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STATE OF THE UNION

President Trump Announces Death Of ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi; Key Testimony This Week Could Back Up Quid Pro Quo Claims. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired October 27, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN STATE OF THE UNION: Hello, I'm Jake Tapper in Washington where the State of Our Union is thankful, thankful that American service members on a dangerous overnight raid in Syria are safe and thankful that the world's most dangerous terrorist is dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Last night, the United States brought the world's number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi is dead.

He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In often vivid terms, the president confirmed in a morning White House address that U.S. special operators, including Delta Force, carried out a high-wire raid in Northwest Syria, ultimately cornering al-Baghdadi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. He dragged three of his young children with him. They were led to certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president said a lab technician on the raid team proved it was al-Baghdadi and that DNA test results were immediate and totally positive. The raid produced important intelligence, the president said, including plans for future ISIS operations.

We have a lot of news to get to this morning, including the explosive testimony from top diplomat, Ambassador Bill Taylor, detailing the president's alleged demand for a quid pro quo with Ukraine. But ahead of the president's remarks this morning, I spoke with Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the raid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's start with the president's announcement. What can you tell us about the raid? Was this an operation conducted specifically to target Baghdadi?

MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Sure. Well, let me say, first of all, this is a great day for America, this is a great day for the world. The president made a very decisive action and our troops and interagency partners executed it brilliantly.

So, as you know, we defeated the physical caliphate earlier this year and now the leader is dead. And so again, that's great news and I want to commend all that participated in the operations.

I will tell you this that the operation was conducted last night. The president approved a raid onto the target. The aim was to capture Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And if we couldn't capture him, then, of course, we were going to kill him. And like I said, the raid was successful. We pulled our troops out. We had two minor casualties, two minor injuries to our soldiers, but a very successful, flawless raid.

TAPPER: When you say minor injuries, they will recover from these injuries?

ESPER: They've already been returned to duty.

TAPPER: Okay, that's great.

So the president knew about the operation ahead of time, he approved the operation?

ESPER: The president was taking options earlier this week. He reviewed them, asked them great questions, chose the option that we thought gave us the highest probability of success and confirmation that the head of ISIS would be there and either captured or killed, and then we execute it from there.

TAPPER: Was there a lot of deliberation?

ESPER: Yes, I think in all these things. There's deliberation the president had the opportunity to hear and speak with the command or central command. He had a chance to hear from me. He had a chance to talk with General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And, again, that decision was made late last week.

TAPPER: Could this operation had been done without U.S. troops on the ground in Syria already?

ESPER: That's speculative. I don't know. I would have to consult with our commanders about that. You know, we have tremendous reach and capability. The people, the service members who executed this attack are the best in the world. And there's nothing beyond our capability. TAPPER: The administration has been taking heat for the handling of the U.S. Kurdish allies in Northern Syria. Did the Kurds take a role in this operation?

ESPER: I'm not going to discuss who all participated, but we had some help from outside partners.

TAPPER: But the U.S. allies -- the main U.S. allies in that region are the Kurds?

ESPER: That's right. I'm just not going to get into details right now.

TAPPER: Okay. The general of the Kurdish, the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces say that they did play a role. Is that --

ESPER: The SDF have been good partners for the last few years. They were instrumental to us helping defeat, destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS. And, again, we remain in contact with them on the ground and they've been helpful in a variety of ways.

TAPPER: What does this mean for the troops that had been sent into the region to help protect the troops that are helping to protect the oil fields in Syria?

[12:05:06]

ESPER: Well, the two are separate, but related, related in a sense that both signify, again, our commitment to the enduring defeat of ISIS. The troops now that are denying ISIS access to those oil fields are doing so so because we make sure that ISIS cannot generate the revenue that would allow them to buy weapons that allow them attack our partners and allies in Europe or come back to the homeland. And that's our commitment, and that's why we are reinforcing some of our positions in the Southern part of Northern Syria.

TAPPER: Did the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Turkish-Syria border accelerate the timetable on this mission in any way?

ESPER: No, I don't think so. Look, the withdrawal was prompted by the fact that President Erdogan of Turkey made a decision that he was going to attack regardless and seize a safe zone, if you will, between Turkey and Syria. If -- and we were opposed to that vehemently and protested as much. And our concern was that Turkey's actions, as unwarranted as they were, would cause us, them, others, to lose focus on the defeat ISIS mission. That's the reason why we went in and that's the reason why we're still there.

