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Sources: ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Believed Killed in U.S. Raid; Witnesses Contradict Trump's Ukraine Defenses; House Republicans Attack Democrats' Impeachment Process; Impeachment Inquiry Pauses for Funeral of Rep. Cummings; Top Democrats Promise Open Impeachment Hearings; 99 Days to Iowa Caucuses; President Trump to Make Remarks as ISIS Leader Believed Killed. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired October 27, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this Sunday with us.
Major breaking news this morning, the world's most wanted terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is believed to be dead after a dramatic U.S. Special Forces raid in northern Syria.
We're waiting for President Trump. He's due to make a statement at the White House, a rare Sunday morning state, an address to the nation, one hour from now. This, after the president teasing, quote, "something very big" on Twitter last night.
The White House not sharing any details yet about what the president plans to say, but a senior defense official telling CNN the president did order a raid targeting al-Baghdadi. Sources say the CIA tracked the illusive terrorist to Idlib, in northwest Syria. In grainy overnight video, you can hear sustained bursts of gunfire.
And in another, war planes buzzed overhead, followed by distant explosion. Now, CNN cannot confirm if these videos are from the actual raid, but they were posted overnight as this was happen. The Pentagon as of this moment has not shared any details of the operation or even confirmed there was an operation at all.
But sources do tell CNN U.S. Special Forces commandos carried out the raid, that the ISIS leader detonated a suicide vest as American forces closed in.
Joining us this morning to share their reporting and their insights, from Iraq, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, from Beirut, CNN's Ben Wedeman. Here with me in Washington, CNN's Ryan Browne, and Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal".
Nick Paton Walsh, let's start with you. What do we know, the last we know about this raid and the significance, if it turns out to be true, of getting Baghdadi? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well,
obviously, the first caveat, we wait in an hour President Trump's announcement long trail now. But we can do, by piecing together the social media videos and the bits of information unanimously briefed, has painted a picture of a raid into probably the most dangerous part of Syria, its northwest. An al Qaeda stronghold into which it seems that U.S ground troops, Special Forces, were inserted -- obviously using air power to carry them in.
Now, you can hear in some of the social media videos sustained heavy gunfire that suggests probably some sort of ground assault initially. You have to obviously think that U.S. forces will want to, if they're looking for the world's most wanted man, will retrieve a body, so they can be sure, and then subsequently a sustained series of explosions, targeting it seems one particular area. Possibly, if we look at some of the aftermath footage, the Americans are trying to clean up or destroy anything that remained in that particular scene.
As we understand, the suicide vest may have been used by Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi when he knew these forces were getting close, but still the difficult task now, biometric identification being begun. That may take some time, or it may have been simple, defending on the condition of the body.
How did they know he was there? This is the ultimate question people will be trying to get the answers to in the hours ahead. The Syrian Kurds, that's the United States' long-term partner in fighting ISIS on the ground, who have lost over 10,000 sons and daughters in the fight, their chief has stepped forward and said this was a joint intelligence operation of historic proportions, suggesting perhaps they found something out that led the Americans to the world's most wanted man. After the last two or three weeks, the alliance being damaged and Turkey moving towards them into Syria, that's a substantial development.
As of Turkey, remember, they are a NATO member, along with the United States. Well, a U.S. official is saying that they did not have a role in the operation, but they were told ahead of time to make sure they could de-conflict, which I imagine they have a dozen or so U.S. aircraft flying along or inside their airspace towards this target. Turkey needed to know what was going down or where the aircraft may have been going.
That's where we are at this point and, of course, the question will be, how did Baghdadi get there? Waiting for confirmation that it was indeed him and what particular level of knowledge did Turkey possibly have, given this man was in town of a matter of miles away from their southern border? Turkey has always said it's been hard in the fight against ISIS, but this is a key moment for their relationship with Washington -- John.
KING: Nick stay -- Nick, stay with us.
Ben, I want to go to you. You've covered this story for years. Try to help our viewers understand the significance, if this is true and Baghdadi is dead, the head of the snake, if you will. What is the significance and what remains for ISIS in items of its capabilities?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In terms of its leadership, this is clearly a significant blow to the organization. Let's keep in mind this is an organization that has affiliates in West Africa and Libya and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, in Afghanistan, in the Philippines.
And according to a report by the inspector general of the Pentagon published just this august, they believe that between Iraq and Syria alone, there are anywhere between 14 and 18,000 ISIS fighters still on the loose.
