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CNN RIGHT NOW
Worry Rises In Military Over Trump's Decision-Making; The Tightening Legal Vise Around Trump's Lawyer, Rudy Giuliani; North Korea Launches Projectiles In Message To Trump. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 28, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST: And thanks for joining us today in Inside Politics today. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there.
And Ana Cabrera is in for Brianna Keilar. She starts Right Now.
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: I'm Ana Cabrera. Happy Thanksgiving to you all on this special edition of CNN RIGHT NOW.
As the president's former Navy secretary calls his behavior shocking and unprecedented, CNN reports on growing worry inside the military about the president's decision-making.
The FBI planted spies among us. It's a conspiracy that has been repeated by the president, by Republicans, by Fox News and even the attorney general. Now, it's been debunked by the president's own administration.
Plus, a flurry of new developments show Rudy Giuliani's legal jeopardy growing, accused of trading on his relationship with the president for his own benefit.
And China furious at President Trump for signing bills that backed Hong Kong protesters. Will Beijing retaliate?
This afternoon, President Trump will make the traditional Thanksgiving call to the troops, but the pleasantries he extends to servicemen and women overseas ends there. Here at home, the tension between the president and upper echelons of the military is high, and that's putting it mildly. Much of it stems from President Trump's intervention in three war crimes cases.
CNN learned senior Pentagon officials found it disturbing and it has created a morale problem. In a scathing op-ed, the recently ousted Navy secretary criticized the president's involvement in these cases, calling his actions shocking and unprecedented. We'll get to all of that in just a moment.
But first, let's check in with CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins in West Palm Beach.
Kaitlan, the president is there at Mar-a-Lago for the Thanksgiving holiday. How is he spending it? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, today, he's expected to make this call to military leaders around the world, something that's pretty typical for presidents to do on a holiday like this, calling the troops who are overseas.
But, Ana, with this president, nothing is ever typical or follows tradition that we have seen from presidents in the past. And all you have to do is look back to this call last year when the president was making that call. Typically, they are pretty standard, the call, thank these military members for their service, of course, serving on a holiday like this, being away from their families.
But that call last year quickly turned pretty obviously political where the president was talking not only about trade, he was talking about policies at the border. He was critical of the courts last year which had recently ruled against a policy he had about migrants crossing the border and seeking asylum.
And, of course, then after that, the president was airing his grievances in front of reporters, not only about that CIA report which the president was discrediting, the CIA report that found that, yes, it was the Saudis who were responsible for the death of that reporter in Turkey last year.
And, essentially, the question is whether or not that's going to happen this year because that's something the president does when he's not in front of the cameras for several days. So that's what people will be watching to see.
Of course, what is really going to be hanging over this, Ana, though is this recent criticism from people inside the military and from the president's critics over how he's intervened in these cases of these allegations of war crimes and, of course, Eddie Gallagher, something the president has been pretty quick to defend even though this comes in light of the departure of the Navy secretary because he became embroiled in a scandal because over all of this.
CABRERA: OK. Kaitlan Collins in West Palm Beach, Florida for us, thanks.
Let's talk more about these concerns in the military about the president's decision-making. Apparently, those concerns are mounting. They have been mounting for months. His intervention in these three war crimes cases seem to be a tipping point for some senior military leaders.
CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr joins us now.
Barbara, what are you hearing from officials?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, one official, long serving in the Pentagon, said we have a morale problem. We have a split. And that is actually not what the military wants to see.
Look, you have -- the military reflects American society. You are going to have any number of troops always supporting a president of the United States. They -- many troops feel that this president does have their back. He's gotten them increased funding. He's getting them out of wars. The president has support among some troops, other troops, perhaps not. And especially some of the senior commanders now as they are struggling to cope continuously with the president's erratic and very difficult to understand decision-making.
You only have to look back actually maybe several weeks ago, and he said about one of these soldiers involved in one of these war crimes cases that troops are trained to be killing machines, the president's words. Well, they certainly are not. I sincerely doubt you would have troops wishing to serve in Armed Forces where they are trained to be killing machines.