And last week, I spent in the region talking to many of our allies and I spent time in Brussels with our NATO allies and reiterated to them that our commitment to the enduring defeat of ISIS.

TAPPER: And obviously this is a huge blow to ISIS, to have their leader, al-Baghdadi, killed. Is there now concern that ISIS might lash out, that they might try to stage some sort of terrorist attack as a way of showing to the world, hey, we're still here? ESPER: Well, you prepare for everything. But you're right, this is a devastating blow. This is not just their leader, it's their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways. He is the one that -- when he formed ISIS in 2014, he led to establishing the physical caliphate throughout the region, so this is a major blow to them. And we're going to watch carefully next steps. And as a new leader and leaders pop up, we'll go after them as well.

TAPPER: As you noted, the physical caliphate has largely disappeared as the U.S. and the Kurds have beaten it back, but obviously there's still thousands, if not, tens of thousands of ISIS terrorists that remain. What is the status of ISIS right now?

ESPER: Like as we've been saying for some time now, we want to ensure the enduring defeat. That means we have to continually monitor the situation, make sure as we groups pop up or coalesce or establish a training camp, we go in and take them out. That's the way to ensure that they're no longer a threat to the United States, into our allies and partners.

TAPPER: And the president has said they're defeated but they're not fully defeated.

ESPER: Well, it's a physical caliphate. And defeat, it's hard to defeat an ideology. So what we're going to have to do is stay on top of this. We're going to have to make sure we have the capability to go in and, again, destroy targets as they arise.

TAPPER: When are all U.S. troops going to leave Syria as President Trump has said he wants to do, but obviously a lot of military officials have said they do not want to do, they think it would be a mistake?

ESPER: Well, President Trump's directive was we leave Northern Syria, Northeastern Syria, that part specifically where the safe zone is being set up by the Turks. We're halfway through that process, if you will. It will take weeks, not days.

But at the same time, the president said we would keep a presence in Southern Syria at Al-Tanf. And recently we got the direction that we would maintain presence in the area of Deir ez-Zor in order again to deny ISIS and other destabilizing actors down there access to the oil fields.

TAPPER: One thing I want to ask you, I want to follow up on something you said that you've said before, which is that President Erdogan of Turkey had said that he was going to go into this area and that's why the U.S. pulled out even though you and others had vehemently opposed him doing that. It just seems odd that a NATO ally and a weaker country, although Turkey obviously has a very large military, would be able to, for want of a better term, push the U.S. around, I mean, push us out of the region. I would think the U.S. Would say, we're staying and I know you don't want to attack U.S. forces. How do you make the argument that this wasn't the U.S. retreating?

ESPER: Yes, I think that's an overstatement. I mean, we've known since the original partnership between the United States and SDF that Turkey --

TAPPER: That's the Kurds.

ESPER: That's right, that Turkey protested this. They view that many in the SDF are terrorists, that are members of the PKK.

And they also had two or three incursions over the past two or three years. So as I came into office about three months ago, this was probably the top foreign policy issue that was on my plate, constantly working with the Turks to establish a safe zone, to address the legitimate security aids and to try and walk them back from conducting this incursion.

But due to domestic politics, security concerns, any number of factors, it became clear to me and other members of the national security team that the Turks were going to do this regardless.

And I thought it would have been irresponsible, as did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to leave our soldiers, numbering less than 50, in between a Turkish army of 15,000 plus and their route of attack.

TAPPER: One last thing, sir, and that is you've talked about the credit that you go to the military operators, the special operators who conducted this raid.

[12:10:04]

And, thankfully, there were no serious injuries and obviously it was successful raid. You've also given credit to President Trump for his decisive action on making this.

I just want to show you this tweet in 2012. You had nothing to do with this tweet, just for the record. President Trump, when he was citizen Trump, said stop congratulating Obama for killing Bin Laden, the Navy SEALS killed Bin Laden.

So I guess just the question I have is do commanders-in-chief deserve credit for the actions of our brave men and women in service, in uniform?

ESPER: Look, I'm not going to get involved in the political issues here. Clearly, the credit, first and foremost, goes to our service members and to interagency partners who helped execute this. And in this case, again, the president made a tough decision and gave the order to go. And at the end of the day, he bears responsibility for its success or failure, as do I, as does the entire chain of command.

TAPPER: I would agree, and I would agree that that was also true in 2012. Secretary Esper, thank you so much for being here. Don't be a stranger.

