Return to Transcripts main page


Schumer Calls For Investigations Into Trump's Witness Retaliation; Trump Does Not Want North Korea Summit Before November Election; Trump Adviser Says Siding Against President "Won't Be Tolerated"; Pentagon Revises Numbers Upward To 100 Servicemembers With Traumatic Brain Injury; Democrats Turn Aggressive Toward Rivals Ahead Of N.H. Primary. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 10, 2020 - 13:30   ET



CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But when people see what's happening, when they see the Vindman's details being withdrawn -- their detail to the National Security Council being withdrawn, and then being sent back to the Department of Defense, when people see an ambassador, who is a political appointee, immediately recalled the week after the verdict, individuals in these agencies are going to wonder whether their inspector generals are legitimate vehicles for them to provide complaints.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Republicans have been very silent about the firing. Some have defended them. Senator Lindsey Graham among them. He suggested that Vindman had some sort of Deep State agenda. Let's listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think his reassignment was justified. I don't think he could be effective at the NSC. As much as I support our military people telling the truth when asked -- it's important they do.

What have I learned in the last two years? CIA agents, Department of State, Department of Justice lawyers, FBI agents have a political agenda and they acted on it.

He's never been asked questions. Did you leak to the whistleblower? People in his chain of command have been suspicious of him regarding his political point of view.


KEILAR: I find this really an interesting line of attack, because Vindman is a career military officer, who has served his country with distinction. There's no sign that he has a political agenda. He has served both Republican -- under both Republican and Democratic commanders in chief.

He was working in the Trump White House as what was supposed to be very much an independent on loan from the Defense Department, right? And I think I find it especially interesting coming from Graham. He's

got a legal background, of course, right, and he's not active duty Air Force anymore, but he's in the reserves. He's a military officer who clearly does have an agenda.

I wonder what you think about this criticism.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's unfair. And he's conflating the last two years. He's trying to loop in the Mueller report, things about the dossier, discussions about FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who worked for the FBI at one point, hoping to galvanize momentum against an unjust firing for being a whistleblower. And that's was a blow in itself but being somebody to talk about what he knew about that telephone call.

And the conflation serves only one goal, to say, listen, this is all part of one great conspiracy witch hunt. Without that, he's a very distinct and separate part of a question-and-answer session. He came forward. He was subpoena, which is what you're supposed to do, answer a subpoena.

So had it conflated. Graham was trying to say this is all one part of the Mueller thing continuing, which actually serves only the president, not common sense.

CORDERO: I do think there actually is some legitimacy to the point that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman probably would not have been able to be effective --

KEILAR: Sure. Yes.

CORDERO: -- in his role in the White House anymore.

What was completely inappropriate and vindictive and showing retribution is the fact that they dismissed him immediately after the verdict, that, according to reporting, they escorted him out of the White House grounds, along with his brother, who had no role, as far as we know publicly, in anything regarding the impeachment trial, at least. He was not a witness.

And so it's that retribution piece that was completely inappropriate.

What's surprising to me, watching Senator Graham over these last couple years, as someone who worked in government with the national security community throughout the 2000s, and watching Senator Graham as such a defender of national security agencies and a defender of the Justice Department and the rule of law -- his adoption of these conspiracy theories about the Deep State has been surprising to so many.

KEILAR: Thank you guys so much. Laura and Carrie, I really appreciate your insights.


From love letters to the cold shoulder. President Trump is telling aides that he does not want another summit with Kim Jong-un right now.



KEILAR: CNN is learning that President Trump does not want another summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, before the November election. Their last summit was nearly a year ago and it ended early when Trump walked away empty-handed. And more recent diplomatic efforts have also gone nowhere. either.

Let's talk this over with CNN National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood, who broke this story, and we're also joined by Joseph Yun, a former U.S. special enjoy on North Korea, and he led the State Department's efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

Kylie, let's start with your reporting. What have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: We've learned that President Trump told top foreign policy advisers that he does not want another summit with Kim Jong-un ahead of the presidential elections in November.

These comments came at the end of last year, after he was frustrated when the working-level negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea essentially fell apart with North Koreans pointing fingers at the U.S., saying they hadn't come ready to negotiate. Both sides walked away. Nothing accomplished. They haven't returned to the table.

