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Key Witness Who Was on Ukraine Call Defies House Subpoena, Doesn't Show Up for Hill Interview; Democrats Not Happy about No Show Amid Kupperman's Ask for Court to Decide; Trump: Republicans Should Focus on Case Details, Not the Process; John Kelly Says He Warned Trump He Could Face Impeachment; New Video of Raid that Killed Baghdadi after Trump's Graphic Description; A Look at Aftermath for ISIS after Death of Baghdadi. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2019 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

This morning a no-show, a standoff, and possibly a glimpse into the rocky road ahead in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Despite a congressional subpoena, the latest key witness in the investigation did not show for a scheduled interview with House investigators.

This morning, Charles Kupperman, most recently was the deputy national security adviser to the president, working hand in hand with then- national security adviser, John Bolton. Importantly, Kupperman was actually on the July 25th call between President Trump and Ukraine's president that has sparked the whistleblower's complaint.

But the White House ordered Kupperman not to show up and so Kupperman went to court, essentially asking a judge to decide if he should listen to the order from Congress or the White House on this one.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the investigation none too happy this morning. Listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House, they would want him to come and testify. They plainly don't.


BOLDUAN: So what now? Let's get to Capitol Hill first and foremost. CNN's Phil Mattingly is


Phil, House Democrats at least are talking about holding him in contempt of Congress. What are you hearing this morning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I think, at least, and I just listened to Chairman Adam Schiff talk, Republicans spoke as well after Mr. Kupperman decided not to show up today.

You can kind of view how Democrats are proceeding through two tracks. There's the legal track. They can hold him in contempt. That's a consideration. It hasn't been taken off the table my Schiff yet.

They can also go the court related to the lawsuit filed by Charles Kupperman's lawyer on Friday saying that the court needed to adjudicate a fight between two branches of government.

But that, Democrats made clear, will not postpone, stall, or play out the inquiry currently under way. They can plan to continue moving forward.

They've had nine witnesses, most of whom were subpoenaed, most of whom were asked by the White House not to testify, come in and testify in those closed-door depositions. There will be more this week.

I think the point Democrats are making right now -- and you hit on a key point when it comes to obstruction -- if these witnesses choose not to come in, they'll go to court and figure out remedies but also use that as the basis for an article of impeachment related to obstruction.

The key point is, yes, as they get closer to the White House, as they get closer to the president and individuals around the president they want to talk to, people like John Bolton, people like maybe Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, others, they will use those, if they choose not to comply, as part of the future articles of impeachment.

But they won't slow down the investigation. It's been full speed for almost six weeks -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: If this is putting the brakes on it, I guess we'll see if it does at all. But full speed ahead, as you mentioned, just look at this week and what else is expected.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think this is a key point. Obviously, Charles Kupperman not coming in. One key point. Charles Kupperman shares a lawyer with John Bolton, who hasn't been subpoenaed yet. But through testimony, Democrats have learned he had strong objections to some of the ways Ukraine policy was playing out inside the administration.


MATTINGLY: So some question as to whether he would come in either.

However, there are administration officials that are scheduled to come in. And they believe, between Democrats and Republicans, they will show up.

There's a National Security Council official expected tomorrow. A Pentagon official that knows a lot about the ins and outs about the funding related to Ukraine that was withheld by the administration coming in on Wednesday.

And on Thursday is the official that everybody's really keying on, Tim Morrison, a current White House official inside the National Security Council. William Taylor, who had the explosive testimony last week -- feels like, six months ago at this point in time --


MATTINGLY: -- mentioned his name 15 times over the course -- and the whistleblower, which mentioned his name 15 times related to the Ukraine call, related to the withholding of funding, relating to Ukraine policy. He is at this point and time still expected to come in and testify.

As I noted, there are expectations that there will be multiple court battles going forward. But by all accounts, Democrats are pushing forward and they expect witnesses to continue to come in for those closed-door depositions -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That definitely seemed to be the message this morning from Adam Schiff.

It's great to see you, Phil. Thank you.

Let's get over to the White House where President Trump seems to be offering something of a new strategy of how he'd like to fight the impeachment investigation, essentially going against both Republicans and his legal team, what they have all been advising him?

CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House with more on this.

Boris, what's the strategy now?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump wants Republicans to shift their strategy.

It's interesting because, as you noted, for more than a week we've been hearing behind closed doors that the president's legal team, aides, advisers, a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, they've been wanting the president to focus on the process that Democrats are moving forward with this impeachment inquiry as a response.

They want to suggest that Democrats are not being transparent, that they're abusing the legal system to try and go after this president.


For Trump, that's apparently not enough. He wants them to focus on the substance of his call with the Ukrainian president, something Republicans, at least on the Senate side, have not eager to do because answering questions about that quid pro quo can be sticky, like we saw with the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, about two weeks ago.

The president, though, is clear in his messaging. Listen said before boarding Air Force One and departing for Chicago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So one thing I said, I'd rather go into the details of the case rather than process. But I think you should look at the case. And the case is very simple. It's great. It's so quick. I had a great conversation with the Ukrainian president. I had another conversation with him also, I think, before that which was the same thing. It was nothing.


SANCHEZ: Notably, Kate, President Trump also conflated the substance of that resolution that Lindsey Graham cobbled together last week. The president saying this would be a quick and easy defense because he's got some 50 Republicans to sign on to the resolution, he says, without making a call to a single one.

Don't forget, that resolution included nothing on the substance of his call with President Zelensky. It focused mostly on the process, the way the Democrats are carrying out this inquiry -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That was the whole point of the resolution that Lindsey Graham brought forward.

Boris, thank you so much.

Joining me now, because we have a lot of questions, CNN legal analyst, one of the nation's top impeachment attorneys, Ross Garber, and CNN political director, David Chalian.

Ross, let me start with you.

Let's start with the interview that isn't happening today when it comes to Charles Kupperman. You are an expert in this area. Adam Schiff this morning said that a private citizen cannot sue the Congress to avoid a lawful subpoena. The White House, though, claiming constitutional immunity, says that this Kupperman can fight this and doesn't need -- and shouldn't go in. Who's right here?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The answer is this hardly ever happen, so we're not sure. This position of community has been taken by White Houses and Departments of Justice going back for quite a while. One federal district court has said that, you know, that immunity doesn't apply.

Chairman Schiff raises what I think will be the first issue that the court will have to decide, is can a court even get involved at this point. Is it right for a court to get involved, because nobody's been held in contempt?

Also, there's a Supreme Court case, called Nixon versus United States, that essentially says that Congress gets to decide how to do an impeachment process and courts don't get involved. That might also be a hurdle here.

So it's not clear a court will get involved in this issue.

BOLDUAN: That is fascinating to see. We're talking like, in the next hours, we could be seeing, I don't know, the next kind of chapter or wrinkle in where this is going to go. Let us see together.

David, in the meantime, Adam Schiff seems to indicate we're full steam ahead. What Democrats do is a big question because I see two competing scenarios here, that this person, Kupperman, has important perspective, he was on the July 25th call. Adam Schiff says he can corroborate a lot of what they've heard so they want to hear from him.

But we've also heard over and over again, David, that the Democrats have plenty to go on already.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: That's true. They do have plenty to go on, there's no doubt about that.

But as you heard Schiff say earlier, Kate, part of this issue being adjudicated, this battle between the executive and legislative branches that the courts may or may not decide, is part of what Schiff says he's building as evidence for a possible obstruction of Congress article of impeachment to be voted out.

So what is happening day to day is still whether, on the obstruction side or on the actual content side of what took place, the Dems are still building a case.

As you know, part of building this case is also going to be a public component to this in terms of trying to bring the American public on board in greater numbers in support of this effort.

That's one of Adam Schiff's and Nancy Pelosi's goals. There will be a whole public component. That is another reason we're not yet seeing today on the House floor articles of impeachment being voted upon.

BOLDUAN: Exactly, David.

Ross, do you see this move by Kupperman as an attempt from Kupperman to avoid testifying to the committee? His attorney seems to paint it as he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you think it's one or the other here?