ESPER: Will do.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Coming up next, the new testimony in the impeachment inquiry changed the calculus on Capitol Hill this week. A key Democratic senator will join me next. Stay with us.

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[12:15:00]

TAPPER: Welcome back to State of the Union. I'm Jake Tapper.

Turning now to the impeachment inquiry and key testimony this week that may have changed the political calculus for Republicans, according to GOP Hill sources, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said he was told that everything the Ukrainian president wanted, including vital military aid, would be held up until he announced, the Ukrainian president, an investigation that would help President Trump politically. And more critical testimony this week could back up that claim of a quid pro quo.

Joining me now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much.

I want to start with the big news this morning. You've been a vocal critic of President Trump's policies in Syria, in the Middle East, but this is obviously a big success for the U.S. What is your reaction to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): It's big news. It's important news. It accrues to the benefit of U.S. national security and I congratulation the entire team that made this possible. Ultimately, taking out a leader of this kind of consequence will be a blow to ISIS and a reminder that there's no shelter from the American military who try to plot attacks against us or our friends.

And it shows just how capable and professional our military is notwithstanding the disagreements that they've had with the president over Syria policy and if some reports are true that the SDF may have contributed intelligence to this operation, it also shows how incredible our Kurdish partners continue to be even though the president double-crossed them in Syria.

Now, of course, this is all balanced by the fact that over the past several weeks, over a hundred ISIS fighters have escaped detainment. And so while there's no doubt that it's good that al-Baghdadi is gone from the world, the overall downside to the United States may be greater because we now have potentially over a hundred, if not, more ISIS fighters, many of them probably very dangerous, reconstituting themselves.

So good news, but the overall sum of the actions that have happened in Syria over the course of the last couple weeks are not good news for the United States.

TAPPER: You commended the entire team responsible for the death of al-Baghdadi, I assume that also includes President Trump who gave the final order and authorized the raid.

MURPHY: We'll learn more about the details of this raid. But if it looks as successful, as early reports are, I think you have to give credit to everyone who was part of this decision-making operation.

TAPPER: Including President Trump?

MURPHY: Including President Trump.

TAPPER: All right.

Let's turn to Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony and the impeachment inquiry. He described the meeting that he had last month in Ukraine with you as well as the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Ron Johnson, and Ukrainian President Zelensky. Taylor told Congress that, quote, my recollection of the meeting is that both senators stressed the bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington was Ukraine's most important strategic asset and that President Zelensky should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn into U.S. domestic politics, unquote.

Does that square with your recollection of that meeting? And if so, why do you think it was important to warn Zelensky about being drawn into U.S. domestic politics? Why did you make a point of saying that?

MURPHY: Well, that's an accurate representation of the meeting.

Listen, part of the reason that I chose to go to Ukraine in early September was that I had heard through multiple sources how uncomfortable the new Ukrainian administration was with these demands that they were being presented with by Rudy Giuliani and others representing themselves to be acting on behalf of Donald Trump and the United States government.

And I thought it was really important to be there with President Zelensky, who is a total political novice, to tell him that he should not get dragged into American politics, that if he's doing business with the United States, he should be doing business with the State Department, not with the president's political fixers.

And he understood that. He gave us a very positive response. He told us that he had no interest in getting dragged into American politics. But I was there before we knew the full scope of this corruption. I was there before we knew that there was clearly a communication sent to President Zelensky and his team that they needed to investigate the Bidens and Clintons through the re-litigation of the 2016 election if they were going to get a meeting with President Trump, and now, as we know, if they were going to get aid released.

And so I'm very glad that I made the case to President Zelensky that he should stay out of American politics. But at the time, I frankly didn't know how bad this was.

TAPPER: And you said that the entire new Ukrainian administration was worried that the aid was being cut off as, quote, a consequence for their unwillingness at the time to investigate the Bidens, unquote. [12:20:08]

Did Zelensky or anyone else in Zelensky's circle specifically mention the Bidens in that meeting and the demand that they investigate the Bidens?

MURPHY: Well, they did not specifically mention it to us. Of course, it was publicly reported that Rudy Giuliani was going to Zelensky and asking him to investigate the Bidens. This was an open secret. And so I was raising that issue with Zelensky. I told him that it would not be good for Ukraine if they got dragged into American politics, and he agreed with me.