We saw an indication that President Trump is still disinterested in this summit last week. When he gave his State of the Union address, he didn't mention North Korea or Kim Jong-un at all.

That's a stark contrast to last year, because you'll remember President Trump used that address to the nation to announce he was going to be having his second summit with Kim Jong-un.


Now the important thing to consider is that he has his upcoming reelection campaign ongoing. And I'm told that the campaign doesn't feel that focusing on North Korea is crucial to President Trump winning reelection. So that is an important piece of this puzzle.

The other thing to consider, however, is that North Korea continues to work on and perfect its nuclear program. We aren't hearing about a lot of testing, but just last month, a Pentagon official said they're developing new weapons and new nuclear capabilities as fast as anybody.

So the threat still remains even though President Trump's thirst for diplomacy is not as keen as it once was.

KEILAR: It has to be dealt with, Ambassador, but it appears clearly this is an impasse. I wonder just how big of one it is. Is this dead, in your view? JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it is completely dead.

I think Kylie's reports are really spot on.

I would, in fact, go further and say this is almost a stillborn initiative, because we've had, what, three summits so far, and they've all been theater. You pull back the curtain and there's nothing there.

So, really, the big question now is, if it is dead now and Trump accepts it is dead and says so, what will be Kim Jong-un's reaction? He won't be happy.

Because the only thing that's been keeping it alive, that's been checking Kim Jong-un is Trump keeps on saying, he's my good friend, I believe him, I trust him, I believe they will denuclearize.

Now, if Trump says that out in public, I think you would see a very, very unhappy North Korean leader.

KEILAR: How do you think he's going to react when we look at what he's done in recent months, test-firing missiles and really ratcheting up his rhetoric?

YUN: I think he's going to ratchet up pressure even before the elections. If the administration officials or if the Trump folks believe that Kim Jong-un will do nothing, I think they're mistaken.

Kim Jong-un needs to put the pressure on. So I do think the next move is with Kim Jong-un. And you might see him do an ICBM test or you might even see him do a nuclear test.

So we could be in a very, very difficult situation even before the election.

KEILAR: I wonder, to both of you, as you look ahead here, is this, Kylie, something where North Korea is just sort of waiting? They're working on a nuclear program and waiting to see what the election brings?

ATWOOD: It could very well be that. I mean, they have turned down the heat when it comes to their tests recently. They're able to continue working on their program.

We also know that North Koreans track domestic progress in the U.S. extremely closely. Whoever is the president dictates what the policy is and dictates how the U.S. treats the North Koreans.

When I went to North Korea just about a year and a half ago, they asked a lot about if President Trump had support from Congress, and a number of political questions, which sort of shocked me.

But the reality is that it is a determining factor when it comes to their country and what they're able to do with regard to their nuclear program.

KEILAR: And I wonder, Ambassador, to that point with so much curiosity about where his political support is, just how significant this election is going to be for North Korea and what they want to see.

YUN: Oh, it is very, very significant. I think, as Kylie said, North Korea follow U.S. politics very closely.

They would, of course, hope that President Trump wins, because only he, I believe, can promise so much for them.

But election results in the U.S. are very uncertain. And a number of progress agreements with North Korea have broken off as a result of changing administration. So North Koreans are calculating very carefully what happens.

Another point, Brianna, is that North Koreans are also worried. Even if President Trump wins, will he continue with the existing policy of engaging North Korea, or will he veer off again back to "fire and fury" if President Trump doesn't get his way?

So whatever it is, they realize this is a tremendous gamble for them, which is why I think there will be further development even before the U.S. elections in November.

KEILAR: We'll be watching along with you.

Ambassador Yun, Kylie, thank you so much.

And a retired colonel reacts to the president firing a Purple Heart recipient who testified in the impeachment investigation. We'll talk about that, next.


Plus, one conservative said that the president and his allies, who are pushing Bernie Sanders to win the nomination, better be careful of what they wish for. He'll explain, live.


KEILAR: An adviser to President Trump said the firing of two major impeachment witnesses was meant to send a message, that siding against the president is not permitted.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., were both fired on Friday in what seems to be retaliation for their testimony in the House inquiry into the president's actions with Ukraine.


I want to bring in retired U.S. Army Colonel Mike Jason. He has served 24 years, active duty in the Army. He commanded combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a defense consultant at the Pentagon.

