the people that immobilize or exercise in self government, made it impossible for Barack Obama to do his job for the last six years he was president in terms of getting legislation passed through the Congress.

And if we're going to get stuff done, like climate change, we need to move past the politics where I put my ideas in for two years, they rip it out. I put it in for two years, they rip it out. That's the politics of Mitch McConnell. But it's the politics we have to overcome. You can't fix climate change two years in a row. We need a generational solution for that. And that means we have to build a constituency for change out in the country that can overcome a broken Washington.

BLITZER: Senator Bennet, good luck out there on your campaign trail.

BENNET: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BENNET: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stay with us for more in the breaking news. Republican sources now telling CNN this week's testimony by a top U.S. diplomat was a game changer and is reverberating up on Capitol Hill.

[17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today's breaking news, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just announcing he will introduce a resolution condemning the House impeachment process. Graham is calling it out of bounds and dangerous.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss. Nia, I'm going to play for you two clips of what Senator Graham said today and what he said back in 1999 when he was leading the impeachment process against Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The process you're engaging in regarding the attempted impeachment of President Trump is out of bounds. It's inconsistent with due process as we know it.

Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sounds like a bit of a contradiction there.

[17:34:56]

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A bit of a contradiction here and really what we've come to expect from this version of Lindsey Graham, right? Very different from the Lindsey Graham we knew back in -- when he was leading the impeachment against -- against Clinton. Very different from the Lindsey Graham we knew who palled around with John McCain, but indicative of where the Republican Party is now, right?

It is a different Republican Party. It's a Republican Party that is wholly owned and controlled by Donald Trump, right? We talked in the -- in the previous block about John Thune, right, having to essentially backpedal from something he said that was mildly critical of Donald Trump and essentially going in a different direction.

This is what we're going to see from Republicans going forward. It's already what we've seen from Republicans for the last couple of years that Donald Trump has been in office. So, you know, I think we'll see this more from Lindsey Graham, lots of contradictions from the Lindsey Graham we used to know and from the Lindsey Graham that we know now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: And a lot of us remember what Lindsey Graham used to say about Donald Trump back in 2015 when he was running against him for the Republican presidential nomination. Totally different then as compared to what he says now, Abby. Listen to what he used to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was then.

PHILLIP: Couldn't be --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Can I -- can I just say in his --

PHILLIP: Couldn't be more clearer than that.

TOOBIN: Can I say his -- in his defense, whatever, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: You know, that's like -- you know, that was then. That -- I mean, you know.

PHILLIP: That was -- that was then.

TOOBIN: So I just -- you know.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Jeffrey.

PHILLIP: This is now.

HENDERSON: Yes, I think it's insane (ph). PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, that was then, this is now. Lindsey Graham

could not have been more clear about what he thought Donald Trump was when he thought that Donald Trump wasn't going to be the next president of the United States.

But right now, the reality for him is that this is Donald Trump's party, and Lindsey Graham is just living in it. And Graham has also realized he's up for re-election in 2020. He cannot survive politically unless he supports Donald Trump.

And not only supports Donald Trump but as the -- as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is being expected to do a whole lot more than a lot of other rank-and-file Republicans. So much so that you're starting to see some of the President's allies, his son, Donald Trump, Jr., putting pressure on Graham to do more.

President Trump told Graham, stop worrying about Syria. What I need you to do in the Senate Judiciary Committee is defend me, and that's what Graham is doing right now. He cannot survive in South Carolina, which is Trump's country, without being -- without doing that.

BLITZER: And just before, he said to Senator Graham, go do work in the House Judiciary Committee, help me as opposed to wanting to stay in the Middle East to fight wars for a thousand years.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

BLITZER: He really went after him on that point.

Jamie, you've been doing a lot of reporting and speaking to sources familiar with what's going on at the White House right now. Let's talk a little bit about what you're hearing about the future of the Acting White House Chief of staff Mick Mulvaney after his disastrous news conference the other day.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It was. And what we're hearing, Wolf, is that he's on shaky ground. He will not be the first Chief of Staff to be on shaky ground, but what I'm told is, obviously, this is still up to the President.

But when I called, our source said that they would not wave me off the possibility that Mulvaney would be, could be replaced. They said, quote, it's not imminent, but they're looking at other candidates and other possibilities, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, so put on your chief legal analyst hat for us and analyze what we heard just hours ago, the other -- last night, from Rudy Giuliani, the President's, we believe, still private attorney finally reacting to all this news.

And he said this in a tweet -- with all the fake news, let me make it clear that everything I did was to discover evidence to defend my client against false charges. Dems would be horrified by the attacks on me if my client was a terrorist. But they don't believe Donald Trump has rights. Justice will prevail. Give us your analysis of what this former U.S. attorney for the

Southern District of New York tweeted.

TOOBIN: Well, the -- the -- the fascinating thing about that tweet is it's certainly permissible for him to defend his client.

But what we've heard from all these witnesses during the Intelligence Committee's investigation is that he was running American foreign policy in Ukraine and that people were told by the President and by the President's designees, you got to check with Rudy Giuliani before you do anything in -- in Ukraine.

So the idea that he is, you know, some sort of just criminal defense lawyer is contradicted by, you know, so much of the evidence that's already come in.

BLITZER: Did he implicate the President?

TOOBIN: You know, I -- yes, I -- I think so, but, you know, you got to have him as a witness, and it seems unlikely that he will testify. He'd much prefer to throw in tweets. But that tweet is not particularly an exoneration of the President because it's so contradictory to what the actual evidence is.

