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Key Witness On Ukraine Call Defies Subpoena, Doesn't Show Up; Trump Says, Baghdadi Died Like A Dog, He Died Like A Coward; Pentagon Gives New Details On Operation That Killed ISIS Leader. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 28, 2019 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, defiance on a new level. One of the former officials on the president's infamous call with Ukraine just refused to show up before Congress.

And one of the world's most wanted terrorists is dead, but did President Trump reveal too much about the secret operation that took down the leader of ISIS?

Plus, after starting his day receiving accolades for the operation, the president ended it with boos in his own backyard as the World Series crowd in Washington chanted, lock him up.

And a congresswoman resigns amid allegations of inappropriate relationships with staffers. But Katie Hill not going quietly, accusing her estranged husband of releasing so-called porn to the media.

But, first, another no-show on Capitol Hill as the White House remains defiant in the face of impeachment. Right now, House Democrats leading the inquiry are preparing to hold former Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman in contempt after he failed to appear for a closed-door deposition this morning.

Kupperman, who was the right-hand man to the former national security adviser, John Bolton, says he will not comply with the congressional subpoena until a judge rules on whether he has to or not.

Kupperman's no-show today could signal a rocky road ahead for Democrats as they race against the clock for a speedy impeachment push against the president.

Manu Raju is following all of this on Capitol Hill. So, Manu, what will lawmakers hoping to hear from Kupperman today and what's going to happen now? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he played a key role in all of these discussions that occurred that led to the decision to stall aid that went to Ukraine, as well as, at the same time, as concerns were being raised.

The president was seeking to stall that aid in exchange for investigations into the president's political rivals, the Bidens. He was on that July phone call where Mr. President urged the Ukrainian president to open up an investigation into the Bidens and members wanted to ask them about that.

He would have been the first person to have testified about the phone call who was on that phone call. We do expect a testimony from another official later this week about that phone call as well who was on that phone call.

But, nevertheless, this comes as a number of subpoenas have not been complied with. Democrats have sent these subpoenas to Capitol Hill, but they have not gotten -- has sent them to the administration, but they have not gotten compliance. And the State Department too has withheld documents demanded by House Democrats.

What Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is saying is that the decision to not comply with these requests ultimately would be rolled into an obstruction of Congress charge that could be a basis for an article of impeachment against the president. That is his warning in the aftermath of Kupperman's decision today not to comply and the aftermath of others not comply as well.

But, Brianna, we do expect a pretty full week of closed-door depositions with top officials from the State Department, Defense Department, as well as two other National Security Council officials before the Democrats decide to move into the more public phase of their inquiry, and, of course, before they decide whether to impeach the president. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you. And we'll have more on the impeachment efforts on Capitol Hill in just a moment.

But first, at any moment, there will be a Pentagon briefing on the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and we're going to bring this to you live as soon as it gets underway.

First, let's look now at what we know about this raid. We have CNN Senior National Correspondent Alex Marquardt who is here to take us though the sequence of events. Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. This really was a daring raid into an area of Northwestern Syria, where there had been no U.S. forces based, which is still a significant home to a jihadist presence. This is Idlib Province in the northwest. This is not where Baghdadi was believed to have been hiding.

So let's take a look at how this raid went down. Now, the operation, we know, started around 5:00 P.M. Eastern Time on Saturday evening. It was led by Special Forces soldiers, part of the Elite Delta Force. And despite the fact that Baghdadi's location was close to the border with Turkey, the team, the U.S. team of soldiers actually came in from the east from Iraq. We know that they flew in on eight different helicopters flying, as the president said, very low and very fast for just over an hour to that location of Baghdadi's compound.

Now, on the way they did come under fire. They were not harmed. Once they arrived at Baghdadi's compound and put down -- Special Forces blasted through the walls of the compound to avoid potential booby traps.

The president did say in comments Sunday morning that a large number of ISIS fighters were killed in the gun fight that ensued. We understand that two were captured along with 11 children who were also taken into custody.


Then, this is the dramatic, Brianna, Baghdadi fled into a tunnel along with three children, according to the president. Special Forces dogs, the canine units, chased after him. That's when Baghdadi detonated the suicide vest that he had on killing not just himself but the three children who were with him, and collapsing that tunnel.

Then Special Forces set to work to identify the body, gathering what the president called highly sensitive material and information. That took around two hours' time.

Now, Brianna, this operation was a long time in the making. These soldiers acting on intelligence from the CIA, which have been gathered in conjunction with Iraqi and Kurdish sources to nail down exactly where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was.

The president said that the ISIS leader had been under surveillance for several weeks, adding that two or three missions had been called off.

