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Dem Leaders: President Trump Had a "Meltdown", Called Speaker Pelosi a "Third-Rate Politician" During Meeting; Sen. Bob Menendez (D- NJ) is Interviewed About Pelosi Walking Out of A White House Meeting; President Trump Tells Turkey's President "Don't Be a Tough Guy, Don't Be a Fool". Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 20:00   ET




The lawmaker who is second in line to the president says the commander-in-chief had in her words a meltdown today. That's only part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's account of the meeting this afternoon on the president's Syria pullout. She says he also called her, quote, a third grade politician, and on top of that, a Democratic source tells us and a Democratic senator confirms it and you'll hear from him in a few moments that the president also called James Mattis, his former defense secretary, quote, the world's most overrated general.

There is, it seems, no one who has worked for the president who he isn't willing to throw under the bus.

Today also saw a large bipartisan majority in the House vote to condemn President Trump's actions in Syria and saw a Senate majority leader, a Republican, call that action, quote, a mistake. This meeting which Democrats walked out of capped a day of contradictory and misleading statements on the crisis from the president even as Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence are getting ready to travel to turkey to try and get turkey to stop what her they're doing. The president seems to have already undercut that effort.

Oh, in addition to all that, more bad news for TV lawyer and Ukraine Biden dirt finder Rudy Giuliani. Another of his associates has been arrested and another Ukraine witness went before Congress.

There's also tonight new reporting that ties the acting White House chief of staff to the Ukraine affair and the president made some statements contradicting claims, including his own, that this had anything to do with actual corruption in Ukraine. Corruption that he said was about the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton's server and President Obama, not anything to do with corruption in Ukraine.

We'll touch on all of that tonight. But we begin with the White House meeting on Turkey, and Syria and the presidential meltdown. Speaker Pelosi says it produced. She attributed the president's behavior in part to the House vote against him earlier today.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He was shaken up by it. And that's why we couldn't continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it.

We witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown, sad to say.


COOPER: The White House denies this, saying in a statement that the president was, and I quote, measured, factual and decisive.

As for Majority Leader McConnell when asked about his perceptions of the meeting, he merely said, and I quote, I didn't make any observations in the meeting. I don't have any to make now.

Well, he may not have made any observations, but it is noticeable and notable that the president's top ally in the Senate is not trying to refute Speaker Pelosi's account.

The president's sudden decision to pull special forces troops from their positions in northern Syria may have green lit the invasion by Turkey, the killing of Kurds, the escape of ISIS prisoners and a land grab by Syria's dictator Bashar al Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran.

But today, the president continued to claim it was all part of his master plan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES : So I viewed the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be for the United States strategically brilliant.


COOPER: Strategically brilliant. Though if he really believes that, it is hard to understand the letter he sent to Turkey's president with whom he had that fateful phone call last week. The letter was allegedly sent three days after the call. In it, President Trump warns Erdogan not to do the very thing he had made possible by announcing the immediate abandonment of the Kurds.

Quoting now from this letter to Erdogan, quote: Let's work out a good deal. You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy, and I will. The letter is dated the 9th of this month. That is the same day Turkish troops went into northern Syria and Kurds began being slaughtered.

And shortly thereafter, ISIS fighters began escaping Kurdish custody. The president was asked about all of that today.


REPORTER: Even after all you have seen, ISIS prisoners freed, all the humanitarian disaster, you don't have any regret for giving Erdogan the green light to invade?

TRUMP: I didn't give him a green light.

REPORTER: Well, did you tell him to --

TRUMP: That's the same thing as you just -- when you make a statement like that, it's so deceptive. Just the opposite of a green light.


COOPER: The opposite of a green light, which I guess would be a red light or red line, a stern warning not to invade perhaps or a decision not to pull the small number of American troops who were holding back the Turks from invading and attacking the Kurds, our allies in the fight against ISIS.

But the president didn't draw a line in the sand, red or otherwise. In fact in that same press conference, he said he expected the Turks to invade.