And so all of this coming to a head over these cases and the former now fired Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, as you said, calling in a Washington Post op-ed, he wrote the president's intervention shocking and unprecedented.
And he goes on to say -- and this is really one of the key points you keep hearing. It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniformed set of rules and procedures, Spencer, of course, besides being Navy secretary, a former United States Marine.
This is really the fundamental core of military ethics and values. Everyone is uniformly held accountable for their lapses and the military is not to be involved in partisan politics. There is growing worry that this is what the president is doing and he won't be stopping any time soon. Ana?
CABRERA: Barbara Starr, thank you for that reporting.
Let's turn to CNN Military Analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's joining the conversation now.
Colonel, Barbara just referenced this Washington Post op-ed from Secretary Spencer. What was your initial reaction to it?
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Ana, I think that former Secretary Spencer hit it right on the head. He really made sense when he made it very clear that it requires a special ethos to be part of the military today, especially the kind of military that America has.
So my initial reaction was basically one of dismay that his resignation had to occur, or his firing, whichever it happens to be. But the other part of it is is that it also shows that there is a lot of questioning going on in terms of what exactly the commander-in- chief is doing here and why he is interceding on behalf of people that really don't deserve his intercession.
CABRERA: Colonel, Spencer wrote that the events leading to his ouster provided lessons for him and for the country. What are those lessons? LEIGHTON: Some of those lessons are that it really depends what kind of information gets to the president when it comes to the kinds of cases that he gets involved in. Some of the lessons may include the fact that some people with a loud megaphone may be influencing the president to the detriment of the naval and military judicial process.
That is a really significant issue that interference in this judicial process can really prejudice not only members of the military but it can certainly prejudice the commander-in-chief. And in some cases, that is not a good thing. And in this case, in particular, I think it leaves a lot to be desired.
CABRERA: Is that what worries military leaders most about the president's decision-making ability or is it more than that?
LEIGHTON: I think it's more than that. Certainly, that is one factor. But it's also what is the president going to do in terms of a crisis? If there is a national crisis on the magnitude of, let's say, a 9/11 or something like that, what exactly is the president going to do, how is he going to handle it, which voices is he going to listen to and what are his actions going to be as a result of that?
These things are very important and you want a very steady hand that understands that the military can do many, many things, but that it also needs to be fair to the members of the military as well as to the people that the military comes in contact with, both here in the United States and overseas.
CABRERA: Even though there is tension and the president certainly has a history from abandoning the Kurds to insulting gold star families, do you think there are men and women in the military who aren't concerned?
LEIGHTON: Oh, most definitely. There are a lot of men and women in the military who see President Trump as, in essence, being a savior to them. He's seen by some as being somebody who sticks up for the troops and we're talking the troops at a lower level. And that's very attractive to many elements in the military.
The problem is if the president takes that affection that some people in the military have for him and then turns it against the leadership, that can adversely affect good order and discipline and can have a really serious effect on the ability of the military to perform its missions.
CABRERA: Meantime, at a rally just this week, the president referred to dissenters in the Pentagon as members of the deep state. Do you expect that will deter others from trying to speak up when they disagree with his actions going forward?
LEIGHTON: Well, I think that calling somebody a member of the deep state when a deep state really doesn't exist is not very effective to those people and I don't think it will deter them. But what it can do is it can sow divisions and it can make life a lot harder, both for senior leaders and ultimately for the troops that they command. And that's going to be a very significant problem, I think, going forward. [13:10:01]
The deep state exists in places like Egypt and Russia and Turkey and places like that. It does not exist in the United States because we have sworn to uphold the Constitution, and that's really what makes the difference here.
CABRERA: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, it's always good to have your perspective and expertise in the military and all things of this nature. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
LEIGHTON: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
CABRERA: Thank you.
As prosecutors look into Rudy Giuliani, where is the president's lawyer most exposed legally? We'll look into that.