Then on Thursday, the president and Vice President Mike Pence, they were told that Baghdadi was likely in that compound. The president gave the green light on Friday. Brianna, of course, this is a major coup for President Trump, but we should, of course, note this does not mean the end of the ISIS threat around the world. Brianna?

KEILAR: Alex, thank you for that.

And as we wait for this Pentagon briefing, which is supposed to begin any moment now. I want to talk some of the moments in the president's announcement on the death of Baghdadi.

President Trump stressed that he considered this a much bigger moment than the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is the biggest that ever is. This is the worst ever. Osama Bin Laden was very big, but Osama Bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole -- as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again.


KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN National Security Analyst General, James Clapper here with us. He served as director of National Intelligence under President Obama. He was in the situation with President Obama during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

What did you think about how the president rate (ph) this, comparing the death of Baghdadi to Bin Laden?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, not surprisingly. I wouldn't agree with that. ISIS wasn't the cause of the death of almost 3,000 people in the United States, and it was more than the World Trade Center.

So I would think from a standpoint, so symbolism is important to the country, the taking down Osama Bin Laden had a lot more meaning than this.

KEILAR: Do you think that it's a point that should even be entertained in being made by the president?

CLAPPER: Well, I think from his standpoint, it is a big deal and it is a major accomplishment, no question about it, and as usual, great professionalism with the Special Operations Forces and Intelligence Community kind of shown through here.

But in terms of racking and stacking here, I think the Osama Bin Laden takedown was of great importance (ph).

KEILAR: During this announcement, the president, he gave a detailed description of what actually happened here, the raid, he talked about some of the intelligence leading up to it, he talked about the communications methods of ISIS, he talked about how these Special Forces, really, the routes that they took to and from this. Did he reveal too much?

CLAPPER: Well, as an intel guy, somebody who's spent his life doing untelligence work, you kind of cringe when you hear a lot of these little details, which in and of themselves, individually may be not very damaging, but it's the totality of them. And you can be sure adversaries go to school on all that.

Now, having said that, it's inevitable that all these details are going to come out, anyway, just as it came out after the OBL raid, people writing books and articles and all of this sort of thing. So as time goes by, more and more details are going to come out.

And there is an argument for transparency and openness in the latter. But from an intelligence perspective, and I think -- I suspect the special operators would just assume there not be so much discussion about it.

KEILAR: I would like to turn to the Pentagon where the defense secretary is beginning a briefing on the raid.

MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS. This operation was the culmination of a multiyear interagency effort to find him and then capture or kill him.

Baghdadi and the thugs who followed him were responsible for some of the most brutal atrocities of our time. His death marks a devastating blow for the remnants of ISIS who are now deprived of their inspirational leader following the destruction of their physical caliphate earlier this year.

I want to thank our brave service members who took part in this daring raid, along with our interagency partners who supported the mission. There is no guarantee of success in an operation with this level of difficulty, and President Trump knew this when he made the bold decision to order the raid, confident in the expertise of our forces.


Our service members conducted themselves with incredible skill and professionalism, and they executed the raid in all of its facets brilliantly. Not a single United States service member was killed in this high risk operation.

Despite Baghdadi's death, the security situation in Syria remains complex. Multiple state and non-state actors continue to vie for control of territory and resources within the country.

As we have learned from our recent history in the Middle East, it is very easy to get drawn into continued conflict if our objectives are not clear. Acting as a police force out to solve every dispute is not our mission.

Our mission in Syria today remains the same as it was when we first began operations in 2014, to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS.

Our recent repositioning of forces within the country is intended to posture us to continue this mission and give the president options while returning the balance back home to the United States.

Those who remain will continue to execute counterterrorism operations while staying in close contact with the Syrian Democratic Forces who have fought alongside us. Additionally, the United States will retain control oil fields in Northeast Syria.

At the height of Baghdadi's reign, these oil fields provided ISIS with a bulk of financial resources used to fund its terror. U.S. troops will remain positioned in this strategic area to deny ISIS access to those vital resources. And we will respond with overwhelming military force against any group that threatens the safety of our forces there.

These oil fields also provide a critical source of funding to the SDF, which enables their ability to secure ISIS prison camps and conduct operations against ISIS, among other things.

Last week, I was in Brussels for the NATO Defense Ministerial and I spoke with our allies about the situation in Syria. I reiterated our commitment to the defeat of ISIS and called on other nations who have much at stake to offer their support to help mitigate the ongoing security crisis.

