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U.S. Raid Kills Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; Top Democrats Accuse President Trump of not Notifying Them Before al-Baghdadi Raid; Key Witness Set to Challenge Congressional Subpoena Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

BERMAN: Tomorrow night in Houston.

CAMEROTA: OK. We have some breaking details on what led the U.S. to find the leader of ISIS. CNN has it all covered right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

No show. A standoff between two branches of the federal government and a key impeachment witness in the middle asking the third branch to tell him what he needs to do. In minutes, Congress is supposed to be hearing testimony from a former White House official who listened in on that call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine.

HARLOW: But the White House sent Charles Kupperman, the former deputy National Security adviser, a letter telling him not to testify and Congress has threatened him with a subpoena if he doesn't. So now Kupperman's lawyer, who's also by the way John Bolton's lawyer, says his client will likely not show up today until he hears from a federal judge.

Let's go to our colleague, national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She joins us on Capitol Hill.

The letter was very interesting. So no show, probably, right?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably. It was very interesting this morning how this was all laid out because that was a letter that was actually issued yesterday, but yet not a straight, direct response from the attorney who I've been in touch with, Charles Cooper, whether or not he is going to come and just say hey, I can't help it, I can't cooperate here, or it's just going to stand as this letter.

But House Democrats have already threatened that they would hold him in contempt. Aides that I spoke with this morning had already said that they were preparing the room for a possible show or appearance or testimony, but according to his attorney, he says look, the letter speaks for itself and what he's trying to do is set this up as it's not my client's fault. If you're considering holding him in contempt think again, because he is just simply going to punt this, if you will, to the courts.

This portion of the letter saying it's not Dr. Kupperman who contests your client's constitutional claim, it's President Trump and every president before him for at least the last half century who have asserted testimonial immunity for their closest confidential advisers. So he is saying it is not his fault, it's not his call, they're going to simply wait for this judge.

But, Poppy, Jim, as you know, this certainly is going to be an effective delay tactic that courts will take some time to actually go through this, see if they have a case and potentially hear an appeal as well. So not likely that we're actually going to see him testify.

SCIUTTO: Interesting that the other witnesses have gone ahead and testified.

Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

Let's get the latest from the White House on Kupperman's testimony. CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us now.

Kupperman, of course, worked closely with former National Security adviser John Bolton. They share the same lawyer. We know that Bolton is on the list of potential witnesses coming up. How important is a judicial judgment on Kupperman's testimony?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, it could be seen as a bellwether on whether Bolton will ultimately testify before House investigators. We know that these investigators want to hear from both men in part because of the testimony that they've gotten from other key officials within the administration like Fiona Hill who talked to investigators about John Bolton describing Rudy Giuliani as operating a shadow State Department, talking about him being a hand grenade, even joking about drug deals that he was making on the side for President Trump.

At this point we know that Bolton's attorneys have been in conversation with some of these committees about a potential deposition. However, we have to wait and see what Kupperman's action in court determines as to whether or not Bolton will testify.

I should point out, President Trump just spoke to reporters outside of Air Force One. He's headed to Chicago for an event there today, a source indicating that he's going to sign an executive order on crime. He was shouted questions about Kupperman's testimony. He did not answer them. He did speak about the economy, he spoke about the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he defended yet again his attorney Rudy Giuliani -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Boris, thanks very much.

Let's talk about all of this and what it means, CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, is here and our legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers.

Good morning one and all.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

HARLOW: Hope you had a good weekend. Busy week ahead.

Jennifer, let me begin with you. The letter was striking from Cooper, right, who represents Bolton and Kupperman. What struck me so much is he saying you are asking my client to adjudicate this constitutional dispute myself -- himself. And if he does he will either inflict a great constitutional injuries, the word he chose, on either the president or the House. How crucial would this ruling be?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really important because we have a lot of witnesses to come, right, people who may feel stuck in the middle and want some guidance.

HARLOW: Just like this.

RODGERS: Exactly, and just like John Bolton potentially. So it's really important. And the question is going to be, is he going to take in good faith the ruling of the court that I think will be that he needs to testify pursuant to the subpoena or is he going to try to appeal and drag it out and all that in which case it will look more like he's acting at the behest of a witness and is a neutral witness.

HARLOW: Yes.

[09:05:04]

SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein, this is the resurrection of a strategy, a stonewalling strategy that the White House attempted with previous witnesses and it didn't work, and you've had a whole host of Trump administration officials including appointees, Gordon Sondland among them, come on and testify, answer hard questions and corroborate the whistleblower's complaint here.