So the ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that once controlled an area the size of Great Britain with as many as 12 million people under its rule that no longer exists. The Calipha, the caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who led it, he is probably dead at this point.
But this is an organization that understood that after reaching its height that it would be reduced to what it is today. So, clearly, they've been planning for this eventuality and it's highly likely that there's already somebody in place to replace Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
So, as the organization has taken a hit, but it's certainly not out of the game altogether -- John.
KING: We'll keep an eye on this to see if there's any official statement.
I want to bring our Pentagon correspondent Ryan Browne to the conversation.
The Pentagon is clearly letting the president take the lead here. We're going to hear from the president at the top of the hour, about 50 minutes from now. What do we know about the operation and what do we know about what it would take, as Nick Paton Walsh smartly noted, this is a place in Syria where the United States is not normally operating.
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's an extremely complex operation from everything we've heard about so far. You know, you have this pocket in northwest Syria near Idlib, but you have the Russia military and regime forces and a vat of rebel groups, many of which have ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. So the U.S. must have had high confidence to go into hostile territory like this that Baghdadi was in fact there.
And we're told the reason we knew he was there was through efforts of the CIA. This was a CIA intelligence collection operation that identified him, located him, they had some help from the Syrian Kurds on the intelligence sides and then it was U.S. military Delta Force actually that went and conducted this raid. Of course, it was a kinetic. It was a very violent situation where you saw Baghdadi apparently appears to have detonated a suicide vest to prevent himself from being captured. So, a very high risks operation deep in the hostile territory. U.S.
military believes it was successful at this point in time.
KING: As -- Catherine, as we wait for the president, obviously any commander in chief would want to mark this moment if he is satisfied with the intelligence. He obviously had to give the go ahead for such a dangerous and risky operation. It also comes, though, at this incredibly delicate moment in the sense that the president explained the last week explaining why he's right and everyone else is wrong. I'm getting most -- at least most U.S. forces out of Syria now because there are forces on the ground, it appears the world's most wanted terrorist is dead.
CATHERIN LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, we're obviously waiting to hear from the president but he predicted optimism on Twitter last night, we're touting a major remark from the White House this morning. And if this is accurate, this is significant -- a significant moment, for his administration and it comes as he really has been under criticism, bipartisan criticism domestically, criticism from allies abroad about the way he has been handling U.S. troops in Syria.
And so, this provides him with an opportunity to tout an achievement, again, if accurate, and they have turned the page a little bit.
KING: And to Nick and Ben in the region, start with you, Nick, if you talk to security officials, one of the things they watch for is some sort of an effort by a terrorist organization when bin Laden died, everybody watched to see if al Qaeda would try to project anything. That seems long ago, in the rearview mirror.
But now, with this news, I would expect -- especially Western security forces to be on high alert for at least some sort of a sympathetic reaction.
WALSH: Yes. I mean, but it may have been a reflection, you and I remember, John King, after the death of bin Laden, there wasn't much of a response. That's a reflection of how shattered al Qaeda was back then. But, yes, people will be on a high state of alert. They already were to some degree, completely concerned about the vacuum, the chaos of the last two to three weeks, the possibility that ISIS fighters could have escaped detention, perhaps 100 or so did, or sympathizers may have found a route to Turkey in the north.
Remember, many of these pro-Turkish forces, the Syrian rebels are described as mostly extremists, former ISIS, former al Qaeda. So the fluidity that's been happening as given rise to real concerns about a ISIS resurgence, but with a moment like this, a talismanic moment for the group, deep concerns potentially. Although, you know, I have to remind people, they have been a bit of a broken force over the past year or so.
KING: And so that point, Ben, in closing this part of the conversation, bin laden was the spiritual leader of al Qaeda. Al- Baghdadi, because he has been on the run and so elusive and private, it's a different structure, is it not? WEDEMAN: Yes, he is a leader who has never really had a very high
profile. For instance, I was going with my producer back looking at the old publications, the online publications of ISIS.
And for instance, in one issue which was 82 pages long, there's only one mention of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. So he never had a high profile. He only made one public appearance in July of 2014. Unlike bin Laden, who played a key role in leading the so-called Arab mujahedeen in the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and had a high profile after that, even during the 1990s, given an interview to CNN.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi never gave an interview to anyone, not even ISIS publications, John.
KING: Ben Wedeman, Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate it.