TRUMP: No, President Erdogan's decision didn't surprise me because he's wanted to do that for a long time. He's been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time, as you know.


COOPER: So he expected the Turks would invade, he sees the troops building up on the border for a long time, and he decides to suddenly and without much warning remove the one obstacle to it, U.S. Special Forces who have been living with and fighting with and training the Kurds. Doesn't that seem like a pretty clear example of what a green light would look like?

That -- if this was all unexpected, if this was all as expected, I could say, then why the threatening letter? Why the push for economic sanctions on what is, after all, a NATO ally? Why sending the vice president and secretary of state to turkey tonight if this is all going to plan and is strategically brilliant? Why the apparent rage at the meeting this afternoon?

One answer is simple. The president didn't see this coming or didn't care what happened there. It sure seems to be the case if you listen to the way he describes our Kurdish allies.


TRUMP: You have to say it, nobody wants to say it, we're making the Kurds look like they're angels. We paid a lot of money to the Kurds, tremendous amounts of money. We've given them massive fortunes, and you know what, it's wonderful, they fought with us. But we paid a lot for them to fight with us.


COOPER: They fought ISIS and about 11,000 Kurds were killed in that fight. In addition to that, on top of the casting the Kurds aside, the president also repeated his allegation that the Kurds have released ISIS fighters from prisoners, an allegation he has no proof of.


TRUMP: Just so you understand, we were the ones that captured ISIS. People let some go, they opened a couple of doors to make us look as bad as possible.


COOPER: This claim has been called false by a senior Pentagon official who tells CNN the president, quote, falsely claiming that the SDF Kurds are letting ISIS prisoners out of prison is wrong because they're the people that defeated ISIS. Wrong because they are currently risking their lives to defend our forces, and wrong, because they are fighting a force that intends to eliminate their people because we green lighted their operation.

Earlier, I spoke with Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was in that meeting with the president.


COOPER: Senator Menendez, you heard Speaker Pelosi say the president had a meltdown, her words. Majority leader Schumer said he was nasty, his word. You yourself tweeted listening to the president made you feel deeply concerned for the country.

Can you talk about what happened in the meeting, what you saw?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, from the moment the president came in, I would describe him as belligerent. He smacked down a series of files on the table and said, well, you all asked for this meeting. I reluctantly gave it to you.

And Speaker Pelosi said with all due respect, Mr. President, we didn't ask for a meeting with you. We asked for a briefing from the secretaries of Defense, State and Intelligence to understand the consequences of the actions you took. And then he said, well, then let's end the meeting.

She said, well, while I'm here as the speaker, I have an obligation to tell you that the House just voted 350 some odd, I forget exactly what the amount was but an overwhelming bipartisan vote to disapprove of the actions that you took in Syria. And then he got -- that devolved into it's nothing but a hit job on the Republicans. She said, well, many Republicans joined us. Then he called Speaker Pelosi a third-rate politician. He said that

the Kurds were nothing but communists and all of us Democrats who were seated there must be happy with that, you know, suggesting that we all subscribe to that view of being communists.

And then, you know, it just -- it was belligerent and something I have never seen in 27 years here in Congress and serving under four different presidents. I've never seen a moment like this.

COOPER: That's not how these meetings usually go?

MENENDEZ: No. Well, not with other presidents. And I've had presidents from Clinton to Bush to Obama and now Trump. I was in the White House with President Bush when he was president. We might have disagreements but, one, it was never disagreeable, it was always respectful and there was exchanges of views.

As I said to the president when I stayed after the speaker and others left, I said, Mr. President, everybody here loves country. Nobody here loves it more than another. But we can have a disagreement as is evidenced by the fact that the House overwhelmingly with Republicans voted to disagree with you. You're the commander in chief, but I disagree with what you did.

And here's what I'm concerned about the consequences, the reconstituting of ISIS. I don't know if the military people tell you, but your inspector general at the Department of Defense says there's still 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters in Syria. If the 10,000 have been detained get unleashed and are freed, you're talking about a potential fighting force up to 30,000. That's a clear and present danger to the United States.