Plus, we examine how Giuliani went from America's mayor to the subject of a federal investigation.
And China furious with President Trump after he signs bills backing protesters in Hong Kong. How will Beijing respond, especially in the middle of these tense trade discussions?
CABRERA: President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is under growing legal scrutiny. A new reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post reveal that Giuliani was trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens at the same time he was trying to sign business deals in Ukraine for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Giuliani has repeatedly denied that he had any business dealings in Ukraine. As the legal vise tightens around him, it seems President Trump is starting to distance himself from his personal attorney, denying that he ever directed Giuliani to pressure Ukraine on his behalf.
Joining us now is former DOJ prosecutor Joseph Moreno.
And, Joseph, Based off these new reports, wasn't Giuliani doing exactly what he has been accused the Bidens of shaking down Ukrainians for personal profit?
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER DOJ PROSECUTOR: Hi, Ana. I mean, exactly. It's the same kind of swampy, pay to play type, kind of behavior that I think most Americans just cringe at when they see it, regardless of who is being accused of it.
The idea that you're sort of leveraging one relationship with a high ranking official of the U.S. government in order to benefit either yourself or your other clients in a way. And it's really the kinds of thing that while it might kind of approach the line of legality and not cross it, it's certainly be terrible optics, terrible ethics and the kind of thing that people just hate to see from insiders in Washington.
CABRERA: And if you're saying it maybe doesn't cross the legal line, is that because the deals didn't go through?
MORENO: Well, I think it's important to note that if you're a lawyer or you're a consultant, it's okay to have overseas clients. It's even okay to have overseas government clients. But depending on what you do for them, there are lots of rules about reporting that activity to the U.S. government, possibly registering as a lobbyist or under another law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act. And, of course, depending on what you're paid by them, you have to declare it on your taxes accurately and fully.
So I think that when you do that kind of work, it can be legal but you have to be very methodical and very meticulous about what you're doing and whether it's appropriate and whether you need to report it to the Justice Department. So I think if the reporting is accurate that Mayor Giuliani is now under this heightened scrutiny, he better hope that everything he's done for his various clients the past few years was really done by the book.
CABRERA: Do you think Rudy Giuliani was really joking when he said he has insurance when asked if he was worried Trump would throw him under the bus?
MORENO: I mean, I used the word, methodical, I think, a minute ago when I said that you have to be really careful and methodical when you do this kind of work. When you see mayor Giuliani's tweets and comments like that one that he makes, it's hard to imagine that he is the kind of careful guy that now will withstand this kind of government scrutiny.
So I hope for his sake that when he says things like that or he makes a kind of a threat, like he has an insurance policy, hopefully, it's just bluster. Because, now, he will be taken seriously and he will be under a lot of scrutiny, really, under the microscope here for what he has done.
CABRERA: Joseph Moreno, great to have you, as always. I'm sure the turkey is calling you and your family is awaiting you at home. Thanks for making time for us on this Thanksgiving.
MORENO: Thanks, Ana. Happy Thanksgiving.
CABRERA: You too.
Joining us now is CNN's Maeve Reston.
Maeve, you wrote a piece on cnn.com called the Precipitous Fall of America's Mayor. Explain how Giuliani's public image has shifted over the years.
MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's just so fascinating, Ana. I mean, obviously, Giuliani in the midst of September 11th, we all remember him with standing with first responders and President Bush. In that moment, he was sort of universally beloved as America's mayor.
And now, this is really much more unflattering portrait of Giuliani is emerging. There are obviously all of these investigations swirling around him into his business associates and that's really put kind of white hot scrutiny on what he was actually doing both for the president and for himself in terms of self-dealing, as he kind of roamed to the world as Trump's rogue ambassador.
And I think that these reports this week in The Washington Post and The New York Times really paint a portrait of someone that was -- you know, he didn't consummate the deals, that's clear, that's what he said at this point.
But he was clearly looking for things that would enrich himself, as he did work on behalf of the president, and that raises a lot of questions, Ana.