GARBER: What he could have done is just sent a letter. We've seen that from other witnesses. We saw that from Don McGahn, the former White House counsel's lawyer, when he was subpoenaed to testify. His lawyer sent a letter saying the White House has invoked executive privilege, and so, you know, obviously I'm not showing. So he could have done that.

What I think Kupperman's trying to do is say, you know, look, I'm trying to be responsible here. I've got Congress telling me to show up. I've got the White House telling me not to. I need somebody to give me an answer, so, court, please tell me.


So I think it's a little bit of a P.R. move on his part saying he doesn't have a dog in the fight, he'll do what he's legally required to do.

I don't think this move probably surprised Adam Schiff very much. I think, if anything, Schiff may be more surprised by the amount of cooperation we he's gotten from witnesses. A lot of witnesses have showed up.

You know, Kupperman could have written a letter. He decided to try to look like he's playing it straight and ask a court to decide.


CHALIAN: I also think, Kate, he very well may be a canary in the coal mine. Because he's represented by the same counsel as John Bolton, his former boss.


CHALIAN: Is this now a pattern being tested that we'll see from multiple future witnesses?

BOLDUAN: That's a great point.

David, also in the midst of all this, the president's former chief of staff, John Kelly, offered up what amounts to -- it is an inherent criticism of the president and basically that the president isn't up to the job.

Let me, for viewers, play what John Capitol Hill said. It was at the "Washington Examiner" political conference.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I said, whatever you do - we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place. I said 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.


BOLDUAN: He's saying, left to his own devices -- let me put it in the form of a question. Is he saying, left to his own devices, that the president would break the law?

CHALIAN: Right. There are a couple pieces looking at what John Kelly said. Obviously, a little self-serving no doubt.


CHALIAN: But it can also be true that he was being prophetic now since the president is being impeached. But I think you have zeroed in on the more alarming point here from the former White House chief of staff, former Trump cabinet secretary, which is exactly that, that if you don't have the right people around you, you are going to end up doing something that is going to get you impeached.

I don't think that is normal advice for presidents. But that is specific advice for this president in the way John Kelly thought it was so important who was around this president because of his own behavior and actions.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And the White House --


BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Ross.

GARBER: Kate, it actually is something that I tell a lot of my clients. You know, folks who are in high-pressure situations with a lot of responsibility, they sometimes make bad calls and they depend on the people around them.

I think that may be a defense that we wind of seeing from the president here, that he was not trying to hide anything, he had all these people around him. He had all his lawyers around him. He had his staff around him. He had his chief of staff there. He wasn't doing this in secret. He was relying on the people around him.

So I think what John Kelly was saying here is that's OK so long as you have people around you who will tell you the truth, tell you like it is, tell you when something is a bad idea, when you shouldn't be doing something. That was part of his -- that was probably his main point here.

BOLDUAN: Very interesting.

Ross, thank you.

David, good to see you. Thank you so much.

Everybody, a big heads-up.

ROSS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Please pay attention to catch David Chalian, not just on TV but also now hosting CNN's podcast, "Daily D.C." Watch. It's good stuff.

Thanks, guys.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, inside the operation to get ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. New details about what happened on the ground and before the raid went down.


Plus, a new massive wildfire is raging near a major freeway in Los Angeles. What folks have been dealing with there is truly unbelievable and it is no way close to over. It's happening right now. We'll take you live to the scene just ahead.


BOLDUAN: New video in just this morning of the U.S. military raid that killed ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. You can see it. We'll show you from this drone video. The compound in Syria, where Baghdadi was hiding out, reduced to piles of rubble. From the ground, you get another perspective of what's left after that operation. What looks like pots and pans even among the debris, even some children's toys.

In announcing the operation's success, President Trump detailed how al Baghdadi was chased into an underground tunnel and then, according to the president, blew himself up with a suicide vest, also killing three children who were with him.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining me with new details that are coming out of exactly what happened even before the raid went down.

Barbara, what more are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We know now, Kate, the U.S. had looked at the intelligence for some time and, in fact, was thinking about doing this mission at various points. It was scrapped, however. We're not told why. But it was last week when it all appeared to have come together and they were ready to go to the president and get his authority to go ahead and move with this mission. The president laying out a lot of detail.


