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THE SITUATION ROOM
Source: Impeachment Committees Invite Bolton To Testify Next Week; Pentagon Released First Images From al-Baghdadi Raid; Interview With Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA); Hurricane-Force Winds Push Wildfires Near Reagan Library, Homes. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 30, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues on CNN right now. Thanks so much for watching. We will see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Bolton to testify. CNN has learned that former National Security Adviser John Bolton has been asked to appear before lawmakers conducting the impeachment inquiry next week.
Omission questions. The first White House official to testify in the impeachment inquiry says he was alarmed by omissions in the administration's rough transcript of the President's call with the Ukraine's leader.
New raid video. The Pentagon is said to release images of the mission that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the U.S. Counterterrorism chief predicts ISIS will announce a new leader within days.
And raging wind and flames. New wind whipped wires erupt in California forces tens of thousands more people to flee their homes as thousands more acres burn.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following breaking news, key new developments in the impeachment inquiry including a source telling CNN that former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has just been invited to testify next week. That comes as the State Department official told lawmakers that Bolton warned of President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's influence on American/Ukraine policy.
And CNN has learned that the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor is willing to testify publicly in the impeachment inquiry following his closed-door deposition.
Also breaking, the wildfire disaster in California spreading as winds near hurricane-force spark new blazes forcing tens of thousands of more people to evacuate. We'll talk about all of the breaking news much more with Congressman Cedric Richmond of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go straight to Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on the scene. Manu, it's unclear if Bolton would show up. But how significant would that testimony be? But hold your thought for a moment. I want to go to the Pentagon right now. There's a briefing and listen -- let's listen to the central command.
GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: -- inside the compound presented a threat to the force. They did not respond to commands in Arabic to surrender and they continued to threaten the force. They were then engaged by the raid force and killed. There were four women and one man.
After this engagement and once established inside of the compound, U.S. forces discovered Baghdadi hiding in a tunnel. When captured at the hands of U.S. forces was imminent, Baghdadi detonated a bomb he wore killing himself and two young children that were with him.
The number two is a change. We originally thought there were three children and this is the number we originally reported up the Chain of Command. We now know the number to be two based on subsequent debriefing. A total of six ISIS members died on the objective. Four were women and two men including Baghdadi. This in addition to the two children killed by Baghdadi as he blew himself up.
Let me emphasize again that 11 children were protected by the assault force and two men on the objective were detained by the assault force and they were extracted with the force. After Baghdadi's murder- suicide our assault force cleared significant debris from the tunnel and secured Baghdadi's remains for DNI identity confirmation, which were flown with the assault force back to the staging base.
Following collection of samples for formal DNA analysis, Baghdadi's remains were buried at sea in accordance of the law of armed conflict within 24 hours of his death.
While at salt force was securing remains they also secured whatever documentation and electronics we could find which was substantial. The assault force then left the compound and returned to their helicopters with the two detainees that I've already mentioned. After our forces were safely off the objective, U.S. forces employed precision standoff munitions to destroy the compound and its comments -- and its contents. Pardon me.
Let's go to the next video, please.
So what you'll observe are U.S. standoff munitions striking the compound. Those of you that may have seen before and after pictures of the compound, it looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now.
The operation was exquisitely planned and executed. It demonstrates the United States global reach and unwavering commitment to destroy ISIS and brings leaders to justice and to protect America and others from people like Baghdadi. The mission was a difficult complex and precise raid that was executed with the highest level of professionalism in the finest tradition of the U.S. military.
Since there is a significant interest in military working dogs, I wanted to provide background information on this fine K9.
Next photo, please. And actually let's go back a moment.
Before I actually go to the dog, I would just like to show you the before and after pictures of the raid compound. You could see the way it looked before and you could see the way it looks -- the way it looked afterwards. So it's pretty clear that the success with the standoff munitions that we employed ensured that it would not be a shrine or otherwise memorable in any way. Just another piece of ground.
So let's go to the dog picture.
U.S. Special Operation Command Military working dogs are critical members of the forces. These animals protect U.S. forces, save civilian lives, separate combatants from non-combatants and immobilize individuals who express hostile intent.
This dog is a four-year veteran of the so com K9 program and has been a member of approximately 50 combat missions. He was injured by exposed live electrical cables in the tunnel after Baghdadi detonated his vest beneath the compound. I will also note he has been returned to duty.
Finally I would like to address the DNA analysis that was conducted to confirm Baghdadi's identity. The final slide, please.
As you can see, the defense intelligence agency conducted the analysis and compared DNA from the remains taken from the compound with an on file sample taken when Baghdadi was at Camp Bucca prison in Iraq in 2004. The analysis showed a direct match between the samples and produced a level of certainly that the remains belonged to Baghdadi of one in 104 septillion, which is certainly beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge that despite Baghdadi's death we will not forget the victims and the atrocities he directed and inspired since 2014. U.S. Central Command remains focused on the injuring defeat of ISIS and what remain vigilant against all terrorist organization in the region who threaten the United States, our partners and our allies.