You've opened up a land bridge for Iran to bring serious weaponry and to potentially attack our ally, the state of Israel.


That's a huge risk. And, you know, at the end of the day, you've changed the political dynamics of the region with just one stroke. And your sanctions on Turkey have been absolutely nothing. The Turkish stock market went up the next day. So, this is --

COOPER: How did he respond to that?

MENENDEZ: He basically started saying that, number one, you know, well, we can destroy Turkey's economy, but you don't want to drive turkey into the Russians, which, of course, you know, Turkey has already been with the Russians. They have been buying the S-400 from the Russians, which is sanctionable under U.S. law.

COOPER: He's also just given Russia a huge victory in Syria. They have been propping -- they have been supporting and propping up the regime as well as Iran.

MENENDEZ: Absolutely. I mean, look, the big winners, as I suggested to him, the big winners are Iran, Russia and even Turkey in this regard. And so, this letter that he handed out to all of us at the beginning, which if he hadn't handed it out himself I would have thought was not a real letter, but basically --

COOPER: This is the letter he wrote to Erdogan in Turkey?

MENENDEZ: This is the letter he wrote to Erdogan in Turkey, which he gave out to every member that was there. Basically strikes me as a letter to cover your backside because what he unleashed he now cannot recall. And so, you know, it's to try to respond to the incredible criticism. It's an incredible letter the way it's written and one wouldn't believe you (ph) were talking about issues like that.


COOPER: I've read it. It does not -- I mean it's not the kind of letter I thought a president of the United States would send to, you know, the president of Turkey. It just -- it does not read as a -- I mean, at one point it sort of ends with don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool, I'll call you later.

MENENDEZ: Yes, that's how it ends. And it just -- to me it was to be able to -- first of all, the letter is just an incredible letter the way it's dictated. But it sounds like it's definitely dictated directly from him the way he thinks and speaks.

And secondly, it was to try to cover himself for what was unleashed with the Turks going ahead and invading into northern Syria and the consequences that flow thereafter.

COOPER: I want to ask you about something else, which sounds incredible. We're told by a Democratic source familiar with the meeting that senator Schumer read a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis who said, quote, in this case if we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back.

And that the president replied, according to this source, by calling Mattis, quote, the world's most overrated general, end quote, and continued why he wasn't tough enough, I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.

Is that accurate?

MENENDEZ: That is accurate. He further called General Mattis weak. All of what you said is exactly as it transpired.

COOPER: What do you make of that?

MENENDEZ: This is why I tweeted after spending an hour with the president, I'm concerned for the nation and for our fight against ISIS. I think the president has no -- is out of touch with reality. I think he has no concept of what he has unleashed. And I don't think he understands the consequences.

He suggested, well, they're 7,000 miles away, why should we fight there? Another colleague reminded him on September 11th, they traveled over 7,000 miles and, you know, had one of the worst tragedies in our country's history in an act of terrorism.

I don't think he understands at all what is at stake here and that's why it worries me. I had never seen this in all of the years that I've served in a national security post on the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committee. I think he has no grasp of it. I think he has no grasp of what he's unleashed in the region beyond Syria.

I don't think he understands how he's empowered Iran, someone, a country that he's supposedly battling on their nuclear program. He has empowered Iran. He has empowered Turkey, who has not been a good NATO ally in this regard and is creating other series of issues.

And he's given Russia a major role in the Middle East that it never had --


MENENDEZ: -- always aspired to have, and now, many countries in the region are recalibrating and thinking about, who do I align myself and what do I do?

COOPER: I guess just finally, you know, what is your sense of what is going on with the president? You said he has lost touch. He's obviously angered his own party with what he's done in Syria. He is making egregious, false, uninformed comments. He's also obviously under pressure from impeachment. Is he able to handle this pressure?

MENENDEZ: Well, what I saw is not the cool, calm hand of someone who holds the nuclear code to the country.