Colonel, I'm really thrilled to have you here to talk about this because you have written about this before. You have heard the news of the firings. And I wonder what your

reaction is to this now? You defended Lieutenant Colonel Vindman before but now he's gone. What do you think?


First off, I think it's important to clarify the language, firing. He is not out of the Army. He has been transferred off the National Security Council. And these words are important. So that narrative is out there. And it's an accurate narrative.

Now having said that, this is an officer that responded to a legal congressional subpoena. He did his duty because he was told to do that.

And secondly, we know he's there at the National Security Council based on his skill and his clearance, top-secret SCI, polygraph. This is no slouch. This is a highly rated officer, an experienced officer at the pinnacle of his career.

Taking those two combined, and what we saw last week, the optics very much smack of a punitive, unnecessary humiliation, and not only that, also his brother. That's what I saw occur and that was the reaction I take away.

KEILAR: His brother is also a lieutenant colonel, right?

JASON: That's correct.

KEILAR: And another Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.

So they are both gone from the White House. I hear what you are saying, it's not being fired.

JASON: Right.

KEILAR: But this is not how you want to leave this post, right?

JASON: That's right.

KEILAR: It seems like it would have been difficult for certainly Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman to continue his role there.

JASON: Sure.

KEILAR: How do you think this should have been handled?

JASON: So I think that's absolutely right. The optics, again, it's what we saw. It's, let's not kid ourselves on what really happened on Friday. Right? We saw the ambassador recalled at the same time.

I mean, things happen. We have details. We have soldiers all over the interagencies serving. And sometimes things don't work out. There's going to be personality conflicts. But they have clearances. They are active-duty officers. You set a date, you work out a transition, but you can walk out holding your head high on both sides.

This was again -- to me, it looked like it was designed to inflict maximum punishment and humiliation. I can't vouch for that for sure. But that's what it looks like.

KEILAR: No, it certainly does. We have reporting that backs up that assessment as well.

While I have you here, I want to ask you about something that you and your family have personal experience with.

We saw the Pentagon is resizing upwards its number of servicemembers who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries. They are being called mild at this point. But it's now over 100. And it's a number that keeps going up since the attack on the airbase in Iraq.

What do you think about this? And what should people understand as we see this number revised upward? Tell us about your personal experience.

JASON: Sure. Those ballistic missiles provide a significant punch in terms of explosive power. So that's one. Technically, it's pretty significant.

But what people, the American people should understand is that the military and the Department of Defense takes this stuff very seriously. We have come a long way from the early Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

My kid brother has a Purple Heart from FBI. He was in a rocket- propelled grenade explosion, knocked him unconscious. And really, the rection at the time from the chain of command, was to walk it off and take some Motrin. He was never evacuated. It was years -- I mean, the symptoms took shape.

Eventually --


KEILAR: Describe them. Describe the symptoMs.

JASON: Sure. It's everything from, you can get headaches to loss of feeling and numbness. And it even affects, to a great degree, decision making, short-term memory, possibly long-term memory. So it can be very significant if left untreated.

We have learned from that. So every soldier is screened for baseline of brain activity prior to deployment. And when an incident happens, we monitor both the symptoms and we check against that baseline.

So the chain of command takes it very seriously.

KEILAR: When you are watching the number be resized upward, are you heartened in a way watching that, it makes you feel they are taking it very seriously?

JASON: They are taking the diagnosis very seriously. And I think -- but it also shows that our soldiers are at risk. We need to look at protection measures and make sure we have the right gear, gear, and intelligence available for protection.

KEILAR: Colonel Jason, really appreciate you coming in. Thank you so much.

JASON: Thank you so much. My pleasure.


The attorney general admitting the DOJ is receiving information from Rudy Giuliani involving Ukraine.

Plus, we'll go live to New Hampshire and do -- with our reporters to check in on each candidate just hours before voters cast their ballots.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I am Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

For months now, voters in New Hampshire have been flooded with speeches and phone calls, town halls, you name it, as Democrats seek to lock down their support ahead of tomorrow's primary.

But in the last couple of days, something else has increasingly become part of the mix. The candidates are attacking one another.


Pete Buttigieg in the middle of a moderate smack down with Joe Biden. And Senator Amy Klobuchar slamming him on everything from his small- town mayoral roots to his comments about impeachment.