A quick break and we'll continue to cover the stories. Again, we're trying to get more details on this remarkable U.S. forces raid in Syria and we're waiting to hear directly from the president of the United States.
Stay with us.
KING: President Trump set to make a statement at the White House in about 48 minutes. What we expect is the official announcement that the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a raid carried out by U.S. Special Forces in northwest Syria overnight.
It is an odd moment, to say the least. A high risk mission carried out by U.S. Special Forces, even as the president says he is ending the U.S. military mission in Syria. Plus, a rare Sunday White House statement at the dawn of a week in which House Democrats have a crowded witness list for their impeachment inquiry depositions.
Joining us with reporting and their insights this Sunday, Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times," Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal" is still with us, Toluse Olorunnipa of "The Washington Post", and "Politico's" Heather Caygle.
For the commander-in-chief, he gave the OK for this raid. He's decided to come back from Camp David on the weekend and make a statement to the American people. Just -- the moment to me is in so many ways, because of what in the rearview mirror last week in Syria, the president defensive at times, saying I'm right, you're wrong to all of his critics, and because it comes in the middle of this impeachment escalation.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I wouldn't be surprised if we hear from the president sort of scripted, somber notes, where he follows the script for the first hour after he speaks, and then we have to wait a little bit longer to see what the president says on the campaign trail, what he says in unscripted remarks, when he's on the South Lawn talking to reporters.
We have already seen the president personalize the fight against ISIS, saying, I captured ISIS. I was the one that did it. So, you may hear him give credit to the military officers who participated in this raid this morning. But I would wait and see how he responds over the course of time and see how much he personalizes this and takes credit for this, and how much he says that he has done what his predecessors were not able to do. And whether or not that plays with voters who are watching how the president acts as commander in chief.
KING: And as he takes a victory lap and as he says I'm right, which he's said several times last week, just for the record here, any commander-in-chief deserves credit when something like this happens. It is the U.S. special forces who do the hard work and the intelligence agencies who have the building blocks to put the Special Forces in that position. But one of the things that will be said about this president is he will say this morning, I'm the commander in chief, I did this.
Back when bin Laden died and people were saying Barack Obama deserved some of the credit, then businessman Donald Trump said -- no, he didn't.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I keep hearing about all of bin Laden. The military did an incredible job and they called him and they said we have him. And he said go get him. What's he going to say, don't get him?
And he gets all this credit. That's a lot of crap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I'm going to suspect we don't hear that this morning from the president.
LUCEY: I think it's highly unlikely we'll hear that. We would like to hear sort of scripted remarks this morning and then we'll see how that unfolds at events and rallies in the White House.
But this president has never been shy about taking credit for achievements with his administration. I also think that this moment provides an opportunity to look at the sort of competing forces within his foreign policy, which are that he does like showing that the U.S. can be tough, he does -- and I'm sure we'll hear him today talking about the strength of the U.S. military, how tough it is.
But at the same sometime what we've seen over the last couple of weeks and what he has taken criticism for is the other impulse, which is he really wants to get boots off the ground and is interested in trying to get out of what he calls endless wars.
KING: And there were mixed signals about that, and the president left the impression that all U.S. troops were coming home, and then the Pentagon said a lot of those troops are actually going to Iraq instead. And then the Pentagon, and the president said, some troops would stay to protect oil fields. Just more yesterday, more mechanized forces, armored vehicles went in to protect and reinforce those troops. But one of the arguments against the president was you left the Kurds on the battlefield, the Turks came in, you were undermining the fight against ISIS.
So, the president will have an "I told you so" moment today, which we saw a little bit of during the week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There were some political pundits who responded to Turkey's offensive in Syria by calling for yet another American military intervention. I don't think so.
The same people that I watched and read giving me and the United States advice were the people that I have been watching and reading for many years. They are the ones that got us into the Middle East mess, but never had the vision or the courage to get us out. They just talk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was the president, defensive and defiant, during this week at a time when he had overruled the advice of his generals that wanted to keep a military presence.
Today, he's obviously acting on the advice of his CIA and Special Forces command to do this raid. And it's going to be interesting to hear what he has to say.
LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPOTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think that's one of the most striking things about this raid, which if the accounts are true, is a success for the president. But it's a success that comes with the aid of people that he has spent much of his presidency questioning not only the Kurds who had some rough treatment from the president last week, but also the intelligence agency and the so-called deep state.