I did not see a person in control. And the belligerence, the demeanor, the lack of temperament is not what I'd want to see in the president of the United States, whether they be a Democrat or Republican.

COOPER: Senator Menendez, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, much more ahead tonight, including next a new photo from inside the White House meeting. Later, more on the Syria crisis from a Democratic senator who is also a wounded Iraq war veteran.


COOPER: Perhaps not up expectedly, President Trump is trying to get mileage from the Democratic walkout of the Syria meeting with the words Nancy Pelosi's unhinged meltdown, the president tweeted out an official White House photo.

[20:20:00] This photo of the session showing the speaker standing up and pointing her finger in the direction of the president as his team bracketed him. The president has a hard-to-read look on his face. You can judge for yourself. It is meant as an insult.

Now, normally, we wouldn't actually show this photograph because it was taken by an official White House photographer and there was no pool reporters present who could actually vouch for the accuracy of what was happening in that moment. But we're showing it to you because moments after the president posted his tweet, the speaker made the photo the cover on her official Twitter page and now is using it for her own purposes.

Joining us now to discuss all the latest on the meeting, the larger Syrian crisis, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama and a CNN senior political commentator, Jen Psaki, a former White House communications director for President Obama, she's a CNN political commentator and CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero.

David, this photo that the president tweeted out today's meeting, it's clearly trying to cast Speaker Pelosi as the one having the meltdown, which is the word she used to describe the president's behaviors. I mean, I don't know, what do you make of this whole meeting? I mean, is it the Democrats simply trying to make hay out of a meeting that went badly? Or is it reason for real concern?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, you know, we're talking about the meeting. The subject of the meeting is what should really concern people. Donald Trump spent a lifetime in business. His practice was to abrogate contracts and agreements. Now, he's raised that to the level of national policy in the world, American policy in the world.

And what's happened over the last ten days is truly horrifying. That's why they were there, to talk about this policy. You know, I think he is -- I think he is losing it. I think he is feeling the pressure of this impeachment.

But not only to diss the speaker, you'd expect that from him, but General Mattis? You know, one of the most decorated military men of his generation.


COOPER: Who, by the way, he made a political hay of, you know, calling him Mad Dog Mattis. He would announce him in front of rallies. He would praise him to the heavens.

It is just yet another example of there is nobody who this president will not throw under the bus as soon as they leave the room.

AXELROD: But, you know, there was such -- the implications for the military here are really profound. I think we've read about what the Special Forces there felt about their removal, essentially having to abandon their Kurdish allies. And that sends a reverberating force around the military. But to diss Mattis now just adds to it. He is estranging himself from

every institution of government, from all of our allies in the world, and it is a horrifying situation.

COOPER: Carrie, I mean, President Trump opened his meeting with congressional leaders today bragging about his, quote, nasty letter to Erdogan. It seems as if he's proud of this letter. There's certainly a lot of people when they first saw this letter thought it was a joke. They thought it was actually kind of a fake like a hoax letter that had been pretending to be signed by the president.

But it's actually apparently what the president sent or, you know, at least it's post -- it's dated three days after the call, the day Turkey invaded.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. The letter is insane. I wondered if it was a real letter and I saw reporters that had to confirm that it actually was because it's not anything that we've ever seen come out before.

COOPER: Why do you say that? For people who haven't seen the letter, what about it is so weird?

CORDERO: Well, because it's written in a way that it is -- it is written often the way that he speaks. It is not a way that you would normally expect someone to conduct foreign policy. But this is the way that he conducts foreign policy.

COOPER: You know, we just put on the screen part of what the letter is so I just want to quickly read it. This is to Erdogan who on this day of the letter has launched an invasion to kill the Kurds and take over territory, create a buffer zone.

History will look upon you favorably, President Trump says, if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool.

And then the final line was, I'll call you later.

CORDERO: Look, it's ridiculous. And -- but it shows how he is actually conducting American foreign policy. I think sometimes when we say he doesn't understand or, you know, he doesn't understand sort of how to do these things, we have to recognize this is actually how he's conducting foreign policy.