So is this sort of a plan B of the same strategy here?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's certainly reminiscent of what we saw earlier, although it was kind of, you know, a fascinating or intriguing twist on it by directly asking the courts to be involved. Look, what -- even the leaks we have seen, even the information that has been released from the opening statements, I think there's enough -- clearly enough information that the most Democrats, (INAUDIBLE) Democrats are going to feel comfortable impeaching the president.

The issue really is as you look at kind of the Republican defense that's emerging in the Senate the idea that these people are further away from the president, the issue is that that next inner ring of testimony may be the -- may be the critical thing, perhaps the only thing, that can move more of those Republican senators to consider the evidence.

So this is important. And I'm reminded that in Watergate it was ultimately the Supreme Court that made the critical ruling on the release of the tapes, limiting executive privilege, and it may be that, you know, that is where this is ultimately going. I don't think the House is going to wait that long.

HARLOW: Jennifer, though, you know, some -- a major ruling on Friday from Judge Beryl Howell who said, the House is right here, the House has the grounds to continue this impeachment inquiry, et cetera, ruling against the Department of Justice. How much does that weigh in here or affect the decisions that are going to come?

RODGERS: Well, it's really important, but it's only really one half of the issue that the court is facing now with the Kupperman testimony because on the one side you have the importance of what the House is doing, the importance to the inquiry.

HARLOW: Yes.

RODGERS: And you don't get any more important than an impeachment inquiry so to that extent yes, on that one side, the court -- the other court has made it -- Judge Howell has made it very clear. But there's still the issue of the executive privilege. How strong is the executive privilege? Is it a conversation actually between the adviser and the president? Is it a matter of national security or foreign affairs, which would make it more important?

So the judge will be weighing those two things, one against the other. So the ruling on Friday definitely helps on the one side but still the other question.

HARLOW: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Politically, though, Ron, you know, there was a wait, there was something of an expectation here for what would the testimony or evidence be that would not give the Democrats enough that they feel they can proceed, but that would turn some or a handful of Republicans here.

I wonder, have we seen that yet, though? Because in the public polling you've seen things stabilize and in the public statements of sitting lawmakers some of whom have expressed reservations or criticism of the Ukraine call, et cetera, it seems like that has died off a bit.

Where do we stand in terms of Republican support for proceeding?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, look, first the evidence I think has been as strong as Democrats could have imagined. The testimony of figures like Ambassador Sondland and Taylor. I mean, this is -- this is pretty devastating testimony, but again, Republicans are calling for people like, you know, one ring closer to the president.

In public opinion, you know, the support for impeachment is already higher than it ever -- and removal is already higher than it ever was under Clinton. It's as high as it was under Richard Nixon at any point except the very final poll before he resigned in Gallup. But, Jim, as you know, very limited numbers among Republicans. And in

fact support for approval is beginning to track pretty closely to President Trump's approval rating, you know, with basically everybody approves of his job saying he should not be removed and almost everyone who disapproves saying he should. And what that means is that, I think, Democrats will be comfortable voting for impeachment even in most of the swing districts but that Republicans are still going to have to take a vote that most of their party opposes.

And it's worth noting that that was the case even during most of the steps in Watergate. You know, it wasn't like a majority of Republicans opposed acting against Nixon and yet Republican senators, more of them at least, did what they thought was right for the country. That may be the test the Republican senators will face here in the end.

SCIUTTO: Well, one of the outlier voices was with you, Francis Rooney of Florida, and he said --

HARLOW: Oh, right.

SCIUTTO: You know, this looks possibly --

HARLOW: But he's not running again, right?

SCIUTTO: No. And the day later he announces he's not running anymore so I mean, that's --

HARLOW: No.

SCIUTTO: That's a consistent feature.

HARLOW: Does 2008 and how this was handled in the courts, the ruling under the George W. Bush administration, with Harriet Miers and others -- does that inform what the court may decide here for Kupperman? Because the court essentially said there, no, there are limits to absolute immunity.

RODGERS: Yes, that's definitely important. The question is, how far from that do you get? Right?

HARLOW: Yes.

RODGERS: There's definitely no absolute immunity but the court has to decide in this particular circumstance with the information that they're seeking from this particular witness, you know, where does that fall? How important is it to the House inquiry and how important is it to the president in terms of keeping confidential those communications with close advisers? So we still don't know. There just hasn't been enough litigation on executive privilege.

HARLOW: Fascinating.

SCIUTTO: Listen, big picture, looks like this country is moving towards a vote on impeachment. It's going to happen at some point.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Big question is, how many folks went on from the (INAUDIBLE) support.

