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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Brett Kavanaugh Cheered by Evangelical Base and Vice President Mike Pence; A New Book on Pence, "The Shadow President" by Michael D'Antonio; After Seven Years, Last Major Rebel Stronghold in Syria on the Brink; Syria Expert, Andrew Tabler on Dangers of Another Humanitarian Crisis. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 14:00:00   ET

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


[14:00:29] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the program.

Here is what's coming up. Midterm elections season kicks off in Washington with a contentious hearing on President Trump's deeply religious supreme

court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The evangelical base is cheering him on, including Vice President Mike Pence. Also, Michael D'Antonio joins me.

He's got a new book on Pence called "The Shadow President."

Also, ahead, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria could be on the brink after seven years of civil war. The renowned Syria expert, Andrew Tabler,

tells me about the dangers of another humanitarian crisis.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I am Christiane Amanpour in New York.

And the U.S. midterm season has begun. One of the most pivotal issues is the president's pick for the supreme court, Brett Kavanaugh. If

successful, Kavanaugh is in a position to inform this country's legal landscape for decades. Senate hearings for the conservative justice got

off to a row (INAUDIBLE) as Democrats pushed to delay the hearing amid a barrage of vocal protests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, with his hearing.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I extend a very warm welcome to Judge Kavanaugh --

HARRIS: We have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing --

GRASSLEY: -- to his wife, Ashley --

HARRIS: -- on this nominee.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise and extent --

GRASSLEY: Mr. Chairman, regular order is called for.

BLUMENTHAL: -- which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms.

GRASSLEY: Well --

BLUMENTHAL: And, Mr. Chairman, I therefore move to adjourn this hearing.

GRASSLEY: OK.

PROTESTER: This is a mockery and a travesty of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Now, many Liberals fear that it would jeopardize the landmark 1973 ruling, which is Roe v. Wade and that legalized abortion.

Conservative Christians are elated though. 80 percent of White Evangelicals voted for Trump despite his relaxed approach to religion, that

"Access Hollywood" tape and allegations of extramarital sex.

But one man may have given Donald Trump evangelical cover, Vice Preside Mike Pence. A man with ties so deep to that community and, of course, to

billionaire Republican donors.

So, how Mike Pence shape this nation? Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner's new book, "The Shadow President," the truth about Mike Pence found a man of

unwavering faith but also ruthless cunning. And Michael D'Antonio is joining me her in the studio.

Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, we're going to talk about Pence in a moment. But let's just get to the heart of what's happening right now, and that is these hearings.

Because you also wrote about President Trump, that was your first major contemporary work in recent years, and you were very prescient.

What do you think this does for President Trump, as we said, at the beginning of the midterm season?

D'ANTONIO: Well, this is what evangelicals were hoping for. They comprise a substantial proportion of his base. Without them he would not be

president, really without 80,000 of them in certain states he would not be president. He was promising to deliver a slate of judges, not only supreme

court justices but appeals court judges, circuit court judges, the district court judges that were drawn from the Christian right pool of talent. And

Brett Kavanaugh falls right into that category.

AMANPOUR: All the others, have they been chosen? Have they been picked? Has he actually, as you suggests, stacked all these courts of different

levels?

D'ANTONIO: Oh, he has delivered. He has appointed more judges than any president, I think, going back to Lyndon Johnson. So, this is a momentus

shift and we had complaints from the right for decades about judicial overreach and the fact that judges are making law from the bench, that's

now going to be happening from a conservative perspective and this is what the evangelical right was hoping for.

AMANPOUR: So, let's just briefly try to sum up. I said it potentially it could change the legal landscape of this country if Judge Kavanaugh becomes

what's called a swing vote in the supreme court because he would take the place of Anthony Kennedy who sometimes go over he Conservatives and

sometimes with the Liberals.

D'ANTONIO: Precisely. And so, we've had a Conservative justice replaced Scalia who died last year and, you know, President Obama was denied the

chance to fill that seat. So, we're going to have two Trump appointees.

The whole idea is to shift the court to the right. And really, the main idea is to get rid of reproductive rights for women in America. So, as

Mike Pence have said for decades, "I want to put Roe v. Wade on the ash hip of history," and this is something, I think, Kavanaugh will do.