But, you know, listen, I think the testimony now is very clear that there was a quid pro quo. But from the very beginning, I don't believe that you needed to prove a quid pro quo in order for this to be totally corrupt and potentially impeachable. The president of the United States cannot demand that a foreign country interfere in American politics, try to help his re-election effort no matter, whether he is holding back aid or a meeting in the White House. You can't do that as the most powerful person on the earth.

And I think it makes it even worse that we now know that he was clearly trading away access to the White House and likely security aid to Ukraine.

TAPPER: President Trump obviously is arguing out there that the impeachment isn't legitimate. And one of the reasons for that, in his view, is because the Ukrainians are publicly saying that they didn't feel any pressure at all. You are saying that's not true. They felt pressure.

MURPHY: They felt pressure. No doubt they felt pressure. Of course, they would feel pressure. And, of course, Zelensky is going to try to put the best spin on this that he can because he is still in a dependent relationship with the United States. Ukraine cannot survive the military assault that continues to this day from the Russians without American military aid. They can't survive without our support to keep IMF loans flow into Ukraine.

So, of course he is going to say that, you know, he didn't and doesn't feel any pressure, that there was no blackmail because he's got to make sure that Trump continues to support his country. And that there is absolutely no doubt that the Ukrainians felt pressure to do what Giuliani was asking. And it stands to reason that they would, because any time that your patron is telling you that you need to investigate political rivals in order to get aid or in order to get a meeting, you are going to feel very uncomfortable being put in that position.

TAPPER: You wrote an op-ed recently asserting that President Trump's request for a probe into Burisma, that's the Ukrainian firm that Hunter Biden worked for, is, quote, just the tip of the iceberg, unquote. You write that, quote, Trump has abandoned Ukraine to Russia. It's a missing piece of the impeachment debate.

But how does that square with the fact that the military aid ultimately in September was released and that was something that President Obama did not provide to the Ukrainians lethal aid?

MURPHY: So the aid was only released once President Trump got caught. Now, it's still unclear as to exactly what triggered the aid moving forward. But it looks like the aid was released right around the time that the whistleblower came forward and the White House was understanding that this was all about to become public.

But the very fact that Trump was withholding the aid right at the beginning of Zelensky's administration, right as Zelensky was trying to make overtures to Russia to try to engage in political talks weakened the Ukrainian administration. And Trump's continued refusal to really admit the scope of Russia's interference in 2016 and his refusal to do anything about it has also weakened Ukraine because Russia is doing the same thing there.

So in so many different ways, this president has shown a lack of commitment to Ukraine, a lack of willingness to stand up to Russia, and that ultimately hurts Ukraine, that ultimately weakens this new reform-minded president. And simply dragging Ukraine into American politics is a distraction for a country that right now needs to be focusing all its energies on trying to protect its eastern border from Russian incursion.

TAPPER: Your fellow Democratic senator, Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, she is running for president obviously, she says that she has already seen enough evidence to convict President Trump in the Senate should impeachment go to the Senate for a vote on removal. Have you?

MURPHY: So I think the behavior that has been proven thus far looks impeachable to me.

[12:25:02]

But, of course, it depends on what the actual articles of impeachment are that are sent to the Senate. So I don't think I can say how I would vote because I ultimately can only vote on what the House sends us. But I absolutely think that a president who has traded away the

credibility of the United States in order to get a foreign country to destroy his political rivals has engaged in conduct that is worthy of impeachment.

Ultimately, we can only vote on what is sent to us by the House. So I can't declare what my vote will be. But I don't know why you have the power of impeachment if it's not to hold accountable a president of the United States who has fundamentally corrupted the powers of his office to try to benefit himself politically.

TAPPER: Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrat of Connecticut, thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it, sir.

MURPHY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Next, this morning, President Trump said ISIS is 100 percent defeated. Is that true? And the president's assertion that there was no quid pro quo gets undercut by witness after witness in the impeachment inquiry. What to expect in the coming days of testimony? Stay with us.

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[12:30:00]

TAPPER: Welcome back to the State of the Union. I'm Jake Tapper.

Reaction coming now from President Trump's morning announcement that ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead after a U.S. raid overnight in Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling the raid a, quote, significant step, a warning that the fight against ISIS, quote, will not end with this significant victory.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeting this, the death of al-Baghdadi is significant but it does not mean the death of ISIS. Donald Trump must present the American people with a clear strategy to confront ISIS.