[09:10:01]

Jennifer Rodgers, Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.

Coming up, could more raids on terrorist operations in Syria be in the works after the death of al-Baghdadi? And what does this all mean for the future of ISIS there?

HARLOW: Also, overnight, Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill resigning after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer? But she says the fight is not over. And breaking news out of California this morning, those wildfires raging across the state. Our Omar Jimenez is right in the middle of all of it.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is what people here in Los Angeles are waking up to. People still headed to work, but hillsides on fire as thousands face evacuations. I'll have more on that coming up later this hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: All right, welcome back. So, the White House is calling the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a devastating blow to the brutal and ruthless terror organization.

SCIUTTO: New video now shows the aftermath of the raid in Syria. And we are learning that President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the country did have a major impact on the operation. CNN's Barbara Starr, she has more details from the Pentagon. So, Barbara, did -- was the impact pushing up this operation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not clear yet, really, that it accelerated the operation per se. We don't really know. But what sources are telling us is, you know, they really did need the assistance of the Kurdish forces on the ground. They needed a U.S. military presence on the ground to make it all work. And U.S. troops are withdrawing.

Now, look, they did work around it. We've reported that a significant number of the U.S. troops flew from bases in Iraq and they did make it all work. So, at the end of the day, this one worked fine. But if you have less U.S. forces on the ground inside Syria, it pretty much stands to reason you're going to have a tougher time executing missions against ISIS in that country.

You know, the Iraqis are also claiming credit, they say they captured a major Baghdadi associate and interrogations led to additional intelligence. So, an awful lot of folks in the region clearly taking credit for it, but now, you know, we have had the capture -- the killing of Baghdadi. Looking ahead, it's really what are President Trump's next steps in

Syria? U.S. troops by all accounts still moving back in to carry out his orders to protect the oil fields in eastern Syria, and it will be without the overlay of U.S. forces in the north of that country. So, this is a situation where U.S. troops may have less close by protection and no clear measure of what the success would be, what the measure of victory would be, for those U.S. troops who are under orders to guard and control those oil fields. That's a mission that just still is not very clear. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Yes, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much. Joining us now CNN military and diplomatic analyst as well as former Pentagon and State Department Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby. Also with us adjunct senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Thanks to both of you for being here. Admiral Kirby, you've had a fair amount of experience yourself in the military and in the Pentagon.

Tell us as you look at this operation, how essential was U.S. force presence on the ground, boots on the ground as it were, plus, help from allies to making an operation like this a success?

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I think the biggest factor was of course the help from the allies, in this case, our Kurdish allies, Syrian and democratic forces, people on the ground who know the culture, know the topography, know their way around and know the issues that can help provide the kind of Intel that obviously was long in making this mission possible.

But yes, I think having even a small presence of U.S. forces on the ground to interact with those allies and those partners, and to help facilitate the analysis of that intelligence is really important too. So, I mean, it's a great irony that this is a terrific mission, a great success, but it's going to be that much harder to do something like this in the future, given the fact that we now don't have that same presence, and we have now broken that alliance with the -- with the SDF.

HARLOW: Gayle, let's listen to Defense Secretary Mark Esper just yesterday with Jake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, THE LEAD: The president has said they're defeated, but they're not fully defeated.

MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: Well, it's a physical caliphate and defeat, you know, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Gayle, you make this point that it is much easier to slay a terrorist than to slay an ideology. And I'm not taking anything away from this huge accomplishment for the administration and for this country. But the ideology, much harder to tackle, right?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, ADJUNCT SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: One hundred percent. And listen, ISIS is an idea, not an individual. And this is what I think you're going to see folks really come up against and, in fact, U.S. officials and the people who have lived this fight against the Islamic State, both on the Syrian side and, of course, on the American side for the past half decade are the first people to tell you that.

And it's interesting, I talked to the head of the all women's force that is part of the SDF yesterday afternoon --

HARLOW: Yes --

LEMMON: And she was -- very matter of fact about, you know, yes, we played a role on this on the Intel side. You know, for them, it's one of countless operations in which they had played a role. But she was very proud, and she said look, this is a victory for all women.

[09:20:00]

Who was it who bore the brunt most of the Islamic State's brutality than women who were enslaved and really brutalized by the Islamic State. And I've spent a lot of time with folks, both men and women who have really lived this fight, and for them, this is the next chapter, it is not the ending.

