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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Released; Syria Abandoned; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 26, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): It is disheartening to see that the number of folks who oppose his removal hasn't increased after that compelling testimony.

But I do think those of us in Congress have to be looking at long -- at the long term, at history, and at what sort of a precedent we're setting for the guardrails on presidential misconduct in office.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: There's been a lot of talk about bipartisan support, as you know, specifically because of what we heard from House Speaker Pelosi back in March telling "The Washington Post" that impeachment is so divisive, that it needs to be not only compelling, but overwhelming and bipartisan.

As you know, not a single Republican voted in that full House vote. A couple of Democrats, of course, did vote with the Republicans, so bipartisan opposition there.

Are you concerned about this moving forward?

COONS: I'm concerned that what this says is that there is a lack of passion for restraining our president when he engages in just bald inappropriate conduct.

A number of my Republican colleagues have said, yes, what he did was inappropriate, even against our national security interests, but that it doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

That's a matter that I suspect will soon land in front of us in the Senate, where we will sit as if we are jurors, and we will be charged to take an oath that we will do justice.

So, my hope and expectation is that my colleagues of both parties will take this seriously, will consider the evidence that's put in front of us. But I'm instructed that, even this week, as President Trump is saying, oh, well, I'd love to testify, and I'd love to have Mike Pompeo or Mick Mulvaney testify, all he has to do is tell them to do so.

Their testimony would add a great deal to this. And I think that might move the needle more.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: So that may move the needle.

Real quickly, because we're just about out of time.

COONS: Sure.

HILL: Have you seen enough, you believe, to convict the president in the Senate? And do you think you have the votes?

COONS: Well, as a senator, the pledge I'm going to take is to weigh all the evidence in front of me.

So far, I haven't seen any evidence that's exculpatory that would explain the president's perspective. That's why I hope he does testify, or that he does have his secretary of state, or acting OMB director, or chief of staff -- excuse me -- testify.

I haven't seen any evidence that gives the president's side or that explains his conduct as anything other than inappropriate. From what I have heard publicly and privately, I don't think there will be the votes to remove him if this does come to an impeachment trial in the Senate.

And, to me, that's disheartening, because it removes guardrails on presidential misconduct.

HILL: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, good to have you with us this afternoon. Thank you.

COONS: Thank you.

HILL: A brand-new 2020 poll is out. Things at the top are changing rapidly.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:23]

HILL: In our 2020 lead, if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Joe Biden.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Elizabeth Warren.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Bernie Sanders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Yes, campaign season, people.

Candidates are flooding the airwaves as we speak. And a brand-new national poll of Democratic voters puts Joe Biden comfortably in first place with 24 percent, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg surging to second with 16 percent, while Senator Elizabeth Warren is falling back to third with 14 percent.

As we look at all of this, Joe Biden's new ad touts that he is ready on day one, he's ready to go. In the poll, 46 percent said he's the -- he's got the best chance of beating President Trump, which really -- I think it really begs the question. Are these voters who like Biden because they think that he can win, or do they actually like him as a candidate?

Do we know?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think a lot of it has to do with the first one.

HILL: They look at him someone who can win.

BARRON-LOPEZ: They look at him someone who can.

He's been hammering the electability theme the entire campaign. He's been tethering himself to Obama, saying he's the one that has the most experience on -- out of every one that's been on the debate stages, that he on day one, as the ad says, can take the helm.

And so that's been his message. But, again, when you talk to voters on the ground, it appears as though there is soft support there, that they are open to the other candidates, that some of them have not fully made up their minds, and they could potentially easily decide on someone else when Iowa caucus day come.

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JOHN BOEHNER SPOKESMAN: And this is the reason Biden does best when he's not in public. He has the profile you want.

He has the record you want. He has the positions you want. At the same time, he's stumbling and sleepwalking and not impressing anybody when they actually watch his candidacy. I think Democrats want to win. I think that's the reason that Biden is leading.

I think that's the reason Pete Buttigieg is surging, a fellow moderate in the Democratic Party, even though, I have got to say, fourth largest city in Indiana is not an extraordinary credential for commander in chief, which is why Mayor Bloomberg, a mayor who ran three terms in a city that is bigger than 40 states in the union, sees an opportunity here.

HILL: And we will see how that goes.