Turkey continues to bear responsibility for the consequences of their unwarranted incursion, which has brought further instability to the region. A number of allies have expressed their desire to help with the implementation of a safe zone along the Syria-Turkey border.

The United States remain focused on our core mission and continue to work closely with the defeat ISIS coalition as we implement the next phase of the campaign.

Baghdadi's death will not rid the world of terrorism or end the ongoing conflict in Syria but it will certainly send a message to those who would question America's resolve and provide a warning to terrorists who think they can hide.

The United States, more than any other nation in the world, possesses the power and the will to hunt to the ends of the earth those who wish to bring harm upon the American people. Saturday's operation is just one example of the incredible determination and great skill of the United States military.

I'll now ask General Milley to provide you with some additional details on the operation. Thank you.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: So good afternoon, everyone. As Secretary Esper stated, the United States Special Operations Forces under the command and control of the United States Center of Command, General Frank McKenzie, conducted a counterterrorism operation which resulted in the death of the founder and the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Intelligence from numerous organizations throughout the Department of Defense and across the entire interagency identified the target location approximately four miles from the Turkish border in Idlib Province of Syria. In order to reduce the risk to U.S. forces and prevent miscalculation and escalation, an action consistent with operations in the past we coordinated with appropriate militaries and other organizations in the region through established de-confliction mechanisms.

During the mission, U.S. forces were infiltrated by helicopter, and once on the objective, secured the compound. The SOF force has engaged with small arms fire and the threats were quickly eliminated. Our forces isolated the compound and protected all the non-combatants.

While clearing the objective, the U.S. forces discovered al-Baghdadi hiding in a tunnel. The SOF force closed in on Baghdadi and ended when he detonated a suicide vest.

Baghdadi's remains were then transported to a secure facility to confirm his identify with forensic DNA testing. And the disposal officer remains has been done and is complete and was handled appropriately. The success of this complex operation is an incredible testament to the professionalism of the men and women of Joint Force and our interagency partners and their courage and their bravery. They put themselves in harm's way time and time again to protect our great country.

The secretary and I will now take your questions.

REPORTER: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the oil fields and securing the oil fields in Eastern Syria.


Has the deployment of reinforcements that you announced last week begun, and could you just describe more fully what you intend to do there?

ESPER: We have begun to deploying, repositioning additional assets into vicinity of Deir er-Zor, as I said the other day, includes mechanized forces and other types of forces. That will continue until we believe we have sufficient capability to ensure ISIS and other destabilizing actors are denied access to that oil facility.

REPORTER: Just a follow-up. Have you had any indications of any challenges to your presence there?

ESPER: Not at this time.

REPORTER: Sir, do you have video of Baghdadi's final moments? And also are you partnering with the Kurds again on the ground? Can you explain how difficult this operation would have been if you didn't have troops or bases on the ground in Syria and in Iraq?

MILLEY: Well, we do have video and photos. We're not prepared at this time to release those. They're going through a declassification process. I think what you'll see here in the coming days is we'll set up some operational on tactical level briefings by Central Command and you'll be provided some video and photos, et cetera, of that.

REPORTER: How difficult would it have been to carry out this operation if you didn't have troops on the ground?

MILLEY: From an operational standpoint, the United States military can strike any target anywhere, anytime.

ESPER: Yes, I was going to say the same thing. We have incredible reach. We can strike anybody anytime, anywhere. The terrorists should be aware of that. They should have seen it now after us doing this multiple times.

And with regard to your question regarding the SDF, we stay in continuous contact with them. REPORTER: First, what was used to destroy the compound? What kind of weapon was used to destroy the compound? Also you mentioned that you had video. Do you have video from inside the tunnel itself? And if so, were you able to get that because the canine was wearing video or did you have something else?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's okay. You just get one.

REPORTER: Okay. How about one-and-a-half, the name of the canine, please? And --

MILLEY: Ordinance used -- there are multiple types of ordinance used to include the JASSMs, the JBUs, Hellfires, as well as mini guns and small arm fire, et cetera. So we use a variety of munitions And those -- the bombs were used at the tail end in order to destroy the compounds you saw on various videos, et cetera.

Your second question about the video, I'm not going to classify the video. What we do have and don't have at this time, I've seen a lot and I'll wait until everything is appropriately declassified here in the coming days and we'll make sure that you're provided that.

We're not releasing the dog right now. The dog is still in theater (ph). The dog, the canine, the military-working dog performed a tremendous service, as they all do in a variety of situations, slightly wounded and fully recovering. But the dog is still in theater (ph), return to duty with the (INAUDIBLE). So we're not going to release just yet photos or names of dogs or anything else. We're protecting the dog's identity.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Baghdadi will be buried at sea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's four questions now.