[17:40:02]

BLITZER: Important point. Everybody, stick around. There's more news. We're following Kim Jong-un as North Korea has yet another complaint for the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're seeing reports of sporadic fighting in northeast Syria right now despite President Trump's dramatic announcement yesterday that Turkey has ended its military operations there. We're also getting word of some potentially very important options affecting U.S. military forces that will remain in the area.

[17:45:04]

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour, top military officials remain very much in the mode of planning for the next steps, presenting options to the President today about what they want to do, to put more vehicles -- armored vehicles, potentially even battle tanks or other armored vehicles and troops, into eastern Syria to help protect those oil fields.

That's what the President wants. These are the Kurdish oil fields. There are some number of troops that have been there for some time, but they now need additional force protection because the U.S. has largely pulled out of Syria. And that's what this additional force capability would be all about. So what they're trying to decide tonight, what kind of vehicles -- do

they really want to put battle tanks into there? -- and what the exact mission would be. Look, ISIS is what the President says he wants to protect against. ISIS doesn't have tanks, but the Russians, the Syrian regime, and the Turks do.

And if they were to make a move on the oil fields, especially the Syrian army -- it has T-72 tanks -- would, in fact, U.S. military tanks take them on? Would the U.S. fire back? Would there be a battle in those oil fields to retain control? Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the President saying when he said earlier today, it's time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region? That means leaving their homes, heading to a different part of Syria. What's going on here?

STARR: That is a very different part of Syria, ethnically different. It is not their homeland. The President seems to be very determined that his entire focus is on, as he's called it, controlling the oil.

The U.S. does not control the oil in another country. They want to keep ISIS from having the revenue, but it's very unclear what will happen next. The Kurds may never get back to their homelands, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Very disturbing developments, indeed. Thank you.

Coming up, Kim Jong-un's North Korea ratchets up the pressure on President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:04]

BLITZER: Tonight, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is trying one of his more bold tactics to lure President Trump back to the negotiating table.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with details. Brian, Kim wants to deal one- on-one with the President?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He does, Wolf, and he also wants to cut out Mike Pompeo and other top Trump advisers.

Analysts warn tonight that Kim and Trump are counting way too much on their personal one-on-one relationship to get a nuclear deal done, but the two leaders seem to be ignoring that. And North Korea is trying to pressure Trump to get to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I said, hey, I'm over here. I want to call Chairman Kim.

TODD (voice-over): North Korea's supreme commander, again, playing his most powerful card tonight -- his personal one-on-one relationship with Donald Trump.

Kim Jong-un's news agency releases a statement from one of his top foreign policy advisers, saying Kim himself says the relationship between him and President Trump is special but that Washington political circles and DPRK policymakers are hostile to the DPRK for no reason.

SCOTT SNYDER, DIRECTOR OF THE PROGRAM ON U.S.-KOREA POLICY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: They're absolutely trying to make this leader to leader. They think they can get more out of Trump than they can by going through a working-level process to the top.

In North Korea, the leader decides and everybody else follows. And I -- and I think they believe that if they can get Trump to decide, then everybody else will have to follow here.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say Kim's goal is to divide Trump from his top advisers like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who the North Koreans previously referred to as a poisonous plant of American diplomacy, and America's special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun.

MAX BOOT, JEANE J. KIRKPATRICK SENIOR FELLOW FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The North Koreans are trying to make those aides out to be a problem, an impediment to this great deal that Donald Trump wants to get done.

TODD (voice-over): The North Korean's statement touting the personal dynamic could well have been playing on Trump's very similar comments earlier this week.

TRUMP: I like him, he likes me, we get along. I respect him, he respects me.

TODD (voice-over): But in promoting his own relationship with Kim, Trump also blistered former President Obama for his tact with the North Korean dictator, saying Obama had admitted to him that he couldn't solve the North Korea problem and that Obama couldn't even get a phone call with Kim.

TRUMP: He tried 11 times. But the man on the other side, the gentleman on the other side, did not take his call, OK? Lack of respect. But he takes my call.

TODD (voice-over): Obama's former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, responded to that by tweeting, Obama never called Kim Jong-un. Obama never tried to meet Kim Jong-un. Trump is a serial liar and not well.

This summer, Trump had made a similar claim that the Obama administration had begged for meetings with Kim Jong-un but that Kim had refused. Obama's former national security adviser, Susan Rice, tweeted, at the risk of stating the obvious, this is horse bleep.

Tonight, Kim's side is also pressing a deadline they've tried to impose on the Trump team, pressuring the U.S. to make more progress on a nuclear weapons deal by year's end.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: I think he feels that President Trump is weakened, especially with the Ukraine whistleblower affair. He is facing impeachment, and they do believe that Trump needs a foreign -- foreign affairs victory.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And analysts say one more part of the Trump-Kim relationship to pay attention to right now is a potential major American investment in North Korea. Trump seemed to tease that this week when he said, quote, something is going to be happening with North Korea, and there's going to be a major rebuild at a certain point.

One analyst believed Trump's -- could be referring to big North Korean resorts including the decaying Mount Kumgang which Kim just made a show of visiting and complaining about its state of disrepair -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

There's breaking news next. One of President Trump's staunchest defenders in the Senate says he'll introduce a resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry.

[17:55:01]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Danger to the presidency. Senator Lindsey Graham offers a resolution slamming the Democrats' impeachment inquiry as President Trump demands a stronger defense from fellow Republicans while GOP lawmakers attack in public. Are they worried?

[18:00:09]