AMANPOUR: So, you bring up Mike Pence because he is the subject of your new book, you call him the shadow president. He is the Vice President of

the United States.

How deeply important is his presence on the ticket for Trump's continued presidency or his presidency from the beginning?

D'ANTONIO: Well, it was everything. And this is a funny story, I was actually on CNN the morning that Pence was selected and there was a great

deal of mystery about, you know, who will he choose. And for some reason, I had the instinct that it was Pence because Pence balances out Trump

almost perfectly. He's as high says Donald Trump is profane. He's as serious and measured as Donald Trump is chaotic.

So, we've got a person who not only balanced Trump temperamentally but also balanced him when it comes to the culture war in the United States.

Until he ran for president, I would guess that most evangelicals saw Trump was on the less side, the liberal side of the culture war because he has a

creature of television, because he's been a Democrat and an independent and really kind of out there, you know, not their kind of man.

AMANPOUR: I wonder, you know, why you decided to focus on the vice president and I think I get it because you think he's very, very powerful.

And that potentially, if there is an issue with President Trump and the president seat, he would be next in line and he would step in.

You do write and you describe him as a man on a mission from God, practicing what some evangelicals call Christian dominionism. You say,

Pence believe that the lord intended for him to halt the erosion of religious conviction in the United States.

And though he avoided stating it himself, many of his evangelical friends believe that Pence's ultimate purpose is to establish a government based on

biblical law. I mean, you know, it does like something out of handmaid's tale or some kind of strange kind of scienty fictiony kind of thing.

But do you think it really is that plan?

D'ANTONIO: Well, we already have an attorney general who quotes Romans from the bible to justify his policies. Sarah Sanders said that the policy

of separating children from their mothers at the border, these were asylum seeking families was very biblical.

So, we're already in a realm where people attaching scriptures to policy. And there's is no doubt that Mike Pence is more devoted to this than

sessions or Sarah Sanders or anyone in the cabinet is. This has been his main motivation throughout his life as to bring America along and make it a

Christian nation. His nostalgic goes back before the declaration of independence. He is much more comfortable with the Colonial American

relationship between religion and government when we had state religions.

AMANPOUR: Is the country ready for that? Does the country believe on mass in the kind of, you know, sort of tipping point critical polling that that

would be a good thing for the country or even viable for this country?

D'ANTONIO: Not at all. But, you know, we are now in an environment where minorities seem to have figured out a way hold sway. So, we have almost a

tyranny of the minority when it comes to national elections and especially the United State senate, which is waited to favor rural states that are --

have low populations but never the less get the same number of senators as California or New York.

So, we got a dynamic that's in place that's about perfect for President Pence and we've got a setting in the Congress that if the Republicans hold

it, it would be amendable to many of his ideas. It's ironic because I talked to many of Trump voters, women, in 2016 who said, you know, "The

only thing I care about is Roe v. Wade on the Liberal side of things. They're never going to overturn that. I'm going to vote for Trump." I

don't think that that type of voter really understood what Mike Pence represented.

AMANPOUR: You know, Brett Kavanaugh has told his senate (INAUDIBLE) as he prepares for this hearing that he views Roe v. Wade as established law as

precedented, a set law. And kind of indicating that therefore, it wouldn't be up for overturning.

What is your reporting sort of shown about that? I mean, do you think the evangelicals have a way to make him potential swing against that or change

his mind? Could Trump sort of -- not Trump, Pence affect that?

D'ANTONIO: It may not be necessary. I think what may happen is that the court may permits states to hollow out Roe v. Wade, and that's already

happening, that states are adopting impediments to abortions, there are now many states that have just one clinic. And I think many big regions of the

country have no clinics where women can seek safe and legal abortion.

So, this isn't -- it isn't necessary for the court to go all the way and strike down this precedent. It could permit the erosion of the right. And

that's something that I think is underway and that Pence would encourage.