I'd like to express my sincere appreciation for the professionalism of the men and women who made this operation a success. This was a true inter-agency effort. So I commend our partners across the U.S. government.
The individuals who plan and conduct this mission are quiet professionals focused on their mission above glory or recognition. Committed people did hard risky work and they did it well.
I have a few minutes to answer questions. Jonathan (ph), over to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General McKenzie, with the death of Baghdadi, can you just give a sense of what the U.S. counter ISIS fight is going to look like? Are you seeing leaders start to emerge and just as related, the troops are now moving into Deir ez-Zor, can you tell us how they are going to supplement that counter ISIS mission? And explain about how they're going to be protecting the oil.
MCKENZIE: Sure, absolutely. Let's start with ISIS.
ISIS is first and last in ideology. So we're under no illusions that it's going to go away just because we killed Baghdadi. It will remain. Suspected at the highest level, they'll be a little disrupted. It will take them some time to re-establish someone to lead the organization.
And during that period of time their actions may be a little bit disjointed. They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack and we are postured and prepared for that. But we should recognize that, again, since it's an ideology you're never going to be able to completely stamp it out. And in fact our definition of long-term success against ISIS and other entities like ISIS is not the complete absence of that ideology, but rather it's existence at a level for local security forces wherever in the world it exists can deal with it. There is no international connective tissue, there is no ability to attack our homeland and local forces perhaps with training and some assistance, perhaps without those things, is going to be able to suppress those entities as they go forward.
We don't see a bloodless future because unfortunately this ideology is going to be out there but we think there is a way to get to a point where it's less and less effective over time.
So the second part of your question was about Deir ez-Zor. What we want to do is ensure that ISIS is not able to regain possession of any of the oil fields that were allowed and to gain income going forward. So that's - we've got forces at Deir ez-Zor, that is we have brought in some reinforcements there.
We'll await further decisions of the U.S. government about how that plan is going to look in the long-term. And I wouldn't want to get ahead of the Secretary of Defense in describing that. But as of right now we have secured the oil fields at Deir ez-Zor, generally east of the Euphrates River in the vicinity of Conoco and Green Village for those of that you follow the details on the ground.
JONATHAN HOFFMAN, ASSISTANT TO DEFENSE SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Phil (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, could you confirm that Baghdadi, his final moments there was -- the President said he was whimpering and crying in his final moments? And also, could you guys give us bitter sense talking about a substantial electronics recovered from the site. What did -- could elaborate with that?
MCKENZIE: Sure. Let me start with the second part. No, I can't tell you anything about what we took off the site. You'll appreciate that. We're going to exploit that and we expect it to help us as we going forward.
So, now about Baghdadi's last moments, I can tell you this, he crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the ground. You could deduce what kind of person based on that activity. So that would be just my empirical observation of what he did. I'm not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds. I just can't confirm that one way or another.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, were there reinforcements? Did any other ISIS personnel try to approach that position? And was there fire that was exchanged? There is footage of a white van that was riddled with bullets that was right next to the scene.
MCKENZIE: Sure. So, yes, there were no other ISIS forces in the area. We are completely confident of that. He had been up there for an extended period of time hiding. There were other militant groups in the area that probably did not know he was there.
Once they saw the helicopters land and begin to operate, they began to flow toward it. So -- but they were not flowing to reinforce him, they were flowing toward what they thought was perhaps a Turk military operation, perhaps a Russian military operation, perhaps an American military operation. They didn't know.
So the white van that you talk about was one of the vehicles that displayed hostile intent, came toward us and it was destroyed in addition to the video that I just shared for you -- with you of the fighters on the ground that were addressed by the gun ships.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean casualties --
MCKENZIE: So, you know, we don't. Out there is going to be hard to know. We use the figure of about 10 to 15, but I -- but we really don't know for sure and I don't know that we're ever going to know that because we're not going back out there and count.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, you mentioned that you staged from within Syria. Was there anything about the changes on the ground in the last two to three weeks with the U.S. pulling back forces with Turkey coming across that caused you to accelerate this operation or change the timing of this operation?
MCKENZIE: So Jennifer (ph), absolutely not. We chose the time based on a variety of factors, weather, certainty, lunar data, a variety of things like that. And while it might have been convenient to use bases there, the United States military has the capability to go almost anywhere and support ourselves even at great distances. So that was not a limited factor.
We struck because the time was about right to do it then and given the totality of the intelligence and the other situation and the other factors that would affect the raid force going in and coming out.
HOFFMAN: Missy (ph). UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just, General, to pick up on quick clarifications. So you said that there were, I think six individuals killed on-site. Four women and two men, is that right?
MCKENZIE: That's correct.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did any of those individuals fire at the American forces as they were entering the compound? And also, is there any other information you can give us about how the tunnel was detected, how far underground Baghdadi was? And do you know the rough ages of the children that he took down there with him?