REPORTER: Follow-up. That's a follow-up.

MILLEY: Baghdadi was -- his remains were disposed off appropriately and according to their SOPs and according to the (INAUDIBLE) conflict.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) Baghdadi's headquarters, his compound, or was he just passing through? And if it was his headquarters, how much material did you take away?

MILLEY: There was material taken away. I don't want to characterize exactly what or how much yet until it gets exploited properly. But as a matter, of course, we always do sensitive site (ph) exploitation on any objective, anywhere to do that.

As to whether it's his headquarters, it was an area in which he was staying on a consistent basis.

REPORTER: And what about prisoners? You took some. How many? And who's custody are they in now?

MILLEY: They're in our custody and they're in a secured facility.

REPORTER: Can you tell us how many?

MILLEY: There were two adult males taken off the objective alive and they're in our custody.

REPORTER: General, I thank you for your time today. I wanted to look at the what's next aspect. The president alluded to materials being collected from the site itself. Can you in, any way, elaborate on what's been collected, what's been looked through now and what that means?

MILLEY: It would be best not to for operational reasons because that information needs to be exploited properly for any follow-on missions that we may choose to do.

ESPER: And I think what's next is we will continue the mission, and the mission is to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS in the region. And that's our mission.

REPORTER: A follow-up, please? We've seen reporting that this raid was launched from Al-Asad, from Erbil. Can you clarify where it came from?


ESPER: The operation, we're not going to discuss the location from which the raid took place. It took place, obviously, somewhere in the region.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: General Milley, can I take you back to the question on the oil fields and the military role in the oil field mission, if I may?

So you're going to protect them again and keep control against ISIS and other potential adversaries. Does it include the possibility, in your view, that U.S. troops are prepared to deny access the oil fields to either Russian and/or Syrian forces? Is that, in fact, part of your mission to specifically deny them access?

And my follow-up to that is how do you know when you -- what do you need to see to know you're done with the oil field mission? Presumably, you're not keeping troops there absolutely forever. How do you know when you're done? What do you need to see both Russia and Syria, please?

MILLEY: So the question you're asking, Barbara, is about purpose and in-state on, and then the ways would be the military question. So I'm going to punt over to the secretary specifically for that. But the military task that we've been given is to secure -- continue to secure Tanf, which is down along the -- you know where that is, down along the tri-border area. We will continue to do that. And to secure the Conoco oil fields in and around Deir ez-Zor.

That is in the vicinity of the (INAUDIBLE) valley that you're familiar with, and the fundamental purpose of securing those oil fields is to deny those oil fields' access to ISIS in order to prevent from ISIS resurgence, because we are still committed to the counter-ISIS campaign. And we don't want them to resurge. They get a lot of their revenues from that.

But I'll let the secretary talk about in-states.

STARR: The specific question is within what you want to do with the oil fields, does that include denying access, preventing Russian or Syrian forces which now change the battlefield (ph)?

ESPER: And so the short answer is yes, it certainly does, because in that case, we want to make sure that SDF does have access to the resources in order to guard the prisons, in order to arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the defeat ISIS mission. So that's our mission, is to secure the oil fields.

STARR: You just said you would deny Russia and the regime? Okay.

REPORTER: General Milley, President Trump described yesterday Baghdadi whimpering and crying before he died. Can you elaborate or confirm those details?

MILLEY: The secretary was asked the same question yesterday. I know the president had planned to talk down to the unit and unit members, but I don't know what the source of that was. But I assume it was talking directly to unit and unit members.

REPORTER: So you don't have -- you haven't talked to any unit members who have described that to you?

MILLEY: I have not talked to unit members, no, that's correct. I've talked to the commanders in Comm and others but not on to the unit members, not at that level of (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, last question, (INAUDIBLE).

REPORTER: Thank you for doing this.

So the SDF commander has said that there was an SDF member that was part of this raid. He's talked about the intelligence that the SDF provided, putting a person inside of ISIS. Can you confirm all of those details on your end?

And then also on the oil fields, can you just talk about the overall picture in Syria after these last few weeks, putting more people in to protect these oil fields? Are there going to be more troops now in Syria than there were before or less?

ESPER: Well, I'll take the second question first and I'll let the chairman answer the first one.

Look, as I said, we're reinforcing our position at Deir ez-Zor, that area. We also were also given the earlier directive to retain forces at the Al-Tanf garrison. At the end of the day, we will be sending troops home. That's -- the president made a commitment to do that.