AMANPOUR: So, I would like to play this soundbite that gained a lot of traction, sort of kind of went viral because people thought it was quite

obsequious when Vice President Pence was congratulating President Trump during one of the first cabinet meeting. Let's just play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: When I heard the president say was that if the Democrats take over Congress that their goal is to turn back everything we have done for the

American people. Our agenda is to continue to focus on making America safe, making America prosperous and a positive future for the country.

Democrats' whole agenda is simply to undo everything that the president has done. And including prevent the president from continuing to appoint

strong conservatives to our federal courts at every level. That's the choice we face and that's what I took the president to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: We'll discuss that. That wasn't what I was going to talk about. We will play it in a second. How do you answer -- how do you describe what

he just said?

D'ANTONIO: Well, what he's doing is something he has done before. He's saying, "I didn't hear what everybody else heard. I was in the room." And

we all know, you can read the transcript, that the president was saying, "There will be violence if the Republicans lose the election because there

are violent people on the left." He didn't say they're going to do violence to our agenda. This is Mike Pence interpreting Donald Trump.

It's almost like the parent whose little boy has acted out at the school event, going around and saying, "He didn't really mean to hit your child.

What he was doing was expressing himself. And let me interpret it this way, he really likes your son." You know, this is the Pence as Trump

whisperer or Trump interpreter.

AMANPOUR: So, let's see if we can get the actual sort of expression action of the Trump's whisperer. Let's see if we could just play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and

women of America. Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more

and we are making America great again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So, clearly music to President Trump's ears. But of course, the Washington Post reported that in that cabinet meeting, Pence praises Trump

once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight.

OK. So, I could say, well, he would do that, wouldn't he? He's his vice president. He is connected politically.

But the question many have, I think, is that if Vice President Pence is such a committed Christian, how does he square and how do evangelical

voters square some of the issues that President Trump has exhibited during his life with this evangelical vote, whether it is the famous tape, the

"Access Hollywood" tape, whether it's extramarital affairs, those allegations, whether it's even a potentially allegedly paying for an

abortion? I mean, how do the Christian rights led by Mike Pence square that?

D'ANTONIO: Well, this is by George Will of the Washington Post, a great conservative opinion maker actually calls Mike Pence the most repulsive

person in public life. And he wasn't talking about Justin Washington. Pence is really the ultimate sycophant.

And I think he's doing this in part because Christian America, the Christian right has come to believe that Trump represents the heathen who

is never the less sort of serving God. So, this is like the Cyrus story of the bible or Nebuchadnezzar. Men who use their power in favor of, in this

case, the Christian right and was an imperfect vessel but, never the less, did the job.

And then, Pence is the president in waiting. And every day, inch by inch Robert Mueller and other forces bring us closer to Trump, perhaps, leaving

office. And who do we get? We get Mike Pence who could conceivably be the longest serving president other than Franklin Roosevelt in America's

history.

Were he to succeed the president at the beginning of next year --

AMANPOUR: And then, get two terms.

D'ANTONIO: And get two terms. We've got a ten-year, Mike Pence presidency.

AMANPOUR: Describe his legislative record in the public offices that he has held and being elected to. Has there been that dramatic in the kind of

conservative agenda that you outlined in the Liberal certain fear?

D'ANTONIO: Well, he's voted for every conservative bill that's come along, and this relates to reproductive rights, to gun control, to budgets,

taxation, you name it. But what's remarkable is that in 12 years in Congress, he never authored a single successful bill. He was never

interested in law making.

What he was interested in was appealing to the emotions of the Christian rights. He became a favorite of the tea party. He -- one of his first

speeches on the house floor was about creation and some and how the science of evolution is in fact not true and that God created the earth in seven

days.

He is anti-science when it comes to climate change. He's one of these fellows who went around crying of voter fraud. He even headed the

president's voter fraud committee, which found no voter fraud.

AMANPOUR: In the 2016 election?

D'ANTONIO: Well, and he tried to suppress Black votes in Indiana. So, this is a person who's fulfilled every partisan mission that he could

without actually governing in any serious way.

AMANPOUR: I read in the introduction to you is something that you had determined that this was a man of unwavering faith but also of ruthless

cunning.