MCKENZIE: So I would tell you we believe that the ages of both children that he took down there with him were under 12 years old. But that's about all I can tell you about that.
I can tell you that we believe Baghdadi actually may have fired from his hole in his last moments. The other people engaged on the objective were behaving in a threatening manner with suicide vest approaching the raid enforcement that causes you to make some decisions particularly when they don't respond to Arabic language commands to stop, warning shots and the progression of escalation that, you know, that our special operators are so very good at. Missy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that how was the tunnel detected? Was it open or was it --
MCKENZIE: So we -- so, as we looked as it and, you know, as you would expect we had an opportunity to study this pretty carefully. We came to the conclusion we should expect possibly a tunnel feature there. So that was the first thing that we took a look at. And then the interrogation of people on the objective allowed us to gain a better appreciation of where it might be.
And then as you know we have a variety of things that I can't go into one of them being the working dogs that are very good at scenting humans and going after them when they are not immediately obvious. So that sort of how we came to that conclusion.
The key thing is, you know, we actually establish physical security around the compound, got the non-combatants off and they gave us a little bit of time to work the problem. Pardon me. You're always worried in a situation like that that the house might be rigged so you got to pay attention to that. There are a variety of things that the raid enforcement commander has the balance on the ground. And I think they did a remarkable job of doing that.
HOFFMAN: All right, so I've just been given notice that the van -- the White House is going to start in shortly so we're going to do a couple more questions and I respect for master sergeant (ph) if we're going to cut it short. So we're go over here. Ryan (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, can you talk about any support that the SDF provided to this operation? MCKENZIE: So, yes, I can. And so, as you know we maintain and continue to maintain linkages to the SDF. Some of their early intelligence was very helpful to us in beginning to shape this problem. So I would you say that they were part of it. They did not participate in this raid. This was a U.S.-only operation. There were no other -- there were no other nationality that participated in it.
HOFFMAN: Right, Malia (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the case of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, U.S. forces found that the house in Abbottabad had no internet, no cell service, you mentioned recovering electronic equipment from al Baghdadi's place, was he using the internet? Was there -- had they been on lockdown or was he, you know,
MCKENZIE: Sure. Good question. I think, and we're still working this out.
I think what you'd find is probably a messenger system that allows to you put something on a floppy or on a bit of electronics and have someone physically move it somewhere. That seems to be the cutout that most of these organizations seem to prefer. But I defer -- I'm not going to go into much more detail on it in than.
HOFFMAN: OK. Tom (ph), last question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, you said two men were extracted with the special operations forces, were they both ISIS member or was one is supposed an informant?
MCKENZIE: So both members were exacted, both turned themselves over, both are under detection now and I wouldn't go any further than that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the reward money, the $25 million is -- who's going to get that?
MCKENZIE: I have no visibility on that. Sorry.
HOFFMAN: That's going to go to the dog.
So, all right, guys, thank you so much. Sorry to have to cut it short but I hope you guys understand we had a hard deadline. And General McKenzie, thank you for coming in today to speak with everybody.
MCKENZIE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Pretty thorough briefing there from Major General Kenneth McKenzie, U.S. Marine Corp, head of the U.S. military Central Command briefing on the raid that wound up killing the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
And we learned several new points of information, our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is monitoring the briefing as well. You've been listening as all of us have, Barbara, and he was pretty specific on the details.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: He was, Wolf, and he showed a number of videos which we'll bring to you shortly, detailing exactly how all of this unfolded. And it really started as U.S. commandos began to approach the compound by helicopter they came under fire from the ground. They think that this was other militant forces in the region, not necessarily that Baghdadi had any guard force there. And so they came under fire. They quickly returned fire and basically killed those other militants on the ground.
They think, actually, that Baghdadi might have been there for some time that he felt this was an area he could hideout in and be safe from the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign even though this is an area that basically al-Qaeda operates in. So he took some risk. But he thought it was the best way for him to stay safe.
They had been watching this compound and they basically came to the conclusion last Friday, according to General McKenzie, that it was time to get moving and that Baghdadi was there, they have the information. And I think the video you are seeing next to me is the strike to destroy the compound once the mission was done. They did not want to leave it as a shrine to Baghdadi as General McKenzie said. They wanted it to be just another piece of ground.
So they were ready to go in and they did. They said that they briefed President Trump extensively on the mission and the risk and of course the President making the decision to go ahead.
A couple of other really interesting details, they showed a video, we'll bring it to you, of -- and I think that's it. There, if people can see, there are some very small dark figures moving, those are the U.S. assault team members moving on the compound. Very difficult to see but take a look, because this is extraordinary video. You simply don't see this very often that the U.S. military is willing to release this.
They got to this area, they secured the area and they determined that Baghdadi was hiding in this tunnel. Let me stop there and tell you there is a very interesting detail. General McKenzie said they believe that at some point from that tunnel position Baghdadi fired back or attempted to fire back. That's a new piece of information. Not a lot of references to how the President described Baghdadi's last moments.