And what we've seen unfold over the course of the last week with his phone call to Erdogan and then this letter that he's trying to cover up a little bit, I think probably what was in the phone call where he probably let Erdogan go ahead and do what he was going to do is we're seeing what is basically his doctrine of foreign policy, which is transactional, which is U.S. military engagement or U.S. foreign policy engagement based on whether or not we're being compensated or how much it's going to cost us.

[20:25:27] It is a foreign policy that is values free. It's a foreign policy that is counter to our counterterrorism interests. It's something that he thinks is based on his personal relationships, and so, there's always that question about whether his interactions with foreign leaders are friendly because he has some other business interest --


CORDERO: -- that might be in play.


CORDERO: He doesn't care about strategic alliances. And so we're really seeing a revamping of American foreign policy.

COOPER: Also -- yes, I mean, Jen, for all the talk about how tough the president -- the president always says he's so tough on Russia and the example that was always used was the American troops in Syria, the Russians aren't happy about that.

This is a huge victory for Russia. Russian troops have now quickly occupied the bases, the forward bases that U.S. Special Forces have been in and now he's just basically kind of linking all the Kurds to do PKK, which is an organization which Turkey does have legitimate concerns about terror attacks.

But that -- you know, the Kurds who are fighting and dying for the U.S. and for themselves in the battle against ISIS, those are our allies.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And we would not have defeated ISIS in the parts of Syria we did without them. They were a key partner in that. His foreign policy, I would add to Carrie's excellent rundown there, is also without regard for consequences. That's not how any president or any national security experts ever conduct foreign policy, in addition to Russia. And we know that because RT is bizarrely inside some of these bases, but also Iran has an opening to play a bigger role here.

And one of the questions that came up reportedly in this meeting from Senator Schumer and others was, what is your plan for containing ISIS? There are thousands of ISIS fighters that have been held by the Kurds. What's going to happen? And he didn't have a plan.

So, this has now become a national security issue for the United States. Of course, it is absolutely horrific to leave our partners, the Kurds, as we have to be slaughtered by turkey. But now we are talking about thousands of ISIS fighters being out there without any regard or any plan on how to address it.

COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, Jen Psaki, Carrie Cordero, thanks so much.

Just ahead, a look at the latest testimony on Capitol Hill when it comes to the Ukraine crisis. Also -- situation, I could say. Also, even more troubling issues for Rudy Giuliani. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:32:25] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We said at the top this was an especially punishing day for the President. It includes breaking news from CNN's Evan Perez, Sara Murray and Shimon Prokupecz. They are reporting that the investigation into Rudy Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine has a counterintelligence aspect to it. That is according to people briefed on the matter.

It indicates that the FBI and criminal prosecutors are looking into a broader set of issues related to Giuliani than has previously been reported. The President was asked about his T.V. lawyer and Ukraine go-between today and reports that his former national security advisor had unkind words about Giuliani in his role.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure you saw report that John Bolton said that Rudy Giuliani is like a hand grenade, the way he was acting. And -- are you concerned that Bolton could be called to testify in your impeachment inquiry?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Look, John Bolton, I get along well with him. Some people didn't. Some people didn't like John Bolton. I actually got along with him pretty well. It just didn't work out. I don't know that he got along with Rudy Giuliani.


COOPER: The President then went on to say this about what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, tying him directly to his pressure on Ukraine's president to investigate the 2016 election.


TRUMP: Rudy Giuliani was seeking out corruption and what happened mostly in the 2016 election because there was tremendous corruption in the 2016 election. I think even you would admit that.


COOPER: Nothing he said there about dirt on the Bidens, which is obviously the other part of that call. Again, the President is saying that to him, corruption in Ukraine means really his own political fortunes, not good government in Kiev. Further undermines his claim that he was not asking for something of personal value from Ukraine's president on the call that he calls perfect.