Let's discuss this with our experts. We have former FBI Deputy Director and CNN Contributor Andrew McCabe and former Pentagon Press Secretariat and CNN Military Analyst Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, let me start with you. I think that there is almost a belief that after there is a successful military raid that I think, of course, he did that raid and it was was successful, whether it's OBL raid, which was arguably more complicated than this one or this one, which still -- but like it's a tough decision for any president no matter what.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Very tough. And we should not take for granted that the success is just going to be inevitable. I mean, obviously, very well done, very well executed, but there's high risk when you're putting troops on the ground going after a target as dangerous as al-Baghdadi.

So I think the president deserves enormous credit for making this very difficult call because he was literally putting men in harm's way and he might have found himself writing letters of condolences today. Obviously, that's not going to happen, thank goodness. But big decision, very, very risky.

TAPPER: So when you were at FBI, counterterrorism was a big part of your focus. And, obviously, too many ISIS-inspired attacks in the United States, in California, in Florida, in New York. What does this mean to you as somebody who spent so much of your career trying to stop terrorism in the United States? What does it mean to you the death of al-Baghdadi?

ANDEW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, it's a huge victory. And it's a great tribute to the men and women who fight this battle, who fight terrorism every day across the intelligence and law enforcement communities. But it, by no means, means that that fight is over. We know that ISIS raised propaganda and communications and use of the internet and use of encrypted communications to a new level. The used figures like Baghdadi to add to their recruiting efforts to create this myth around what was essentially a violent death cult in Syria and that drew tens of thousands of people to support them across the globe. Those folks are still out there, whether they're here in the United States tracking ISIS through social media in other means or they're across Europe or still in the Middle East. Those are the folks that we have to worry about in terms of protecting the homeland.

KIRBY: And there will be a reaction to this strike. We just don't know what it will be. And we need to be prepared for the fact that the ISIS leaders remaining vie for power and in their retribution may here for this strike might actually escalate their planning and their conducting of attacks.

TAPPER: Well, that's one of the things I wanted to ask about that. The president painted a very graphic, vivid picture of al-Baghdadi crying, whining, grabbing three children of his -- three of his children running down a tunnel. I don't begrudge any president trying to make it clear to the world that the terrorist leader is a coward. But I do wonder might that be used against the United States as well? Might that kind of humiliation -- and, again, he's a horrible person, I'm glad he's dead. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding. But might that language be used in a way to recruit ISIS people or terrorists?

MCCABE: There's no question it will be. I can tell you this, that in the FBI today, many, many, many folks are focused on those targets we have here in the United States and that we know about in other places. They're very concerned about acting out because of the death of al- Baghdadi. How many folks will be inspired by or provoked by this action and feel like it's their job, it's their duty go out and strike out in any way they can just to prove to the world that ISIS is, in fact, not dead, they are still a threat and they're still dedicated to attacking us.

So that work is going on today. You know, it is, to some degree, likely charged, emotionally charged by release of the sorts of graphic details, references to using canines, things like that, we know, are particularly meaningful to that volatile population.

TAPPER: So a speech was written for the president. He read from it. And I think there are a lot of -- a couple of Republicans on this panel this morning have said they wish the president just read the speech and stopped because he went on to say other things, for instance, acting as if the death of al-Baghdadi was a much bigger deal than the death of Bin Laden.

I mean, they're both dead. They were both horrible terrorist. This isn't a competition with President Obama, acting as if he would have prevented 9/11 even possibly because of this myth that he was warning about Bin Laden before 9/11, and on and on, things that undercut.

[12:35:12]

Attacking the Intelligence Community, the president did, again, for insinuation (ph). What did you make of all that?

KIRBY: Yes. I was disappointed to see that he went on and took questions. I don't know, that may sound funny coming from spokesman. But I think I would have just left it at the statement, which was detailed and grisly in nature and then just walked away rather than get into the Q&A, because he get dragged in to a lot of tactical details and intelligence-sensitive material that I think just pushed him a little too close to the edge here in terms of your ability to now keep going after ISIS. Because he even noted there's going to be a vie for a leadership here and we've got those guys in our sights. You don't want to give them any more information than they need to.

And then on the comparisons with Obama, I think that was just going to be inevitable, Jake. There was no way he wasn't going to try to compare this to the Osama Bin Laden raid and President Obama's leadership. And, look, I mean, you can argue about which one is more important. This is an important get and he should be proud of it.

TAPPER: Sure, yes.