And, you know, the president takes a view towards the foreign policy establishment in Washington, that we see other candidates sort of the on the spectrum, it's the view shared by Tulsi Gabbard, for example, that there's running Washington establishment, that's run foreign policy and engaged the U.S. in wars in places that the U.S. shouldn't be in. But, you know, the facts don't really bear that out. There's approximately the same number of troops in the reason that were there when he started, and this success, which he will most certainly take credit for, comes with the help of that establishment and the ideals of that establishment.
KING: And you can be certain by tomorrow, it will get under the president's skin when Democrats say, good for you, Mr. President, God bless those troops, but we're going full speed ahead with the impeachment inquiry. And over the weekend, one of the interesting factors, what you heard
from the president's chief of staff, John Kelly, who left several months ago saying that on the way out, on the way out, he told the president this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I told him whatever you do, don't hire a yes man, someone that's going to tell you -- that won't tell you the truth. Don't do that. Because if you do, I believe you'll be impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It is remarkable to hear from General Kelly so candidly. The president put out a rare statement yesterday saying that conversation never happened. As press secretary denigrating General Kelly who was a hero: I worked with John Kelly and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.
But again, at this point, General Kelly also called this decision to withdraw from Syria a big mistake on the president, and said it wouldn't have happened if he was there, that you have people who were loyal to the president working this close to the president coming out and questioning the president's judgment, that's stunning.
HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESS REPORTER, "POLITICO": I do think with Kelly there's a little bit of history because some of the most critical parts of the Mueller report happened under his watch. But when it comes to this raid, I think it is very important on the Hill because Republicans have really struggled to defend Trump against the impeachment process, and Democrats are moving full steam ahead like you said.
But Republicans have this talking point to point to and say, look, our president did this.
This is a huge win for him and us and U.S. and it kind of can help them shift the narrative in a way that they haven't in the last couple of weeks.
KING: They'll try to let him govern, let him govern. I mean, we'll see.
And up next, we'll come to the details of the impeachment inquiry and a look at the giant gap emerging between what the White House says and what the key witnesses swear under oath.
KING: The impeachment inquiry consumed Washington this week, including rare weekend work as House Democrats questioned a top State Department official involved in Ukraine policy. Now, Democrats say the evidence tilted heavily against the president
in recent days and the White House response shifted as several of the president's key arguments were undermined.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That call is a very terrific call. It's congenial. There was no pressure. There was no anything. And you know it and so do I, and so does everybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: No pressure, the president says.
But CNN reporting contradicts that. Two weeks before taking office, meaning before the president's July call, Ukraine's new president and his team discussed pressure from Mr. Trump and from his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
And there's this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who is highly respected, was there's no quid pro quo, and there isn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But the administration's top envoy in Ukraine told Congress, quote, everything Ukraine wanted, including military aid and a White House visit, hinged on announcing the investigations demanded by the president and by Rudy Giuliani.
And president also retweeted the assertion of a Republican congressman that Ukraine didn't know U.S. military aid was being held up. So, how could there be a quid pro quo?
But "The New York Times" reports Ukraine did know the aid had been held up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm only interested in corruption. I don't care about politics. I don't care about Biden's politics.
And if you look and you read our Constitution and many other things, we -- I have an obligation to look at corruption. I have an actual obligation and a duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That only interested in corruption line, though, undermined by a "Washington Post" report that as the president was pushing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, his administration tried to cut billions from anti-corruption programs in Ukraine and elsewhere. The president's allies in Congress did heed his calls for help this past week, including storming into a inquiry room, but their complaints are almost always about the process, not an embrace of the president's conduct.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The House Intelligence Committee is using its time and resources to run a sham impeachment inquiry in secret.
REP. MARK WALKER (R-NC): House Democrats are bypassing constitutional norms and basic standards of due process with their impeachment obsession.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): There's no due process for the accused, but instead there's a secret partisan process somewhere behind closed doors.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Maybe in the Soviet Union, this kind of thing is commonplace. This shouldn't be happening in the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Striking in a week in which a lot of what the president has said and the administration has held up as their proof that he did nothing wrong was shattered by the testimony and by other reporting, when the Republicans come out and they did heed the president's call. The president wanted more cover, if you will. They're not saying the president didn't do anything wrong. They're saying the Democrats are running a process we don't like.