Meantime, "The Washington Post" citing current and formal testimony -- former testimony reported that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, "at the direction of the President placed a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine," in the weeks before the phone call with Ukraine's president. In other words, if the reporting bears out, that would be the quid in the quid pro quo or put differently, a very big deal. There was more congressional testimony today. Former State Department senior advisor Michael McKinley telling lawmakers that he repeatedly asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a show of support for the ousted US ambassador to Ukraine, but was greeted with silence from the Secretary of State.

Joining us now is Congressman David Cicilline who sits on both the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. He was in the room during parts of today's testimony. Congressman, I know you are limited in what you can say about the testimony you heard today from Secretary Pompeo's former advisor, Michael McKinley. In general, can you say if it tracked with what other witnesses have been saying?

[20:35:05] REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Yes. I think what we're learning from the witnesses we heard from today and the witnesses the committee has been hearing from for the last two weeks is that the President's phone call to President Zelensky was really the tip of the iceberg.

That there was an elaborate scheme in which the President engaged many parts of the State Department and people outside the government to advance his plan to ask for assistance from the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political opponent.

This is a tremendous abuse of power, abuse of his office. It compromised the national security of the United States and the integrity of our elections. It was a betrayal of his oath of office.

And what we're seeing is this wasn't just sort of a one-shot deal, this was an elaborate scheme developed by the President and his cronies to get a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 presidential election to help Donald Trump get reelected.

It's a terrible betrayal of his oath of office. It's un-American, unpatriotic and we're collecting evidence that I think will compel the Congress to take action to hold the President accountable.

COOPER: Did Mr. McKinley shed any light on what Secretary Pompeo did or didn't do in regards to Ambassador, you know, Yovanovitch's removal from Ukraine?

CICILLINE: Well, I can't comment specifically on his testimony, but I can tell you that what we're learning is that career diplomats, individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving our country and representing the United States in dangerous places all over the world expected the President of the United States will support and defend the work of our diplomats.

And I think what we're learning is that the President discharged the American ambassador to the Ukraine because that individual refused to play ball and was somehow impeding this scheme to put pressure on the new Ukrainian president to interfere in an American presidential election.

We also know the President directed that the military aid of almost $400 million be held up. And we should remember, Ukraine is a country that was invaded by Russia who took part of their country. They were killing Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine.

Their lifeline was American military assistance, so holding that up and threatening not to provide it in exchange for a favor, as the President described it in the phone call, is the worst kind of leverage you can imagine for a new president.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, human lives are literally on the front lines. I mean, people could be killed waiting for, you know, the defensive weapons, offensive weapons, anything to defend themselves. I mean, this is --

CICILLINE: Yes. And also remember what this does to Russia's aggression in this region. You know, one of the reasons that we're so supportive of Ukraine and the Ukraine democracy is because we want to protect against further growth of Russia's power in this region of the world.

And so our tying the hands of the new Ukrainian government by holding up military aid that Congress had approved until you get a promise to get some help in your political campaign has consequences for the national security interests of the United States.

COOPER: Well, I mean, just -- I know this is kind of off what we're going to talk about, but you bring up Russia. I mean, so it helps Russia in Ukraine. The latest Syria pullout helps Russia in Syria. They now have the territory that U.S. forces used to have.

It weakens American influence in the entire Middle East and bolsters Russia's influence. It's -- I mean, it's hard to see a President and the -- his attacks on NATO and our allies, it's hard to see a president who has not done more for Russia than this president.

CICILLINE: Well, that's what's so disturbing. I mean, it's been difficult to understand from the very beginning when the President defended Russia said they didn't in fact interfere with our election when we know they attacked our democracy. That was the collective conclusion of all of our intelligence agencies.

The President stood in Helsinki and said, no, no, I believe Vladimir Putin, not the U.S. intelligence community. And then he engaged in a number of behaviors. You just described all that benefit Vladimir Putin and Russian influence and Russian objectives. And it's hard to find one thing this President has done to stand up for America and against Russian interests in a variety of different ways. The Kurds are the most recent example.