So they move into the tunnel. The tunnel we now know collapses and begins to fill with water and there are electrical down lines there. That is how the two service members got injured. They are fine. They've returned to duty. That is how the military dog got injured. He suffered, and we now do know it's a he. He suffered some electrocution injuries and he's also returned to duty.
An interesting detail, this military working dog is a veteran of 50 combat missions. So this is -- while people may smile about it, it is deadly serious for U.S. forces in combat, they take these dogs, they are highly trained, they are considered members of the team and this dog performed really with some valor as a combat veteran himself. [17:20:01]
So now, you know, what is next in Syria is of course the big question. We are also learning separately today that U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles carrying troops are beginning to be on the move and as soon as later this week they may move back into those eastern oil fields in Syria to carry out President Trump's order to protect and control the oil field. So, you know, good news that they have gotten Baghdadi, he will bring no more misery to anyone. But the mission in Syria, the anti-ISIS mission very much continues, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly does. And he did point out, General McKenzie, Barbara, as we heard, that they are dealing with the possibility of ISIS launching what he called retribution attacks, retaliatory strikes against the U.S. and others. And he did point out that the Kurdish forces, the so-called SDF, the Syrian Defense Forces, they did support the U.S. early on provided what he called some very helpful early intelligence in this operation. And that was significant.
I think one new nugget was that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had two children that were brought in with him. That he brought in to that tunnel with him. Not three as initially reported. Those children were under 12 years old according to General McKenzie and clearly they were -- they died in this process as well when he exploded that suicide vest.
And the information about the K9, this dog, he points out, General McKenzie, that these K9s, these dogs are critical members of our forces. The scenting working dogs, they determine where humans are hiding much better than humans can determine that. So they play a critical role.
STARR: They did indeed, Wolf.
You know, there was another detail, let me bring to light here, the DNA match which of course at the end of the two-hour mission allowed them to declare jackpot, allowed them to know that they had Baghdadi dead. What they revealed today is that the actual final DNA match was actually made by a DNA sample that they had from Baghdadi from many years back when he was in detention by U.S. and coalition forces at a place called Camp Bucca back during the Iraq War.
And, you know, this is his detention in Camp Bucca, many people might point to as the beginning of ISIS essentially. He was obviously a very hostile militant at that time and when he got out obviously had plans to carry on his ideology and his views. So it's pretty interesting that they had his DNA from all the way back when the U.S. first detained him.
I think General McKenzie also making the point that every military commander will tell you, ISIS is not gone. The physical caliphate, the physical territory, hundreds if not thousands of square miles that they controlled back starting in 2014, 2015, they do not control that any more. That space perhaps even now more complicated because the Russians, the Syrians, Iranian forces have moved in.
ISIS does not control that. But ISIS is a group of cells and ideological adherence all over the world now. I don't think anybody believes that they are gone. The goal, perhaps, is to make sure that they can no longer assemble the financing, the organization, the training, to launch large-scale attacks. But I don't think anybody really believes that that ideology is defeated and that there won't be people out there who are adherence to that ideology trying to carry out attacks perhaps on their own, perhaps in groups. Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you make, Barbara, the fact that General McKenzie is the commander of the U.S. military Central Command could not confirm the description that President Trump offered Sunday morning in making the announcement of the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that the way he died like a dog whimpering, the President going into all sorts of specific adjectives in describing the last few seconds of Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. But the commander of the U.S. military Central Command said he couldn't confirm that information?
STARR: Right. Well, we now have Defense Secretary Mark Esper, unable publicly to confirm that information. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, unable to confirm that information. And General McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, they have all caveated it saying that perhaps the President spoke to some member of the team.
They believe that he planned to call a member of the team and offer congratulations. There is no evidence yet publicly that that has happened. The White House has not said that. And you now have the top three officials saying they think that the President had planned to call a member of the team but they simply don't know where the President came up with that language which is why I go back to I thought it was interesting, perhaps not conclusive.
But interesting that General McKenzie is the first one I have heard to make the point that it is possible, and they have to sort out all of the details, but it is possible Baghdadi either fired his weapon or attempted to fire his weapon. But the three top officials who know every piece of classified information about this raid, I guarantee you they know the details. None of them yet publicly have been able to confirm what the President said.
BLITZER: Barbara, I want to you stand by. I want to bring in Shawn Turner, our National Security Analyst, former Director of Communications for the U.S. National Intelligence Community.
So, Shawn, give me your analysis of what we just heard from General McKenzie, the head of the U.S. military Central Command.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Wolf, you know, as many people have said, I think there is absolutely no doubt that the elimination of Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi is a win for the United States. Look, you know, this is someone who was the head of ISIS. And the individuals who carried out this raid, you know, we owe them a debt of gratitude.