LERER: Right. I mean, look, the maxim in Washington is if you're working on process, you're losing. I'm not sure that quite implies here because I think the impeachment process is confusing and so hard to follow that these kinds of arguments could get traction. But it certainly shows that Republicans at this moment are not operating from their strongest position and you're seeing that from the White House, too. All the reports have been that they're starting to get nervous. They start to think about forming a team, you know, bringing in a lawyer with some impeachment expertise.
One could argue that should have happened several weeks ago, that a series of mistakes were made during this period in which the president was really operating based on his own gut instinct in a pretty complicated and fairly legal and political process. But that's where we are at the end of this week.
KING: And at the end of this week, which if you go back just a week or two, the administration had said, no, hell no, when the Democrats say we're going to call in these witnesses, we're going to demand these documents. Now, they're still slow to turn over documents. We can show you some of the officials that have gone in. Again, the president wanted -- said, I don't want any people
cooperating. Senior State Department officials, senior overseas diplomats and senior National Security Council officials, current and past, all going up because they've issued subpoenas. And these officials essentially denying the president saying, sorry, I got a subpoena, I will cooperate.
OLORUNNIPA: And you can see why they did not want these people to testify. They've testified to information that has undercut directly the president's denials that he did anything wrong. And you don't hear very many Americans echoing the president's language when the president says, you know, this call was perfect, there was no pressure, the whistle-blower's account of the call is exactly opposite of what happened on the call.
No Republicans are saying that because they're not shameless enough to put that misinformation. They know the whistle-blower's account of the call has been backed up by the testimony, by the actual transcript of the call that was put out by the White House. So you don't see many Republicans saying that. The process argument is a short-term argument.
At some point, this is all going to come out into light and the Republicans are going to have to deal with the actual substance of what the Democrats --
LUCEY: And what we're hearing from Republicans is a frustration with where to take their argument.
[08:29:36] So part of the reason that they're focused so much on process is they -- a lot of them don't feel like they're getting clear signals from the White House in how to argue this, which gets back to Lisa's point about the White House has, in recent days, been trying to figure out, do they bring in extra people (INAUDIBLE) or legal? Do they need to -- they have been sort of doing more meetings, trying to work on messaging.
But they've been hearing some, you know, high-profile folks like Lindsey Graham, for example. The Senator has been very vocal about his frustration with the way the White House has been doing it.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And if you're told -- if the President says no quid pro quo and then especially on the House side where his allies, the safer districts tend to be more Trumpy than Republican senators. They go out and say no quid pro quo and then the testimony undermines them.
And so that's the issue. That's why they're complaining about the process now because if they follow the President's lead, they will find themselves undermined by the facts a lot.
My question is will they follow the President's lead in attacking the witnesses. In the case of Bill Taylor who is a diplomat who has served in Republican and Democratic administration. He has been very well-liked across those Democratic and Republican investigations who is someone who is detail-oriented, carries out the mission, who is loyal, who is a patriot. He's a Vietnam veteran.
The President says, no, he's this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here's the problem.
TRUMP: He's a never-Trumper and his lawyer is a never-Trumper. And the other problem is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Mike Pompeo hire him?
TRUMP: Hey, everybody makes mistakes. Mike Pompeo -- everybody makes mistakes.
TRUMP: He's a never-Trumper. His lawyer is the head of the never- Trumpers. They're a dying breed but they're still there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It was Mike Pompeo, the President's hand-picked Secretary of State, who asked Mr. Taylor to come out of retirement. Mike Pompeo also was (INAUDIBLE) -- nobody thinks that Bill Taylor was political at all.
My question is will Republicans on Capitol Hill get into the character assassination? Will they follow the President on that road or they stick to the process?
HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESS REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, you know, they've been very hesitant, at least the last week to attack folks like Bill Taylor and when you ask them about it, they're like -- well, you know. And then they go back to the process argument.
But I will say on Friday that argument was significantly undercut with the federal ruling in Washington related to the Mueller grand jury material where the judge said, you know what, the House does not have to vote to be in an impeachment inquiry. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi says they are, they are.
And so Republicans have been arguing the opposite, so it will be interesting to see how they counteract that when they come back tomorrow.
LERER: There's also a sense that the White House felt that executive privilege pertained much more strongly to people who are not actually working for the President, right.
KING: Right. LERER: The people who are testifying are State Department civil servants, the kind of civil servants that President Trump has spent much of the past two years really attacking and sort of trashing in a lot of different ways. And now they're getting their moment where the deep state gets to fight back, right.