And it begins to raise the question, why is the President of the United States so interested in cozying up to Vladimir Putin and making excuses for their attack on our democracy, trying to explain away their interference in our election? Why? I think that's a fair question for the American people to be asking.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman Cicilline, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me. COOPER: Just ahead, I'll talk with a senator who has had a distinguished military career about President Trump's Syria policy and what comes next.


[20:43:21] COOPER: More now on Turkey, Syria and the President. Some of his biggest supporters are openly criticizing the Syrian withdrawal.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted today, "I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, and Iran's rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel. I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking." Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today called it a "mistake."

Just before air time, I spoke with Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a distinguished veteran of the Iraq war.


COOPER: Senator, what do you make of President Trump saying that Turkey's incursion into Northern Syria, "has nothing to do with us," because if it weren't for his conversation with Erdogan, I mean, this would not be happening. He did essentially green light it by pulling Special Forces out of the area.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Look, Anderson, in the space of a little over seven days, President Trump has diminished America's role as the leader of the free world by doing several things.

One, he abandoned our Kurdish allies who fought and died alongside our troops for the last several decades. He's emboldened the Russians who are patrolling in the area that we used to have our Special Forces and patrol. He has now emboldened Assad, a murderous dictator. He has also for -- gotten into a situation where a NATO ally, Turkey, has actually fired artillery on American forces.

I don't think any of those things are an America first policy and I don't think any of those things make America great again. So, I have no idea where he's coming from, but he could not be more wrong about the situation.

COOPER: It's also given a win to Iran whose, you know, whose allies are backing the Assad regime. I mean, is it clear what the strategy is here from the White House or even if there is a strategy?

[20:45:03] Because the Vice President and Secretary of State, you know, are making this trip over to Turkey supposedly to meet with Erdogan and push for some sort of ceasefire and the President is, you know, riffing during a photo op undermining everything saying, look, he doesn't really care about Turkey's invasion.

DUCKWORTH: Well, it's very clear there's no strategy involved, whatsoever, and the President just did this on his own. And now he's sending Mr. Pompeo who's our, you know, Secretary of State, but a guy with no actual success rate in international negotiations.

And Vice President Pence, a man with no foreign policy experience, to go meet with Erdogan, a man who actually rolled our President over a phone call, there's no strategy here, Anderson.

COOPER: Also the President seems to paint the Kurds with a pretty broad brush. I mean, there are, you know, terrorist threats that -- legitimate terrorist threats that Turkey has and concerns they have about the PKK.

But the President is saying that, you know, the Kurds are no angels, criticized their ability to fight without U.S. help, said we paid them a lot of money, said they didn't help us in World War II in Normandy of all things. Do you think he doesn't -- I mean, is he just trying to make excuses for a rash decision?

DUCKWORTH: He's clueless, Anderson. He's clueless. Just ask any U.S. troop who's served any time in Iraq, any time in the region. The Kurds have lost 11,000 fighters fighting and dying alongside American troops. There are many number of American troops whose lives have been saved by the Kurdish fighters who stood alongside us.

And you know what, by abandoning the Kurdish allies who we've told is we've told people in the region, don't work with Americans because we will abandon you. Who is going to work with U.S. forces now?

Who's going to tell us the intelligence that we need to know because they know that working with Americans does not benefit you in the end. We'll just going to abandon you to be slaughtered the way we abandoned the Kurds to be slaughtered by the Turks.

COOPER: You know what, what's so sad about this is, you know, when South Vietnam, when Saigon finally fell, there were a lot of people who helped the United States who were not taken out, who were -- you know, who were left behind and paid the price for that.

When, you know, there's plenty of interpreters and people who have worked for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq who have not gotten the visas that were sort of dangled in front of them in order for their help, those things now seem to pale in comparison to this betrayal of a force of fighters who have been on the front lines more so than U.S. forces. I mean, it's not like we've had tens of thousands of troops in these regions. The Kurds have done most of the actual fighting and dying, 10,000 or more.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I mean, I would not expect this President to learn any lessons from Vietnam since he wasn't there, and also obviously was not a student or scholar of the Vietnam conflict and the lessons learned from that. Bottom line, I'm looking moving forward.