I think it's really important to point out here and Barbara said this and others have said, this is, you know, first of all, from an intelligence perspective, Baghdadi's influence on ISIS was on the decline. It was clear that his role as a leader of this organization was something that, you know, in the public's sphere we still understood to be the case but behind the scenes he was having more trouble communicating, more trouble rallying his forces, more trouble giving direction.
And so it was inevitably the case that at some point as ISIS, you know, attempted to reconstitute and as they continues to try to carry out attacks, that his influence was not going to be as significant as it was. That said, it's also important for people to remember that, you know, ISIS, you know, it emerges and then it fades back into society and then these individuals come out again.
So, while this is a victory certainly for the United States and we should celebrate not only the decision to carry out this raid but the individuals who were brave enough to do it. We have to remain vigilant and I think that's the message that everyone is sending.
And, Wolf, if I could just one note on this issue of describing the way that Baghdadi died. You know, I heard the President's comments on this and I think that something else is going on here. Look, I spent 21 years in the Marine Corp and I cannot imagine a scenario during my time in the Marine Corp where we would have had a kill in the battlefield like this and that general officers, people in positions of authority at the Pentagon would have stepped forward and thought it was necessary, thought it was appropriate to describe the last minutes of someone's life the way that the President did.
Look, that may have been the way that he died. But I just think that for those of us who serve this country and who have, you know, been in combat, it's not necessary, it's inhumane and not something that I think the general would have done even if he knew that that was the case.
BLITZER: It is also significant that you used to work not only as a U.S. Marine, but also in the Intelligence Community. Shawn, is the description that General McKenzie had for the initial intelligence that was provided to the U.S. by the Kurdish forces, the SDF, the Syrian Defense Forces, he said that early intelligence was very helpful in supporting this operation. And explain the significant of that.
TURNER: You know, the significance of that cannot be underestimated. Look, the Kurdish forces are forces who are on the ground in the region. They understand better than any of our other partners and allies not what's happening at the high levels but what is happening on the ground. They hear what people are saying. They understand when things are shifting.
So, the intelligence that they would have provided would have been key to U.S. forces. It would have been key to our partners and allies who understood what was happening here. And that intelligence would have allowed us to have a high level of confidence that either Baghdadi was there or that he was likely to have been there. So I think there's immense amount of irony. It's extremely unfortunate that as we were relying on the intelligence that were provided by the Kurds to carry out this really important raid at the same time we were, by all accounts, betraying the Kurds with our decision to leave Syria. But that intelligence would have been extremely critical.
And I think that, you know, for the Kurds who are still seeking to support the United States, we have to understand that Baghdadi may be gone, but he still has forces, he still has people loyalists there on the ground and our hope is that there are still Kurds who will continue to provide intelligence and support to the United States as we continue to go after ISIS.
BLITZER: Shawn, hold on for a moment. Susan Hennessey is with us as well, our National Security and Legal Analyst who used to work at the National Security Agency.
He did make an important point, General McKenzie, Susan, that they collected a lot of material when they went into the compound over there, certainly documents, other material, including they captured at least two ISIS commandos.
And they're now being questioned presumably, so they're going to get a lot of intelligence out of this?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, potentially they will get a substantial amount of intelligence. You know, we've seen that after other successful raids. The big question now is, of -- of course, who might actually succeed Baghdadi and what will sort of the future of ISIS either in Syria or -- or globally be?
You know, look, I think one thing that's -- that's critical to understand is not just Shawn's point about the -- how important our partners were in providing the intelligence that allowed for this successful raid in the first place, but that really this raid was successful despite the President, not because of him and that the President's reckless decision to impulsively pull out from Syria really did put the Pentagon in -- in a potentially very dangerous position.
And so, everything that we're seeing about this raid, not just, you know, the -- the death of the -- of the leader of ISIS but also all of this secondary intelligence that we're going to -- we're going to get, all of this additional potentially very valuable information, that could have been, you know, imperiled by this really, really reckless decision by the President a few weeks ago to sort of impulsively pull us out of the region.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on all this breaking news. Dramatic developments coming in from the Pentagon on the -- the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We're also going to go back up to Capitol Hill. Very dramatic developments unfolding up there as far as the impeachment inquiry is concerned. Much more of our breaking news coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. The Pentagon has just released the first images from the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We're following that. Much more on that coming out.
We're also following breaking news in the impeachment inquiry including a source now telling CNN that former national security adviser John Bolton has just been invited to testify next week.
Let's get back to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, it's certainly unclear right now if Bolton will show up, but how significant potentially would his testimony be?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be very significant, Wolf, because John Bolton has been mentioned by a number of witnesses who have testified behind closed doors, who said that Bolton was concerned about the efforts by Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal attorney, to pursue efforts of Ukraine to push for those investigations that could help the President politically.
Over and over again, Bolton is -- is referenced in testimony including by testimony yesterday from Alexander Vindman, who serves right now in the White House, who said that Bolton -- have said that Bolton urged him and others to go to the National Security Council lawyer to report concerns about the -- that they had about a meeting in -- earlier this summer in which those investigations were raised and made a push to bolster relations with Ukraine.