KIRBY: But it doesn't mean the end of the fight against ISIS. And you don't want to say anything in these early hours that's going to make that fight harder.

TAPPER: Were you worried at all? He did seem to give a lot of operational details about what they knew, what they didn't know. And considering the Kurds have said that this has been a five-month operation and President Trump said it's a two-week operation, obviously, a lot of intelligence there. Were you concerned that he was giving up too much information out?

MCCABE: Well, that's always a concern particularly any time this president takes the microphone. I agree, huge victory, absolutely, he bears the -- he gets credit for having made this tough decision. It would have been very easy to go out and put out just enough detail, really kind of enjoy bask in the glory of a successful operation. So it was unfortunate that he felt like he had to go further into those details.

I can tell you from having been around operations like this and had the privilege of working around these folks for many years, this was essentially a five-year operation. That is how long we have been looking for al-Baghdadi. That's how long we've been fighting ISIS in Syria. That's how long we've been dealing with threats from ISIS here in the homeland and other places. The intelligence that would have been necessary to make this a success is unbelievably hard to acquire. It's intricate, it is fragile and sensitive. And I'm sure there was a much longer focus than two weeks that went into putting this together, and hats off to the folks that enabled it.

TAPPER: Amen to that. McCabe, Kirby, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up next, the impeachment inquiry, another big week of testimony coming up. And he was part of the Band of Brothers in Vietnam and now he's the key witness in the case against President Trump. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: So whatever you do, don't hire a yes man, someone that's going to tell you -- won't tell you the truth. Don't do that. Because if you do, I believe you'll be impeached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly seeming to criticize his replacement, Mick Mulvaney, for not saving President Trump from himself.

Let's discuss with our panel. Congressman Waltz, let me start with you.

There you have Kelly saying basically that Mick Mulvaney is a yes man and that's why Trump is being impeached because Mick Mulvaney wasn't able to serve as a guardrail. What do you think?

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): I really don't have a lot to say about it. I respect the general and I respect Mick. And if they have difference of opinion on how to serve the president, I'll leave that to them.

TAPPER: What do you think, Bill?

BILL KRISTOL, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's going to be impeached. So I think, empirically, General Kelly was correct. Whether either if Kelly were still there, he could have stopped Trump from doing things, he didn't stop Trump from doing as many things as he would have liked to have stopped him from doing even while he was chief of staff.

But I will say this, like the broader point, Kelly, Mattis, McGahn, there were a lot of people in the first couple of years who did -- Trump had a lot of ideas that, I would say, would lead him to do things that are impeachable, that got stopped firing Mueller, and we know a ton of them, right? Now, those people are all gone. So in that broader sense, I think General Kelly is right, that we now have a Trump unfettered in a way we didn't a couple of years ago. And the phone call, how much of the phone call in July, whatever --

TAPPER: With the president of Ukraine?

KRISTOL: Yes. I'm not sure that happens in a White House with McMasters, the national security adviser, and Kelly as chief of staff.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Just to be clear about the train of events here, Mick Mulvaney does seem to be the person who executed Trump's command to stop the payments. He's a former OMB chair -- chief, he is the chief of staff. There is reporting that he is the person who implemented Trump's plan by doing the quid pro quo, which was stopping the Ukrainian payments for many months.

TAPPER: The military aid.

TANDEN: The military aid. And as Taylor said, he went to the frontline and saw the soldiers without our aid, and it was an issue for him.

So I think this is what Kelly is actually getting at. It's not particularly clear, but the real issue here is the chief of staff aiding the quid pro quo instead of stopping it.

WALTZ: Mick Mulvaney, as head of OMB, has put a kibosh on foreign aid, which I actually opposed, and wrote a letter opposing.

[12:45:02]

A 30 percent cut in the State Department's budget is something that they've been clear on from the get-go. I mean, not to mention the northern triangle, not to mention Afghanistan, not to mention Pakistan.

TANDEN: This is very different.

WALTZ: They have been -- they have --

TANDEN: That's (INAUDIBLE) proposed, but just to clear --

WALTZ: But to say that it was only Ukraine is not true.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I'm sorry. But just to be factual, actually, it is specifically true that there were objections raised inside the OMB and the White House because the Ukrainian aid had already been approved by Congress and Mick Mulvaney said it's at the direction of the president himself. So I think --

WALTZ: This is according to Taylor's testimony.