But in the meantime, we're going to reinforce and make some other moves to ensure that we can accomplish that mission of securing the oil fields in order to deny them access to ISIS. REPORTER: So will there be more (INAUDIBLE) than there were coming out? Sorry, just a quick follow-up.

ESPER: No. At the end of the day, my expectation is that it will be fewer than what we had before and they will be going home.

MILLEY: And help me -- remind me the first question.

REPORTER: So the first question was about SDF commander saying that --

MILLEY: Yes. So this was a U.S.-only operation for personnel that were on the objective. I know what you're referring to. There was a comment somewhere reported in the media that the SDF had soldiers or troops or one person or something on the objective with our forces. I'm not going to comment on what may or may not have happened with the SDF on the objective. The actions on the objective, the aircraft coming in, the aircraft overhead, and the soldiers conducting assault was a U.S.-only operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thanks, guys. If you have any follow-ups, you can (INAUDIBLE).


KEILAR: All right. That was the press conference at the Pentagon about this raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. We heard from the defense secretary and we heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, as well.

I'm back now with General James Clapper, former DNI under the Obama administration.

I want to talk to you specifically about a really interesting exchange that we heard there when it comes to, really, what is the U.S. now doing in Syria. This was a great chance for our Barbara Starr to ask this question. Basically, what is going on with the oil in Eastern Syria that you now have U.S. troops protecting, even as they have moved from Northern Syria, which has been criticized in a bipartisan fashion? What did you make of that? Because she asked, were you doing this to deny Russia and Syria access to this oil, and General Milley said, yes.

CLAPPER: Well, I thought Barbara asked a great question and good on her for being persistent about it, because, at least from my part, I don't understand what this is all about, why all of a sudden, these oil fields have been there for such a long time are now of such importance that we have to deploy, apparently, armored vehicles and the (INAUDIBLE) troops which opposes all kinds of logistical challenges to support them.

And the other point is the oil fields, like it or not, belong to the Syrian government. And I think it would be really interesting and for some reason the Russians wanted to gain access or assist or facilitate the Syrian government, which they support, to get access to these oil fields. Also, I'm not sure exactly what the condition is, whether they're even operational.

And if they are really concerned about taking out the oil fields, there are key infrastructure aspects that could be much more easily taken out by air than deploying troops on the ground.

KEILAR: So why do you think troops are deployed then?

CLAPPER: Well, I think this was something that the Pentagon understands would appeal to the president, secure the oil. And he inferred, I guess, that we would extract oil from these oil fields and that would somehow pay for deployment. I don't know if they've come up with that theme before.

So I think that was a successful strategy for appealing to -- something that would appeal to President Trump to allow a continued military presence in Syria.

KEILAR: Let's talk about what the purpose of this press conference was, which was the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It was interesting to hear the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs not talk about as many details as we heard the president talk about. What did you think about the information that they shared about the raid?

CLAPPER: Well, I thought this was appropriate, both Secretary Esper and General Milley, just the facts, straightforward, and particularly in General Milley's case, good on him, do difference to what was potentially classified.

KEILAR: Good on him for what? For what part?

CLAPPER: Well, for not being quite so regulatory. And I do wonder about some of the details that the president included in his presentation Sunday morning, how much of that was, shall I say, poetic license, and how much of it was actually known. I don't know quite -- I don't know, if some way, they would have a sensing inside the tunnel where they sent the dogs in, how they would know about the emotional reaction of Baghdadi, I don't know.

KEILAR: He said basically he was crying as he died.

CLAPPER: Right, died a coward and all those embellishments. It may have been true, I don't know. I'm just curious how they would know that.

KEILAR: There was a lot of curiosity about the dog. There was a canine involved obviously --

CLAPPER: What was the name of the dog.

KEILAR: -- in tracking down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And what we learned was that he's slightly wounded, still in theater and full recovery but back in service, I think.

CLAPPER: Well, that's good. As a dog lover, I'm glad to hear that. They are magnificent animals to start with and then the training they get and their capabilities are really quite remarkable.

KEILAR: What happens to the prisoners? There were two adult males in custody and we don't know really the stature of these particular people. That will be key. But what happens to them?

CLAPPER: Well, also a great question. I would imagine that they ultimately will be turned over to whatever nationality they are, and I don't know that. And, of course, they'll have to actually talk to them and interrogate them as to how much useful information they might have.

If they were confidants, advisers, associates with Baghdadi, they would have useful information, assuming they would share it. But if they were foot soldiers or just kind of hanging out in the area, maybe not so much value.


KEILAR: We learned that the Special Forces teams were on the ground for quite a while. We're talking about two hours.