Now, today, also behind closed-doors, another witness referred to John Bolton as well. Christopher Anderson, who's a career foreign service officer, who said Bolton referred to Rudy Giuliani as an obstacle in bolstering that alliance.
And -- and, Wolf, we are uncertain whether he will appear, but the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Eliot Engel, did tell me that they could subpoena him if he does not appear in the coming days because his testimony is so vital.
We do expect that National Security Council lawyer, he's been invited to testify, John Eisenberg, next week. He -- he is the one who heard those concerns from Vindman and others. It's uncertain if he will appear also. And this comes as the closed-door portion of this investigation is coming to a close, Wolf.
BLITZER: The closed-door portion. The public hearings are only set to begin fairly soon now. And -- and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, is willing to testify as potentially a star witness for the Democrats. How damaging could his public testimony be? And it certainly will be televised.
RAJU: Yes, we're told from a source familiar with his thinking that he is willing to testify publicly. This after he went behind closed- doors and raised significant concerns about the aid that have been withheld to Ukraine, also saying he had been told that the President had pushed for a public declaration by Ukraine of investigations into the Bidens as well as into the 2016 elections before that aid was released, before they would've agreed to meetings with the Ukrainian officials and in Washington.
Now, at the same time, as all these witnesses have come forward, there are more names that have come out about -- showing involvement of other people in the White House.
Today, Catherine Croft, who is a -- who worked as a Ukraine -- who works as a special adviser on Ukraine went behind closed-doors and talked about Mick Mulvaney, the President's Acting Chief of Staff, and someone, she said, had put an informal hold on that Ukrainian aid. And she said it was -- she -- she said, according to her opening statement, that President Trump was behind that decision.
Now, one Democrat who emerged from this closed-door proceeding said the questions about Mick Mulvaney continue to grow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA), MAJORITY MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM: Mr. Mulvaney's role gets deeper as we get into this. And it is puzzling that somebody from OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, would sudden play a foreign policy role in making a decision about suspending aid to an allied country that is fighting active Russian aggression on its territory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, on Friday, Wolf, one of Mulvaney's deputies, Robert Blair, is scheduled to come testify behind closed-doors. Plenty of questions that members have for him but, at the moment, still unclear whether he will show as Democrats try to get more answers about Mulvaney's role in all of this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Important questions indeed. Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And let me get your reaction to the breaking news. The House has just scheduled a deposition with the former national security John -- adviser John Bolton for next week. How important do you think that testimony could be?
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA), MAJORITY MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: Oh, I think it would be very important. And, look, I think that Adam Schiff and the committees that are doing this are doing a -- a very serious job. They're being methodical about it. They're being fair about it. And I believe that as they investigate further, people like John Bolton and others are very vital and critical to ascertaining the facts, which, ultimately, they will turn over to the Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: The Democrats also want Bill Taylor, he's the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine right now, to come back. He did a deposition behind closed-doors, but now they want public testimony as the House moves into this next phase of the impeachment inquiry. They want it all out in the open. He's willing apparently to comply. What do you want the American public to hear from Bill Taylor?
RICHMOND: I want them to hear how Ambassador Taylor lays out the actions of this White House and this President that clearly illustrates, from his standpoint, that they were holding up foreign aid for a political favor and asking another country to meddle in the 2020 presidential elections.
And so, I think it's very important for the members of the public, for people to see from a nonpartisan figure, from a career diplomat -- not from a Democrat but from a career diplomat -- the facts that he testified to in his deposition.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified yesterday, told investigators that the transcript, the rough transcript of that July 25th phone call between the President and the Ukrainian President, was missing some key information, including a specific reference to Joe Biden and that his attempts -- Colonel Vindman's attempts -- to restore that information were not successful. How concerning, Congressman, is that to you?
RICHMOND: That's concerning also. And he is a true United States patriot. He served our country. He has no reason to fabricate anything. And so, I take him at his word.
But I think that all of those things are important but, remember, the way this started was looking at the the transcript in which the President basically says, but I need a favor, though. And then, you look at Mick Mulvaney, then you look at the text messages from Volker, you look at the testimony from Ambassador Taylor, and it lays out a pretty alarming case.
And so, we will get all of that information, and we will present the President with a fair opportunity to present any -- any exculpatory evidence or anything that he shows would disprove the facts that have been laid out. And then, the Judiciary Committee will make a -- a decision. But this is a serious matter, and I think the public should see more of it, so I'm happy that people are willing to testify publicly.
BLITZER: Democrats, they're voting tomorrow. In fact, everybody is voting tomorrow on these formal rules for this new phase of the investigation. What's your response, Congressman, to the Republicans who say these new rules are simply too little too late, that the process has been tainted from the very start?