GLASSER: Exactly, and also according to reporting that has been done by The New York Times and other outlets. So, again --

WALTZ: Susan, my understanding though is that that unraveled a bit in questioning, but none of us have seen the follow-on questions. You've only seen the opening statement.

I also understand that Kurt Volker had a different take on this, the envoy Ukraine. I've been asking for three weeks to have access to that. And I, as a sitting member of Congress, can't have.

So what we're all talking about here has all come through the lens of Adam Schiff.

KRISTOL: That's not true.

(CROSSTALKS)

KRISTOL: It's factually -- the military aid was delivered delivered on September 11th, I believe, having been appropriated by Congress months before with the Defense Department, the memorandum having been worked out on exactly what was going to be said, signed off on by state in the NSC and then mysteriously held up for two or three of months at the direction of the president. I don't think there's much question about that.

GLASSER: Right. That's not factually in dispute. Congressman, what you're referring to is the question of whether it was an illegal quid pro quo on the part of the president of the United States. So that's an issue that is still being testified under depositions.

What we do know factually --

WALTZ: Wouldn't we all love to see that.

TANDEN: We will. This is the beauty of this.

KRISTOL: In about two weeks, Mike.

WALTZ: Is it one week, is it three weeks, is it three months?

KRISTOL: Why does it matter? They need to find out truth and you will see the transcripts.

TAPPER: I think we can all agree to -- I think we can all agree, we'd love to see all the testimony and we'd love to see public hearings. And the sooner that happens, the better. I just -- because I don't think anyone disagrees on that.

What were you going to say?

TANDEN: All I would add is that you have colleagues right now in these meetings. So I ask -- why haven't you asked them?

TAPPER: Republican colleagues.

WALTZ: Republican colleagues. Well, one, they can't share that information. They're under a gag order, number one. Let me ask you this. Let me finish with this. Would you be okay if you were defense and you could cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, in this call by Schiff but not call your own, would that be okay? And should the accused have counsel present, because that's the case? But that was not the case under Clinton. That was not the case under --

TANDEN: Just to be crystal clear -- no, that's not true. That's not true.

WALTZ: So they can only cross-examine Schiff's witnesses but not call their own, which is absolutely true. It's in contravention to the only two precedents that we have, not Benghazi, not other hearings, it's the only two precedents that they have.

TAPPER: Impeachment precedents.

WALTZ: That's right, 1998 and 1974.

TANDEN: The issue here is that this is like a grand jury.

WALTZ: No it's not.

TANDEN: And in a grand jury.

TAPPER: let her talk.

WALTZ: Okay, it's not true.

TANDEN: Let me just finish, in grand jury testimony, the defense attorney does not have the ability to bring their own witnesses because it is a prosecution case and making the strongest prosecution in which you will be able to adjudicate at the end of it, just like the House (INAUDIBLE) grand jury impeachment --

WALTZ: Here is why that falls apart. Schiff is acting as independent counsel.

TANDNE: He is not.

WALTZ: This is not a grand jury. We have to establish new rules, which is what we did in '74.

TAPPER: Well, this is the last word and then I want to turn to Baghdadi news.

GLASSER: Having survived the Clinton impeachment, I think let's just pull back for a second. The process will be worked out one way or the other.

WALTZ: That matters.

GLASSER: Can I finish?

TAPPER: Just let her talk.

GLASSER: Let's be clear. The Democrats have said that they will offer a public process that Republicans already have opportunity that they will do so. We can road test that. We can criticize them all they want if they don't deliver on that promise.

What I haven't heard this week, Jake, is Republicans, in any serious or sustained way, talk about the evidence that's emerged so far. Whether they can defend the president or not has become increasingly difficult as the president has pulled the rug out under his staff, changed the facts as new evidence has emerged.

Ambassador Taylor's testimony was significant by any measure. He has been smeared by the White House. You did a very eloquent statement, I think, about that today about a man who served his country for 50 years, as you have Congressman. And do you feel comfortable with the way that we're now attacking witnesses?

WALTZ: I have in good faith, formally and informally, been asking for access to all of the information.

TANDEN: That's not answering.

WALTZ: That is answering.

GLASSER: Do you think Bill Taylor was a witness?

WALTZ: No. I don't think we should criticize Kurt Volker, Bill Taylor, any of those folks.

TAPPER: So we only have about a minute left. I want to let you have an opportunity. Let me ask you about the death of al-Baghdadi, which we can all agree. Thank God for our special operators, thank God, they're okay, two minor injuries, but Secretary Esper told me they're okay, they're back on duty.