And those -- that executive privilege which bars, you know, people working for the President potentially from testifying, doesn't really apply to people who are part of the civil service. It's a problem for them.
KING: Right. There's also people -- the political appointees they brought in from the State Department -- Phil Reeker yesterday, Fiona Hill who was at the National Security Council, John Bolton now in conversations, the former National Security Adviser. It's going to be hard for the President to label those people the deep state if they get testimony.
Even if they're just, you know, giving factual testimony about phone calls. They don't have to go up there to trash the President. Even if they just go up there and give factual information that supports other information about when things happened, who was on the call, what was said -- it's going to be hard to call them the deep state. But we shall watch.
Up next, the Democratic divide over how long it should take and what the articles of impeachment should say.
KING: The impeachment inquiry was paused Friday for the funeral of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. Chairman Cummings was a leading voice in the impeachment debate and the eulogies of two former presidents took clear aim at the current president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But he knew that without the constitution and the laws that were passed under it, the rights that were guaranteed by it and the abuses it was designed to prevent -- without that constitution he would not have been in Congress.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That there's nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There's nothing weak about looking out for others. You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There was more critical testimony this week from more Trump national security officials involved in the Ukraine decisions -- all will be behind closed doors. But Democrats are working on the next step, drafting articles of impeachment and public hearings. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Everybody is going to have public testimony. They're going to see public testimony. They'll be able to read or to hear all of the testimony that has been given and that will be given.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When -- is the hard part, you wrote about this the other day as the week closed down. Democratic leaders still view the end of 2019 as a rough deadline to complete the impeachment process, but the unexpected deluge of testimony that investigators have received in private from witnesses willing to defy the White House efforts to silence them has left lawmakers reluctant to stanch the flow and possibly miss crucial details.
So how do they find the sweet spot?
CAYGLE: That's what they're trying to figure out right now. I mean there is no grand plan, right. Speaker Pelosi knows she wants to somehow wrap this up by the end of the year, but they don't know when they'll take it public or how they're going to do it. What kind of hearings, how many, who will testify -- they don't even have a list of that yet. So they're still in the very early discussions.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are looking at the clock and saying we're entering November. If you want to wrap this up by the end of December, we need to get moving.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": And there's also the fact that they have other work that they have to do as well. They have to fund the government. The President has shown that he's willing to shut down the government if he doesn't get what he likes and that could also dominate the news and make it harder for them to push their impeachment public hearings if it happens at a time when the government is shut down and when there's all these legal fights over whether or not to fund the President's border wall or whether or not to fulfill the President's budget request.
So they have a lot of things that they have to juggle at once. This is an unorthodox president who is not going to respond to impeachment the way a normal president does. We have already seen some of that.
So Democrats are going to have to be on their toes to figure out how they're going to put this process forward if they're going to meet their deadline by the end of the year.
KING: And the closer you get to the election year, 2020, which is every second we're having this conversation we're getting closer, the more Republicans will say leave this to the voters. Even Republicans who don't want to rush out and defend the President will say let's not do impeachment, let's leave this to the voters in November.
So Nancy Pelosi, part of her challenge as the speaker is to say look, we don't want to do this, but we have to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president. You come about the future, about our children, about issues, whether it is education, climate -- you name it.
So as we go forward with this, we want to do it in the most solemn, prayerful way that has a healing effect on our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A healing effect on our country in an incredibly polarized environment to begin with -- wishful thinking.
I get the point she's trying to make, no disrespect intended. But really?
LERER: Yes, it feels a little hard to believe, also given the fact that there is a very active Democratic presidential primary going on. And this process, especially even if they meet the timeline of getting it done by the end of the year, then it moves to the Senate and McConnell has said that he will hold some kind of trial over there and so it's likely to run into the start, if not well into the Democratic presidential primaries.
So you'll have this whole series of candidates trying to figure out how to leverage impeachment to their greatest benefit. And you suspect that that's not going to be in a way that's healing.
KING: Right. Well, we'll watch as it plays out.
A lot of pressure on the Republicans, but also on the Democrats as this process plays out.
Reminder, we're waiting to hear from the President at the top of the hour about the apparent death of the world's most wanted terrorist.
Up next for us though -- a close look at the 2020 state of play in Iowa -- just 99 days away from their first vote.
KING: The first official votes of the 2020 campaign are now 99 days away -- that would be the Iowa caucuses. We saw one national poll this week with Joe Biden on top, another had Elizabeth Warren in the lead. National polls matter a lot less once the states start voting and Iowa tends to shake things up, especially for the Democrats.