RICHMOND: Look, in the Nixon impeachment, the investigation started four months before they took a vote. And in the Clinton impeachment, Ken Starr investigated for four years behind closed-doors. So, look, the rules that we're putting forth tomorrow are the most transparent and give more rights to President Trump than both Clinton or Nixon had, so we think it's very fair.
Look, it's very clear -- and I'm a lawyer and I practice defense law -- if the facts were not on my side, I attack the process. If the process -- if the facts were on my side, I don't argue the facts. So the fact that they're attacking the process means that they don't have a strong belief in the facts of this case.
And so, they're going to continue to -- to advocate and -- and take President Trump's talking points. However, we are going to show the American people, in live and real-time, exactly what happened, how it happened, and we're going to let them judge for themselves. So the Republicans can continue to try, but I believe that the process we're doing is more than fair, and it will give the transparency that the public deserves.
BLITZER: Do you think tomorrow's vote -- and it will be a dramatic moment on the floor of the House of Representatives -- on the impeachment procedures will pass with unanimous Democratic support?
RICHMOND: I'm not sure if it will be unanimous Democratic support, but it's going to be overwhelming Democratic vote. And if we have any people who are not there yet, it will only be a handful of them.
BLITZER: Congressman Cedric Richmond, thanks so much for joining is.
RICHMOND: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: All right, let's bring back our experts and discuss what we just heard.
Nia, what do you think?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, tomorrow is going to be a big day. This was something, obviously, that Republicans wanted. This is something that isn't really satisfying Republicans. At this point, not satisfying the White House, too. They seem to really want to push this narrative that no matter what comes out of this, it's all tainted because of these closed-door depositions that, of course, Democrats were part of as well as Republicans.
But, yes, I mean, I think this marks a real demarcation in terms of this impeachment process. And it's a day that I think Nancy Pelosi, you know, months and months ago, didn't necessarily think was going to happen. And there were obviously people in the party who are pushing for it, and this Ukraine news brings us here. And we'll see what happens tomorrow.
BLITZER: And, Bianna, if John Bolton, the President's former national security adviser who has been invited to come and testify behind closed-doors next week, actually shows up, how significant could that be?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, and that's a big if, if he does show up obviously given that his deputy is now in the middle of weighing whether a judge will rule whether he can or not. But if he does show up, it's very significant because multiple officials and diplomats who have testified over the past couple of weeks named him as somebody who was in the center of all of this given that he knew what was going on.
He few that the concerns about Ukraine. He himself was concerned about Ukraine. At one point, calling it a drug deal that he didn't want to be part of. So throughout the past few weeks, he seems to have been aware and alarmed about the President's position toward Ukraine from the get-go.
And if we do hear from Bill Taylor -- Ambassador Taylor -- who has signaled that he will and is willing to testify publicly, he himself, he said he was directed by Bolton to reach out to Pompeo and -- and concern -- express his concern over withholding money. So a lot of questions will be directed toward him because every single one of these witnesses has mentioned his concern about this very issue.
BLITZER: Because, you know, Shawn, according to several other witnesses, Bolton, who was then the national security adviser, was deeply uncomfortable with the President's conduct toward Ukraine including the new government in Ukraine and deeply uncomfortable with Rudy Giuliani's role sort of as a shadow government leader in all of this. So why wouldn't he come forward and testify?
TURNER: Well, I think, you know, as he considers this, the one thing that we know that Ambassador Bolton is doing now is he's sitting on the sidelines, watching what each and every one of these witnesses is going through as they go up on -- go up to Capitol Hill and testify in these depositions.
And I think that as the -- as former national security adviser, he is -- he is likely under no illusions that if he does testify that he will be somehow immune from the -- the attacks, the criticisms that the President's supporters are launching. He will definitely be in the crosshairs if he goes and testifies.
And it's -- I think it's still an open question as to whether or not his testimony will even corroborate or support what some of these witnesses has -- has said. You know, Ambassador Bolton's been extremely quiet on this since he -- since he left the White House. And so, it's unclear, you know, kind of where his loyalties lie even though the reporting seems to suggest that he was extremely concerned.
So, you know, I think that Bianna was right. If we're reading the tea leaves and we look at what Charles Kupperman, his deputy, is doing with regard to asking a judge to make the decision and we consider the fact that both Kupperman and Bolton have the same legal counsel, I think that might give us some indication of how he feels about going up and testifying.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Susan? HENNESSEY: I think every individual who comes forward and testifies,
notwithstanding the White House asserting executive privilege, makes it easier for others to do the same and harder for them not to now that we've seen sitting U.S. officials -- even whenever the White House or the State Department have said, don't go and testify, we're asserting executive privilege or immunity -- going forward and testifying anyway, former officials coming forward, testifying anyway.
That means that for people like John Bolton, they really aren't going to be able to present this legal argument as though they have some sort of obligation not to testify. And so, I think people understand that, you know, the -- the -- the Congress has a legitimate complaint -- claim to this testimony. And for them to refuse to do so really is them personally saying, I'm not interested in telling the truth to the -- to the -- to the United States Congress, I'm not interested in telling the truth to the American public.