When we look at Elizabeth Warren, though, it's also interesting to see her drop here. So she in this latest polling down to 14 percent vs. 28 percent a month ago. It's a national poll. I also want to point out too that, a month ago, after the last debate, post-debate in CNN's October poll, she was at 19 percent. So a little different when we look at -- put it in context, but,

still, that is a drop for Elizabeth Warren. And that's something to pay attention to.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

And it's the same thing that these guys are talking about. It's -- the question is, can she win? I think she's electrifying. I think Democrats love seeing her, kind of the opposite what Michael is saying about perhaps Joe Biden on the stump.

[16:40:07]

But they want to win. And she has tethered herself to Medicare for all and a 20 -- she says, $20 trillion tax bill to pay for it. I think that causes a lot of Democrats to think, well, I might like it one day, but, whoa, I got to beat Trump.

And they say this in the poll. When you ask about qualities -- see, this is hilarious. I love my party. Beat Trump is 35 percent. Honesty is only 17.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STEEL: At least they're honest about it.

BEGALA: By the way, that's how I am. I'm a JFK Democrat, right? I will pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the defeat of Donald Trump.

And nothing else matters to Democrats. So when Elizabeth -- Senator Warren's position Medicare for all starts looking like it's the sort of thing Trump would beat her with, and I think it is, she's going to fall.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And not just Trump beating her with it, but Senate Republicans, House Republicans who want to keep control of the Senate and retake control of the House.

I mean, I have been talking been to several Senate Republicans lately who are in cycle and asking them, do the recent political results of the elections concern you about potentially the limits of the president's political coattails and whatnot?

And they say the same thing over and over. Once there is a Democratic nominee to contrast President Trump with, we are in a much better position. And the name that keeps coming up over and over again is Elizabeth Warren.

Senate Republicans, whether they are in red states or swing states, they think that she is -- she would be a really effective foil that they can run against. And they feel pretty confident about that at this stage.

HILL: Well, the countdown is officially on to Iowa, as we know, since it's the season now, officially. We have declared it.

Homes destroyed, little food, no electricity, these are some of the conditions that CNN discovered inside Syria after President Trump withdrew American troops.

We are live on the ground there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:46:33]

HILL: In our world lead, at least 17 civilians were killed by a car bomb in Northern Syria today. That's the same region President Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave two months ago, making way for Turkish forces to advance their offensive.

Nearly 200,000 Kurds were forced out of their homes.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is inside Northern Syria, where many Kurds are living in makeshift camps, feeling betrayed by America and particularly by President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Class should be in session now, but here in Hasakah, the school has become a temporary shelter for displaced people.

In one classroom, we meet Ibrahim Hassan. The Kurdish father of five tells us he was forced to flee his home in Ras al-Ayn with his children when the Turkish military operation began.

This is what remains of his house. Ibrahim says it is one of many in his Kurdish neighborhood that was deliberately ransacked by Turkish- backed forces.

IBRAHIM HASSAN, DISPLACED SYRIAN KURD (through translator): They took everything. And after they took all our belongings, they set it on fire and burned it all.

WARD: Just days before the offensive began, Ibrahim's children had posed smiling with U.S. troops patrolling the area. He says America's presence gave him a false sense of security. Then, suddenly, they were gone.

HASSAN (through translator): Since America betrayed us, every time I look at these photos of my children with the Americans, I want to erase them.

WARD (on camera): Do you feel that you trust the Americans still?

Definitely not?

HASSAN (through translator): Now we hear and we see on television America saying that they're only here for the oil. Why did Trump do this? You have betrayed all the people. WARD (voice-over): It's a sentiment we found shared by many here.

Nearly 200,000 people have been displaced by Turkey's offensive. Hundreds of their homes have been damaged or looted.

Local authorities are now trying to move them out of the schools, so that class can start again, and into hastily build camps like this one. Conditions are bleak and resources are scarce.

Because of the security situation, international aid agencies have had to pull out, leaving the Kurds with no one to rely on but themselves.

(on camera): So she's saying it's really difficult here because it's very cold, especially at night. They don't have enough food. They don't have electricity. And the water is not good.

(voice-over): Camp organizers say there are 3,000 people living here now, with more arriving every day.

(on camera): Almost everyone in this camp is from the town of Ras al- Ayn.

And Ras al-Ayn used to be around 75 percent Kurdish. Now, though, we're told there are just a handful of Kurds left. And the people here believe that the ultimate goal of this Turkish offensive is to essentially push the Kurds out of this area completely and change the ethnic makeup of it forever.

(voice-over): Turkey has done little to alleviate their fears. As the Kurds have poured out of these areas, Arabs have been bused in, Syrian refugees who Turkish authorities claim are originally from these areas.