Let's look at the history here. Again, 99 days until the 99 counties of Iowa start to vote. If you look for the Democrats -- Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton -- what do they have in common? They won contested Iowa caucuses and they went on to beat the nominee. Iowa tends to pick the winner for the Democrats.
[08:45:02] KING: Not so much on the Republican side. George W. Bush's case,
yes. But some other winners in Iowa has not gone on to be the Republican nominee.
But for the Democrats, it has mattered. We'll see if it does in 2020.
Let's look at a little bit of what's happening in the state of Iowa. These are the top candidates qualified for the next debate, and their staffing levels in Iowa. You see there a hundred plus for these five candidates right here fighting it out on the ground in Iowa -- ground staff help.
They spend in Iowa, you'll notice Joe Biden is missing here -- these are the top five candidates -- again if the candidates qualified for the next round debate. Amy Klobuchar over here through Senator Kamala Harris who have spent the time on their bus tours going county to county throughout Iowa.
TV ad spending -- this is money spent so far and booked so far through the February caucuses. Tom Steyer has the most money spent there. You see someone else -- Vice President Biden, Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders in TV spending so far.
The polls out there have been relatively close. Joe Biden, former vice president, started the race as a clear front-runner; now he's just in the top pack. He says, sure, I think I can win Iowa, but if I don't, there are other places to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I plan to win in Iowa. I'm working like hell to win Iowa and I'm going to out and make the best case I can particularly in early states. Iowa is very important, so is New Hampshire, and so is South Carolina, and so is Nevada.
But right on the heels of all of that, there's Super Tuesday. And there's states in Super Tuesday that are particularly -- look like they're particularly favorable to me. But that could change, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We should book Joe Biden for the panel. That was pretty good. He can come in and take us through the calendar.
It is interesting though, as a guy who is the former vice president, will be treated differently in terms of stature as a candidate. Can he afford to lose early on, especially as we know he's struggling with money at the moment?
LUCEY: And he's clearly trying to manage expectations in this interview and in others talking about how there's a number of different paths. But if you lose Iowa and New Hampshire, you know, you then are moving into the next states behind the pack and another person can capture momentum with those states. I mean that's the big thing with Iowa is a win out of there, especially if it's a surprise win, really can boost somebody and create problems for someone else. KING: Right. If he doesn't win Iowa, he has to hope that somebody
else then wins. If somebody wins both, then big moment.
LERER: I also think Iowa is a place that can prove viability for other parts of the country. It is significantly whiter, a little bit older generally than the rest of the Democratic primary electorate. So if someone comes out of there with say a less traditional background -- you know a woman or a Pete Buttigieg, who is of course gay -- then that can reassure voters in other parts of the country who will say well, if people in Iowa which is more, you know, generally considered more conservative, Midwestern place although the caucus goers don't reflect that. If they'll vote for this person, then that person can win.
LUCEY: It's the free tickets out of Iowa idea, which is someone else could surprise us and say this is their response. So if someone else meets expectations, like Klobuchar say, for example or Buttigieg does better than expected, that can sort of scramble the race and ideas for people going into the next --
KING: And one of the themes as we get into these final 99 days there is that Joe Biden's team has acknowledged, he said repeatedly I will not take help from a Super PAC. He now is saying I will take help, I need help from a Super PAC.
If you look at the donors who have already maxed out to him -- meaning they've given the maximum amount of money they can to his primary campaign, 38 percent of Biden's primary donors can't give him any more money.
If you look down to especially Warren and Sanders who raise a lot of money in smaller online contributions, they've got a lot of room to grow there. So he needs this Super PAC which Bernie Sanders says is horrible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think a Super PAC is healthy for American democracy. And I think if you check the record, Joe has said something similar.
You know, when billionaires and wealthy people contribute, they're not doing so out of the goodness of their heart, they want something. And that is one of the great problems in American society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Can that argument sell? I've always been one that for years that held money arguments doesn't matter as much to voters, but in this Democratic primary electorate in recent years, it seems that that argument does seem to have sway, especially when you see Sanders and Warren with these grass roots contributions.
CAYGLE: Yes. I mean I think it's taken on more importance than we've seen in any other prior election. But for Biden, he's is weighing the pros and the cons. I mean he's looking at the money and he has less cash on hand than not just Warren and Sanders but some second tier candidates and money matters more than a lot of other things.