And keep in mind, even Trump loyalists who might be refusing to testify, they are only adding to the perception that Donald Trump did something wrong and that there is something to hide.
BLITZER: Yes, he didn't leave the White House, John Bolton, under positive circumstances.
BLITZER: There was a lot of acrimony on both sides. It was unclear whether he was fired or whether he resigned --
HENDERSON: Or he resigned.
BLITZER: -- and all of that. But let's say -- and it's still a big if. Let's say he does testify, and he comes out very forcefully against the President on the issue of quid pro quo with Ukraine and all of that, how significant could that be coming from the President's former national security adviser?
HENDERSON: Yes, it would be significant because no one is going to be able to paint him as a Never Trumper, right? I mean, that's what you obviously see Donald Trump trying to do with some of these other folks. Although John Bolton is known as somebody who has sharp elbows, he's right in line with sort of the Republican view of the world and the Republican view of -- of foreign policy.
So, in that way, I think, you know, everyone's looking to see what Republicans might do. Are Republicans, at any point, going to find fault with this president in terms of what he did and possibly vote to remove him from office? I think John Bolton would -- could -- could possibly be a pivotal figure.
But I also think -- you heard Cedric Richmond there say -- essentially say it's John Bolton and others, right? I don't think Democrats want to pin all of their hopes on John Bolton to be a kind of John Dean figure in turn on this president because, in many ways, that's what they did the last go-round with Bob Mueller, right? Expecting him to really --
GOLODRYGA: And --
HENDERSON: -- forward their case, and it didn't really happen that way.
GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf --
BLITZER: Well, Bianna, do you think he could turn out to be a John Dean type of figure in this?
GOLODRYGA: Well, I was just going to say this is one of these situations where you just don't know because, of course, he is a key witness the Democrats want to hear from -- and you hear from all these witnesses the past few weeks -- who have expressed his own alarm at the President's policy and -- and Giuliani's role throughout all of this.
But at the same time, we always in the media seem to find out when he disagreed with the President vis-a-vis Iran or North Korea policy and that information tended to be leaked, and you heard about divisions between him and the President when it came to foreign policy with regard to those two hot spots around the world.
One thing we didn't hear from and what Republicans can ask him point- blank is if you were so alarmed, how come you didn't speak out earlier? How come you didn't resign earlier? And there, in fact, had been -- I -- I don't recall any reports prior to the whistleblowers of Bolton having any disagreements with the President in terms of his foreign policy relations with Ukraine.
HENNESSEY: And one thing to keep in mind as we really are beyond the point of waiting for some new witness to come out with some new bombshell information, we've seen remarkably consistent testimony.
Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman, Bill Taylor, again and again, they're all telling the exact same story, eliminating all of the innocent explanations that this was not about anti-corruption efforts, this was not about U.S. national security, that there was a quid pro quo, and it was about the President's political interests.
BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We have a lot more on all the breaking news happening up on Capitol Hill, but there's also breaking news in California's wildfire disaster.
I quickly want to go to CNN's Stephanie Elam. She's on the scene for us. She's watching the fire that came perilously close to the Reagan Presidential Library.
Stephanie, what's the situation now?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've got to tell you, as a native Californian, I have never, ever felt winds like this here in this state right now as what we're experiencing. When they push up against you, it does feel like you are up in a hurricane. Feeling that intensity here. I want to show you right now -- just to give you an idea of what we've
been looking at here. You see where it's burned over there? All of that, this fire starting after 6:00 a.m. local time here.
Well, let me show you how close it got to the Reagan Library. Right here is the Reagan Library where we're standing, all the property here, and you can see the retired Air Force One jet inside of the building there. All of this was burning around here.
You know -- we know that there were some 26,000 people that have been evacuated from this Easy Fire here in Ventura County and Simi Valley; 1,300 acres have been burned. We know that we've been watching the fires throughout the state and that up north, at the Kincade Fire, it looks like some of those evacuations may start to ease as things are starting to look better up there. Their winds still an issue, but not like they are down here.
And this is the issue with all of these fires, and the concern about these winds, is the fact that if something is still burning and it catches on the wind and it flies for a great distance, it starts another fire. We were up on the fire line just across the tree from some homes in Simi Valley earlier today and watching them fight this fire with the helicopters dropping some 26,000 gallons with each drop, fighting this as long as -- along with the firefighters on the ground here, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more, Stephanie, on what's going on where you are. Be careful over there, stay safe. We'll get back to you.
Much more coming up on the fires out in California. Also, more on the breaking news, a source now telling CNN that the House impeachment investigators want the former national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton, to testify next week.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Talking to Bolton. Impeachment investigators now are calling on the President's ousted national security adviser to testify next week. This as we're learning more about John Bolton's concerns that politics was influencing Mr. Trump's Ukraine policy.