CABRERA: You wrote in your piece that this New York Times and Washington Post reporting about Giuliani's deals adds just another layer of messiness to the shadow diplomacy operation Giuliani was running in Ukraine. Talk a little bit more about what you mean.
RESTON: Well, I think that for many weeks now, lawmakers and federal investigators have been trying to figure out what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine exactly. And now the president is distancing himself a little bit, saying he doesn't really know what Rudy was up to.
But, I mean, the fact that Giuliani was running this shadow operation of American diplomacy and infuriating top aides within the Trump administration while also seeking deals with some of the same people that he was trying to get information from about the Bidens, that's just a really kind of icky sort of circle of business dealings that I think Americans are going to be really both confused by.
And the central question coming out of all of that is who exactly was he working for. He was considering these deals with Ukrainian officials. Whose agenda was the most important? Was it the president or was it these other people?
And as your last guest pointed out, that could create a lot of legal problems for Giuliani. And I think that's why we are seeing the president start to really create some distance here, Ana.
CABRERA: Are you seeing this headed where Michael Cohen ended up?
RESTON: Well, I mean, I think that it's interesting. The president has still been praising Giuliani as a great mayor of New York and someone who is a warrior. He talked about Giuliani being a warrior. But at the same time, he said earlier this week to Bill O'Reilly that he really didn't know what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine. And, of course, that contradicts his own statements as well as the testimony of so many of the witnesses that we heard from in the impeachment inquiry.
So it just shows you that the president is seeing these negative reports and saying, okay, I need distance from that and I'm going to make sure that I don't get sort of stuck in what are potentially more nefarious things that were going on here.
CABRERA: All right. Maeve Reston, thank you. Great piece, by the way, on cnn.com. We encourage the viewers to read that as well.
North Korea has launched a couple of projectiles, new ones. What message is Kim Jong-un sending to President and the U.S.?
And the president's Republican defenders going into overdrive to spin the facts in his favor. We'll separate the facts from the spin here in the CNN Newsroom. Don't go anywhere.
CABRERA: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sending a Thanksgiving message to President Trump, launching two projectiles overnight. The launches part of an uptick in weapons testing, increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and complicating the relationship between North Korea and the United States.
CNN's Diplomatic and Military Analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby is here.
And, Admiral, is there any significance behind the timing of this launch?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, you hit it right there in the intro, Ana, did it on Thanksgiving holiday, not unlike these guys to do that to signal their displeasure with the state of the U.S./North Korean relationship and/or the way the talks are going. But let's take a look at what happened here.
We have two short-range -- it looks like short-range missiles fired from the south of the Hamgyong Province, which is in the northeast of North Korean, flew into the Sea of Japan. According to the South Korean military, these missiles flew about 235 miles at an altitude of 60 miles high in the air, again, pretty much on par with the short- range missile capability that we've seen them do in the past.
Now, look, this is -- what's significant here, not just the timing, is the fact that it's the 13th launch just since May. And they are on track to break records in 2019. This is clearly an effort by Kim Jong-un to make it clear he's not happy with the state of the talks, which have been stalled since February in the Hanoi Summit, and also to express his displeasure as they get close to the end of the year. He said he wanted to have a framework for an agreement or a deal by the end of this year. We are no closer to that. I think that's part of what's going on here too.
But then take a look at just the trend here. In just this year alone, we have got 22 missile launches. Now, basically, where we were before the diplomatic effort got started in 2017, there were 23. There was zero in 2018. It was part of this rapprochement between Kim Jong-un and President Trump. But you can see now things are getting salty, things are getting more tense and he keeps firing these missiles.
CABRERA: I guess they are not writing love letters to each anymore, are they?
KIRBY: No, it doesn't appear.
CABRERA: It kind of buried during the impeachment hearings, but the news that Kim Jong-un also recently said, if I'm remembering it correctly, he was no longer interested in talks with the U.S.
So is this just posturing?
KIRBY: Well, I mean, it's hard to tell with the North Koreans exactly what they mean by what they say.