[12:50:06]

As somebody who was critical of President Trump's position on withdrawing U.S. forces from Northern Syria, does this, do you think, bolster your argument, work with the Kurds who provided the intelligence, to keep U.S. forces there, or does it bolster the president's hand given the fact that this is an undisputable success?

WALTZ: Well, I'm happy where the president is ending up, which is to keep a presence in Syria. We have to stay on offense. We have to keep our foot on their neck. It takes a network to defeat a network and we have to do that forward.

And I have been loud and clear saying that if we withdraw like we did too soon under Obama or whether we do it now, whether it's Afghanistan or Syria or other battlefields, terrorism will follow us home.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman, thank you so much and thank you for your services. As always, thanks everybody for being here.

Coming up, the president writes him off as human scum and the latest in a long line of never-Trumpers. But those who know Bill Taylor best tell a far different story of service and sacrifice, and that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:00]

TAPPER: The deposition this past week from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Ambassador Bill Taylor, was, Republican sources tell CNN, impactful and, quote, reverberating among Republicans on the Hill. Taylor detailed conversations with Trump administration officials pushing an explicit quid pro quo, in his view. He was told, quote, everything that Ukraine wanted from the United States, including military aid, depended on the Ukrainian president publicly announcing an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. The White House has been relentlessly attacking Ambassador Taylor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: What you're seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, you know what, I don't like President Trump's politics so I'm going to participate in this witch hunt that they're undertaking on the Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There's no evidence for that. And the president then called Taylor a never-Trumper, and there's no evidence for that. And he said that all never-Trumpers, quote, are human scum, human scum.

Thousands of miles away, watching this all unfold, was one of Taylor's West Point classmates with whom he served in Vietnam, now retired Colonel Bob Seitz. Let show this photo here. That's Seitz on the left in this photo in from firebase Rakkasan in Vietnam, in spring 1971, Bill Taylor is the one on the right of the photo.

For 18 months, Seitz and Taylor jumped from helicopters and rocked (ph) through the jungle-covered mountainous terrain, enduring, Seitz told me, quote, fatigue, hunger, bad weather, dying, killing and a lot of terrible wounds.

They were rifle company commanders of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne, the same regiment from the World War II book in miniseries, Band of Brothers. The motto of the 506, currahee, meaning we stand alone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To Easy Company, victory and currahee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Seitz told me that Bill Taylor of Alpha Company was and remains the embodiment of the United States Military Academy cadet prayer, which says in part, quote, make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong and never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

Colonel Seitz says he's been enraged listening to President Trump and White House staffers lie and launch personal attacks on his friend, Bill Taylor. Taylor even extended his tour in Vietnam an extra six months, he says. None of those attacking him ever stood up for their country they way Bill did.

Taylor's service to his country continued as a diplomat working for every administration since 1985, serving U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush. Former General and Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry told me, quote, Bill always volunteered for the tough posting and combat with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Afghanistan, Gaza, the difficult spots in the Middle East, unquote. In Iraq, Taylor came under fire in both Baghdad and Fallujah.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked Taylor to come out of retirement to head back to Kiev. Taylor was wary of taking the position after seeing how poorly the previous ambassador had been treated by the Trump administration. But his mentor had told him, quote, if your country asks you to do something, you do it. Sitting on Colonel Seitz's kitchen table right now is Wednesday's New York Times. Seitz looked at the cover photo with tears in his eyes. It showed his battle buddy, Taylor, walking into Congress, to choose the harder right over the easier wrong, to not be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

Taylor is standing alone, Seitz told me, the way currahees have stood alone for our country. But all of us other currahees are standing with him, Seitz said.

So President Trump can suggest that Bill Taylor is human scum and the folks in the White House can attempt to smear him. But to his friends, the president is not just attacking Bill Taylor, he's attacking the values that Taylor personifies, duty, honor, country.

General Eikenberry told me, Taylor's, quote, integrity and courage are the true marks of patriotism, loyal to an oath of office and never to be corrupted or intimidated by those seeking personal gain at our nation's expense, unquote.

you can ask yourself of the behavior and values you have seen displayed during this impeachment inquiry, whose making you proud to be an American and whose might make you ashamed?

Currahee.

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for much more of CNN's breaking news coverage on the death of the leader of ISIS during a U.S. raid in Syria.

[13:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for --