So he says I'll take the hits now but it will probably help me in the long run. I think that's the calculation that he's making at least.
KING: Take the risk.
Quick break -- when we come back, we're waiting to hear from the President of the United States -- a rare Sunday morning statement. The President, we're told, expected to announce the death of the world's most wanted terrorist.
KING: Live pictures here of the diplomatic reception room at the White House. You saw a presidential aide putting some papers on the podium there. The President of the United States just moments away from addressing the American people. We are told the President is expected to announce that U.S. Special Forces in north western Syria last night conducted a raid that resulted in the death of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
We're also told the President personally signed off on that raid which is customary. U.S. Special Forces very difficult mission in a part of Syria where the United States does not normally operate. So a moment for the commander-in-chief to thank the troops and to take some credit.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, I expect him to do both of those things and say that he is very proud of what the troops were able to do in northwest Syria. But also take some credit for his overall policy. He spent a lot of time saying we defeated ISIS. We don't need to be the Middle East anymore. We need to start withdrawing our troops.
And I do think he's going to take that victory lap and say this is one of the reasons why we need to bring our troops home. It's that we finished the fight there. He will get some pushback on that but I do expect that to be the initial message that he makes this morning.
KING: Right. And we're also learning that all of the U.S. Special Forces who were on the mission were able to get out safely as well which is great news as we wait to hear from the President of the United States.
LERER: Yes, I think we're going to hear, as Toluse said, more about the presence of other troops, about the mission. And this is a significant moment for him. This is a long-held target of the U.S. which is, this is -- you know a key figure that they've been trying to take. So it's accurate, this is a moment for him to take a victory lap.
KING: For several years, they've been trying to (INAUDIBLE). We're told CIA intelligence went with the raid. U.S. Special Forces conducted the raid but Al-Baghdadi apparently using a suicide vest did detonate himself as those Forces were closing in on him.
The President of the United States just moments away.
Thanks for joining us on this very busy Sunday morning.
Jake Tapper picks up our live coverage next with "STATE OF THE UNION". Stay with us.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington. Welcome to a special two-hour edition of "STATE OF THE UNION".
We have a lot of news to get to this morning. Right now we're waiting for President Trump to make an announcement, just minutes away as we are getting some major news out of the Middle East.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed during a raid conducted by the U.S. Military. That is according to a senior U.S. Defense official and a source familiar with the operation.
Both of them said Baghdadi appears to have detonated a suicide vest during that raid. The apparent death of the leader of ISIS comes after weeks of criticism of President Trump over his decision to pull U.S. service members from the Syria's northern border.
And at any moment we're going to hear directly from President Trump who previewed his remarks by tweeting overnight that quote, "something very big has happened", unquote. We're covering this apparent death of the terrorist leader of ISIS from every angle from the Pentagon to the White House to the Middle East.
Let's begin with CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne. Ryan -- what are you learning about this operation and how it came about?
BROWNE: Well, Jake -- we're being told that this was a very complex operation that came about from intelligence obtained and collected by the CIA. And that intelligence helped lead to a U.S. military raid led by Delta Force we're being told -- the elite Special Forces unit going deep into northwest Syria which is really hostile territory. There are a lot of actors there -- extremist groups. The Russian military has a presence. The regime military has a presence. Very far from where the U.S. military typically operates.
So they had to have high confidence that Baghdadi was in fact at that location to greenlight this raid, this very risky raid. Now during the raid, we're being told Baghdadi appeared to have detonated a suicide vest, killing himself while -- when he encountered the U.S. forces.
It's possible that this was an attempt to evade capture after the U.S. tried to capture high value targets like this. But in detonating that suicide vest and United States forces immediately began efforts to identify whether in fact he was -- this was in fact the target they had sought.
U.S. officials telling us that they are highly confident that he was, in fact, killed in this operation.
TAPPER: All right. Ryan Browne -- thanks so much.
Let's go now to Iraq where we find senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh in Erbil, Iraq. Nick -- this is a big blow to ISIS.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, yes. This is a man who offered their ideology, was behind the way that they sort of piped down social media these brutal, gory images of violence, of suffering, of execution of western hostages of at times and hundreds of even Iraqi army recruits.
He honed their skills of spreading around the world the idea that anybody frankly with a twisted view of the world could possibly join ISIS jihad and possibly with his death find the end of a chapter here.