[16:50:08]

After more than eight years of civil war, this part of Syria is full of stories of people forcibly displaced. In the Christian village of Tal Nasr, we find more families from Ras al-Ayn sheltering in the ruins of a destroyed church.

"Will you try to go home?" I ask these women.

"There's no home to go to," they reply."

ISIS cleansed this area of Christians when it was in control. They have yet to return. Now the village provides refuge for another people forced from their homes with no sense of a possible return.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WARD: Now, the stated goal of this Turkish military offensive, Erica, was to create a so-called safe zone, a buffer zone around 20-miles- wide across the entire border between Turkey and Syria.

But from what we have been seeing and hearing reports on the ground for weeks now, it's clear that this is not a safe zone at all. There are multiple reports of the cease-fire being broken. And, also, car bombs have become a persistent problem, particularly in the town of Ras al-Ayn today.

That's the town where Ibrahim and most of the characters from our story today come from, a car bomb taking place there earlier this afternoon, killing at least 17 people, Erica.

So, certainly, to many on the ground here in Northern Syria, this safe zone doesn't feel very safe at all.

HILL: We can understand why.

Clarissa, in Iraq this past weekend, Vice President Pence met with the president of the Kurdish region there and said he wanted to, in his words, reiterate the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people.

You're on the ground there. Those words, compared with the administration's actions, how was all of that playing out?

WARD: I think, Erica, a lot of people here will say simply that it's a day late and a dollar short.

And there is a sense that people are reluctant now, as you heard from Ibrahim. They're reluctant to trust the word of the U.S. The U.S. military has also announced it's now back out with Kurdish forces doing patrols to try to take out ISIS sleeper cells, which still exist across this part of the country.

But that's very little source of consolation to the many Kurds who have been devastated by the events that have transpired over the last seven weeks -- Erica.

HILL: Clarissa Ward live for us in Northern Syria, a powerful story and so important that you are there. Thank you.

Three teenagers convicted of murder sentenced to life in prison, now free for the first time in 36 years after a mountain of hidden evidence is discovered. Their story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:34]

HILL: Arrested as teens, they are now in their 50s. And it took until now to be free.

Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart finally free after spending 36 years in prison for a murder they did not commit.

As CNN's Brynn Gingras grass reports, the revelation of hidden evidence led to their freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Free at last.

ALFRED CHESTNUT, EXONERATED: Oh, man. I have been always dreaming of this -- for this day.

GINGRAS: Baltimore police ripped these three men from their homes on Thanksgiving Day 36 years ago for a murder they did not commit.

RANSOM WATKINS, EXONERATED: We're smiling. We're happy that we free, but we got a lot to fix. This should have never happened.

MARY STEWART, MOTHER: Well, this is the first time I have been able to hug my son in about 2-some years.

GINGRAS: Hugs weren't the only things missed. Two of the men have never driven a car. They have actually spent more time behind bars than their homes, all because of what happened in 1983.

Back then, police arrested and charged 16-year-olds Alfred Chestnut and Ransom Watkins and 17-year-old Andrew Stewart for the killing of a teenager at a Baltimore middle school. Police say the murder was over a sports jacket. Their smoking gun, a similar jacket found inside Chestnut's home, despite no blood or gunshot evidence. His mother even had a receipt of purchase, according to court paperwork.

Still, they were sentenced to life behind bars.

WATKINS: I hate to put it like this. We went through hell.

GINGRAS: A break in the case came when Chestnut filed for information and uncovered a pile of unseen evidence. Young witnesses were interviewed by police without their parents and told to -- quote -- "get their stories straight."

An anonymous phone call even I.D.ed another suspect who was seen wearing the stolen jacket and confessing to the crime. But none of that was ever given to the men's defense team, attorneys say.

For decades, the men maintained their innocence. Chestnut refused to confess, even when the parole board considered releasing him if he did. Baltimore's Conviction Integrity Unit eventually looked over the case and set them free.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS: And sadly, Erica, one of the men is missing even more than Thanksgiving. His entire family, immediate family, passed away while he was locked up.

But all of the men say they want to pay it forward, help men, women who are behind bars wrongfully convicted -- Erica.

HILL: Oh, it is a remarkable story.

And the fact that they are coming out of this and so positively looking to pay it forward and to make a difference...

GINGRAS: Yes.

HILL: ... it's really something. Brynn, thank you.

GINGRAS: Mm-hmm.

HILL: Thanks to all of you for joining us today.

You can follow me on Twitter @EricaRHill. Tweet the show @THELEADCNN.