The key questions, of course, still to be formally answered -- and we don't know we'll get those answers -- what was the intelligence that led them to know that, when those commandos landed at this compound, Baghdadi would be there.

We are told that they had some information from Iraqi sources who had captured and interrogated a colleague of Baghdadi's. The Syrian Kurds also saying that they played a key role in providing intelligence and working the situation on the ground.

Of course, you have to remember, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria that the president has ordered, he's got less boots and less eyes on the ground that can get some of that vital intelligence.

Right now, we are waiting to see if later today the Pentagon does decide to come out and conduct a formal press briefing and answer publicly some reporter questions with more details about what happened.

How classified is this mission? Well, a dog was hurt during the mission. The dog is back on duty. We asked if we could have the dog's name and we were told, no, it's a classified mission, we can't tell you the name of the dog -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Barbara, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

STARR: Sure.

BOLDUAN: So Al Baghdadi is dead but ISIS is not. Getting to kind of what Barbara was getting at there, what happens to ISIS in the aftermath, especially when you talk about the strategy the president has put forth or lack thereof on the ground in Syria?

Joining ne now, Josh Geltzer. He's a former top counterterrorism official on the National Security Council under both Presidents Trump and Obama.

Josh, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: What does al Baghdadi's death, having him removed from the battlefield, what does it mean for the global fight against ISIS now?

GELTZER: This is big. ISIS has claimed to have a caliphate rested in part on having a caliph. And at least for now, they have a caliph no more. Eliminating somebody whose face, whose name, and occasional whose voice were central to recruiting and radicalizing people around the world in the name of ISIS, that is a big step for counterterrorism and a big step backward for ISIS.

BOLDUAN: Does this victory change your view of the president's recent moves, his order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which has been wildly criticized and condemned from Washington and beyond?

GELTZER: It doesn't change my view. If anything, this strengthens my view.

Let me tell you why. The elements that made this possible are precisely the elements that Trump seems to be keen on giving away. Having at least some limited U.S. presence on the ground, working with partners who can share intelligence, being able to stage this mission from Iraq, all of those were instrumental to this extraordinary operational success.

All of those are also threatened by the abrupt moves made by Trump, first, to radically draw down our own presence, and then to give in to President Erdogan of Turkey.

BOLDUAN: Josh, do you think it goes too far to say that without -- that this move that the president has now ordered, U.S. troops out of Syria, without the Kurds, the relationship with the Kurds on the ground, without active human intelligence on the ground, that this could not have been possible? There's no other way? If Trump's view on what's needed in Syria was in place, let's say, years earlier?

GELTZER: It sure seems that way.

We have the Syrian Kurds telling us that they were instrumental to this success. We have even Trump, perhaps begrudgingly, thanking them, last in the orders of partners in thanks but, nonetheless, thanking them yesterday in his remarks. And by all accounts, it was an intelligence tip or some collaboration with the Syrian Kurds, and with others, the Iraqis, that made this possible.

So if you are going to spurn your partners, you are not going to see over the long terms these sorts of counterterrorism successes.

BOLDUAN: Let me play, Josh, for you and for our viewers, once again, how the president himself talked about the operation in vivid, sometimes graphic detail in announcing its success. Let me play this.


TRUMP: He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.

He died like a dog. He died like a coward.


BOLDUAN: Some Republicans have even spoken out to say they're uncomfortable with his language that he used in announcing it and what message it sends, how it will reverberate with friend and foe alike. What impact do you think it has?

GELTZER: I'll admit I'm a bit uncomfortable with it as well. This is certainly a moment to thank the Americans and partners who are critical to the success, maybe to take some pride in the achievement because it does make folks safer around the world to some degree. But to indulge in that sort of language, almost to relish it, it seemed yesterday, that seems to go too far.


And it does make me think that our embassies, our military bases, especially in the Middle East, are probably on high alert today as they worry about at least the possibility of backlash from those sorts of remarks.

BOLDUAN: Josh, thanks for coming in.

GELTZER: Thanks very much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Still ahead for us, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry is a no- show today. So what will House Democrats do now? One Democratic lawmaker who can help decide that next move joins me next.