SCIUTTO: John Kirby, we've seen a fair amount of back-and-forth you might call it in U.S. policy in Syria. It was a presidential withdrawal by tweet last year that helped lead to Jim Mattis' resignation. As Defense Secretary, he reversed that decision somewhat.

Now, we have the president withdrawing again and reversing it again somewhat by sending troops back in, but only to protect oil fields. Give me a big picture view of what the U.S. strategy in Syria now is, and do you believe there is one?

KIRBY: Yes, I can't -- I don't know if I can answer that, Jim. I don't think we have a cohesive strategy or a policy with respect to what we're going to do with Syria, except that the one thing the president has been consistent about is that he wants to, you know, get troops out of there. That he wants other people to fight over Syria.

And I think it just shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the importance of the centrality of this civil war in Syria and what's going on there to so many other problems in the region as well as throughout Europe when you have -- when you talk about the flow of refugees. So, we don't have a coherent strategy or a policy over there.

And I think -- I think it's long past due and I think we're going to end up ruling the day that we've made this hasty decision to withdraw. And as for the oil fields, you know, back to Barbara's reporting, I still don't understand what the authorities that these troops have. Exactly, who are they defending -- HARLOW: Right --

KIRBY: Them from, and what -- if they are attacked, what authorities do they have to defend them? Because they're on the sovereign territory of another country in Syria. So, it's a very -- it's a very perilous mission that these troops have been assigned.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Gayle, you know, a totally nonpolitical view, what do you make of the president thanking Russia, not just once, but repeatedly --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Yesterday at this and informing them, you know, that this was coming, not the details, but that something was coming, and not informing the gang of eight, not telling Speaker Pelosi?

LEMMON: Well, I think one thing is so interesting. And so Russia did -- you know, there was de-confliction and I think that was --

HARLOW: Sure --

LEMMON: Required, right, to keep folks safe. But I think what is also interesting, it was actually that the head of the SDF did know, right, that was the one force outside of American leaders who did know. And I think that points to the trust and the deep trust that has been borne out between this partner force and the United States.

And that doesn't rupture in just one hour. And so, I think that, look to see what comes next. One, the president has spoken with Mazlum; the head of the SDF about the continuation of the U.S. mission there. Does he come to the United States? There's one idea of an international force that would patrol between the Kurds and the Turks in order to allow the focus to remain on the counter-terror operation, does that happen?

And what do we see come in the next week or so from Capitol Hill? And I think all these questions will give you a much better sense because this whole mission was about U.S. National Security, you know, not about sentimentality or about a sustained presence, but really, about how do you keep America safe.

And I think that is the question that people will continue to ask about the sustained presence in the area.

SCIUTTO: So, John Kirby, the president does not often or ever acknowledge mistakes or even reversals here. But are we, in fact, seeing a reversal on his position on the Syrian Kurds, inviting him to the states. I mean, of course, the president dismissed the role of Syrian Kurds a little more than a week ago --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Noting that they weren't at Normandy as justification -- HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: For that. Is that what we're seeing here? Can a reversal, almost a realization that, that abandonment was a mistake without admitting it?

KIRBY: I think he's been leaned on pretty heavily by Republicans in Congress, particularly guys like Lindsey Graham, who are trying to reassert his understanding of the importance of the Syrian Kurds to what we've been able to do against ISIS in Syria because it has been a limited mission.

And I think you're starting to see him, you know, bow to that pressure. I don't know that without that Republican pressure for him to have this outreach to Kurdish leadership that he would have done it. Because it's just not -- I don't think in his nature. But I think it's really more borne out of the fact that not some great revelation on his part, but the pressure that he's under. Under some very -- more conservative, more traditional Republican allies.

HARLOW: All right, bottom line here, it is a good thing that this mission was such a success, and no U.S. casualties involved. Thank you both very much, Rear Admiral John Kirby and Gayle, thank you.

KIRBY: Thank you.

HARLOW: So, Charles Kupperman, key witness who was on that phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, according to his lawyer will not show up on Capitol Hill for that scheduled testimony today. So what next? Will he be held in contempt? We'll speak with a Democratic congressman about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Adam Schiff is the biggest leaker in Washington. You know that, I know that, we all know that. I've watched Adam Schiff leak. He's a corrupt politician. He's a leaker like nobody has ever seen before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That is the president just moments ago on why he did not tell top Democrats about the U.S. operation that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Remember, the president did alert the Russians about the raid before it happened, but not with the details. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Jason Crow who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, also a former army ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sir, thank you for being here. We'll get to all of that in just a moment. I do want to begin though with what is supposed to happen in one minute, where you are, on Capitol Hill. [09:30:00]