So, how did Mike Pence get to this point? By all accounts, he's not the most distinguished legislator or charismatic politician. He even stood

against President Trump, well, when it was Candidate Trump, the Muslim ban, Vice President, now, Pence at that time said, this was unconstitutional.

But describe some of the, as you say, ruthlessness that got him to where he is today.

D'ANTONIO: Early in his life, he ran for Congress as a 28 and 30-year-old man. And in his second campaign, he was quite ruthless. He used all sorts

of degrative (ph) campaign tricks, including putting up ads that portray Arab sheikhs as evil people and associated his opponent with the drug

dealers, none of this was relevant to the campaign. But he pursued this aggressive strategy anyway.

He wound up having to publish confessions of a negative campaigner and indicated that he was very sorry for what he had done. He then went into

radio and television broadcasting. And he has broadcasting in common with the president. And in that time --

AMANPOUR: Very shrewd manipulator of this media.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. Very, very smart about how you use the air waves to move public opinion. He called himself a conservative who's not mad about

it or Rush Limbaugh on decaf.

And so, a lot of this was signaling. And the final element of his strategy was fund raising. So, he became a favorite of the Cold Brothers and their

organizations and of Betsy DeVos and her brother, Erik Prince. DeVos said, "We admit it, we're trying to buy influence." And one of the people she

tried to buy was Mike Pence. And he willingly sold himself to her.

So, we've got a guy who's combined guns, God and money. And these are the three elements of his appeal or his strategy to gain office. And he's been

quite aggressive about climbing ever higher.

AMANPOUR: And very successful.

D'ANTONIO: Very successful.

AMANPOUR: And a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world at this particular fragile time.

D'ANTONIO: Well, he's probably the vice president most likely to become president in more than a century.

AMANPOUR: It is so interesting. Fascinating. But Michael D'Antonio, thank you so much.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: About Mike Pence, "The Shadow President."

So, we turn now the other issues around the world, amid the heightened and heated politics here at home, the president is also monitoring the

situation in Syria, warning President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran, not to attack the last major rebel stronghold of Idlib

Province. And saying that if Assad uses chemical weapons the U.S. will "respond quickly and appropriately."

The White Helments, the civil defense group reports that heavy Russian air strikes are already underway in that province and where they are up to 3

million civilians who remain at risk.

Andrew Tabler is author of the "Lion's Den: An Eye Witness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria," and he's joining me now from Washington.

So, Andrew Tabler, welcome the program. You know, Syria has sort of dropped off the agenda for certainly the silly season of the summer. But

it really looks like it is going to come right back into the top of the agenda. How eminent is an Assad attack on Italy, do you think?

ANDREW TABLER, FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It is a very good question. The attack seems eminent, it certainly didn't occur

sometime after Friday when there is a summit in Teheran between Russia, the Assad regime in Turkey.

What's at stake here is the last rebel stronghold in the western part of the country that's outside of President Assad's control. And with it, that

military -- pending military offensive could send literally millions of refugees into neighboring Turkey and substantially destabilizing this part

of the outcome of the Syrian civil war.

AMANPOUR: So, you mentioned this Teheran meeting. But what is it that's giving Assad, if this happens, the kind of feeling that he can now do this?

I mean, this is last stronghold, as we've said, all these people were forced into Italy after, you know, Aleppo and all the others were taken

back by Assad. Why now?

TABLER: I think President Assad is desperate to show that he has the (INAUDIBLE) to retake the entire country. Because he knows that the

neighboring countries and the international community know one thing, he did not win the Syrian civil war on his own steam, he did so through the

foreign military intervention of Iran, the Russian Federation on his side and then Turkey and the United States on the side of the rebels.

So, looking at this situation, he's desperate to show that he is the king of East and Western Syria to his own people and that he can impose a

settlement on that part of the country, that will be cheaper for him and that the international community, he feels, will eventually have to

capitulate too.

AMANPOUR: Well, do you think then that he will have the backing? Will he have Iranian backing? Will he have Russian backing? I mean, we're mindful

of these kinds of unpresented Russians naval maneuver in the Mediterranean. It seems -- I don't know whether it's a coincidence that it's happening

sort of now. But, will he have their backing?