If I were a division commander right now or a commander of a U.S. Special Forces group, I would be looking at dusting off my plans for potentially being called to go back into the area to fix this mess the President has gotten us into. We need to be (ph) clear, the President has put America in danger.

COOPER: You think that might be necessary?

DUCKWORTH: Oh, I think it's very much -- it's very likely to happen because the President has now put American personnel, both civilian and military, in danger. Not just in -- what's happened in Syria, because this whole area is all interconnected. I mean, those ISIS fighters are headed towards Iraq and we have forces in Iraq right now.

COOPER: Are you pleased with what you're hearing from Republicans in Congress? There's now -- you know, a lot of them that are not backing the President here. Lindsey Graham, I mean, he's sort of been a little all over the place. He was first upset with the President, then he said -- he seemed to cut him some slack and now he seems upset again.

DUCKWORTH: Right. But here's the deal, Anderson. There's one person and one person alone who can fix this and that is Donald Trump. And he's the guy that made this decision. He's the guy that basically green lighted Turkey to conduct this invasion. All of this, the release of the ISIS fighters is Donald Trump's fault and that's where it lies.

Sure, you know, we can pass sanctions all we want, but at the end of the day, it's Donald Trump who has to fix this. And he's the one who got us into this mess and he's responsible for those hundreds of thousands of ISIS fighters being set free.

COOPER: Senator Duckworth, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you.


COOPER: Just ahead, a victory for a Sandy Hook father in a fight against conspiracy theorist.


[20:53:22] COOPER: Between the presidential meltdown and a counterintelligence probe of his personal attorney, it's been quite day. I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You know, the politics certainly draws the eye, but I'm going to dismiss it tonight as mostly noise with just another ugly reflection of where we are with left and right, because this probe into Rudy Giuliani is broader and has been going on longer than we even knew.

It's not just about Ukraine now, it's about his relationship with Turkey and who was paying him and what did this President know, and more importantly, what did this President perform in accordance with the interests of Rudy Giuliani.


CUOMO: This is a big deal. We have McCabe and Baker, the big names from the FBI helping us out now at CNN now as part of the team. The different legal avenues all diagrammed about where this could lead and the concerns for the rest of us.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, to see what Rudy Giuliani was advocating to the President regarding Turkey and how that related to his business interests, which you're going to be looking into, I mean, that's one of the fascinating angles on this. I'll look forward to it, Chris. It's about six minutes from now.

Still to come, justice against the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist who spread vicious lies about the shooting and the father of one of the children who was killed.


[20:58:41] COOPER: Before we leave tonight, we want to be update you on a story that we've been following since 2012, in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in which 20 young children and 6 adults were slaughtered. It's about a Sandy Hook fathers fight to punish a conspiracy theorist who's made the suffering of parents even worse in the wake of that 2012 mass shooting.

A Wisconsin jury today awarded Leonard Pozner $450,000 in damages in a defamation case against a local author and professor. Pozner had sued one of the co-authors of a book called "Nobody Died at Sandy Hook."

The authors claimed the Obama administration staged the massacre and that Pozner fabricated copies of a death certificate for a boy who wasn't actually his own son. The author plans to appeal.

Pozner son, Noah, was 6 years old when he was murdered. Noah's aunt had previously told CNN he was, "the light of the room." He was the youngest victim of the massacre.

After the verdict was read, Pozner said this case wasn't about the First Amendment, it's about, "the rights of victims like myself and my child to be free from defamation, free from harassment and free from the intentional infliction of terror." Mr. Pozner has also filed a defamation case against radio host Alex Jones, which is on going.

Before I hand it over to Chris, to miss "Full Circle, it's our new daily digital news show. You can catch it streaming live weekday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern at circle or you can watch it there later on demand.

All right, that's it for us. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." I'll see you tomorrow.