TABLER: It seems for the moment that he will. Now, there are Iranian units mixed in with that of the Assad regime. So, Assad's forces were

decimated during the war. So, he's brought in a bunch of conscripts that used to fight with the rebels and mass them in the north. He's augmented

them with some men Shia militiamen that have been sort of hived off of other Syrian units and they are poised to push into that area.

In doing so, with Iranian help and with Russian air cover, he can retake some territories. However, that area is home to about 3 million Syrians,

mostly civilians, and up to 50,000 fighters of various elements across the spectrum including extremist.

So, a push into that area, to burst the bubble, so to speak, might has disastrous impact because Al-Qaida is so strong in that area. Instead of

wiping out extremism, as they've been promising to do, it could be spreading it out to neighboring Turkey, who could then spread and turn the

tabs back on for those people to run to Europe.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, let's talk about some of the tentacles because this is obviously at the heart of our political upheaval over the last couple of

years certainly, whether it's in that region or it's reached all the way to west. This spread of refugees, of migrants, of others who are coming, you

know, into the West and causing all this populism and backlash.

What happened? How strong is Turkey to be able to resist this kind of push into their country if that should happen?

TABLER: I think it's very difficult for them to do so because they have about 2.3 million refugees already in Turkey, many of which will probably

stay there. So, if you push, let's say, 2 million refugees into neighboring Turkey, where are they going to go? And then, of course,

Turkey could turn the tabs back on and that not so much to allow them to go but simply turn a blind eye when those refugees go northward.

They then set off the right-wing elements within European countries who are very critical of European countries hosting laws and permissiveness for the

settlements of these Syrian refugees.

So, this is the example of the Russian Federation using military means to push Turkey into a dilemma and to drive the political process towards an

outcome that is favorable to Moscow.

AMANPOUR: Is there anything that Turkey or the United States or the NATO allies can do to prevent this kind of push? Of course, already, the

Russian Federation has pushed back against President Trump's warning. Dmitry Peskov who is President Putin's spokesman has said this is a nest of

terrorism in Idlib and just to speak with some warnings, talking about President Trump, without taking into account the very dangerous negative

potential for the whole situation in Syria is probably not a full comprehensive approach.

Well, the Russians would say that, wouldn't they? But what is the U.S. option here?

TABLER: Yes. It's a good question. So, U.S. does not have forces in that area. They do not support rebel groups per se in that part of Syria, at

least, militarily. So, their main cards here are Turkey, which has military outpost and personnel inside of Idlib Province and in neighboring

areas. So, that's certainly, well, one card.

The other card and that is over the use of air strikes against Assad regime units that are poised to use chemical weapons. Because they lack manpower,

the Assad regime often prefers to use strategic weapons such as sarin or chlorine to clear the areas.

So, the U.S. could strike those units and U.S. strikes on Assad regime units would have a devastating effect because there are so few of them.

So, those are the two main cards I see, militarily, that could help, you know, sort of keep this under control.

Then there's the diplomatic option, but that doesn't look very promising unless there is something in the offering out of this meeting in Teheran or

if the U.S. and Russia can come to some sort of agreement that does not seem clear at the moment.

AMANPOUR: OK. Andrew, I'm sorry, we got to wrap it. But I just want to know from you, President Trump has said that his activity in pulling out of

the Iran nuclear deal and being hard line on Iran has changed Iran's posture in Syrian and elsewhere. Is that true?

TABLER: I think it has certainly driven up the cost of Iran's deployments in Syria. They did use a lot of proceeds from that agreement to fund their

activities there. But, of course, the Iranians are able to carry out these opportunities on the chief. But under economic pressure, the activities,

the IRGs (INAUDIBLE) force, which backs up Assad, are increasingly under scrutiny.

The question is, does it drive them out of Syria, do Israeli strikes diminish their capacity or do we simply push the equation in Syria towards

something much more chaotic, and that's the real question at the moment.

AMANPOUR: It is. It's an intractable one. Andrew Tabler, thanks for joining us from Washington.

And that is for our program tonight. Remember, you can always watch us online at Amanpour.com, follow me on Facebook and Twitter and also, listen

to our podcast.

Thanks for joining us.

END