Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Facebook Sued Over Privacy Violations; Shutdown Fight; Federal Reserve Ignores Trump Warnings, Raises Interest Rates; President Trump Claims War Against ISIS Over. Aired 4-4:30ET

Aired December 19, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, mission accomplished?

THE LEAD starts now.

Caught by surprise, top officials at the White House, the Pentagon, members of Congress, U.S. allies, pretty much everyone stunned as President Trump announces via Twitter he's ready to pull U.S. troops from Syria because ISIS has been defeated.

But just a week ago, the president's own envoy said, we're not going anywhere any time soon because the job ain't done.

Plus, the far right revolting, as President Trump's promise of a border wall starts crumbling before it's even built. And new CNN reporting this hour, the president is starting to get really worried about the criticism.

[16:00:10]

Also, Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, Spotify, just some of the companies reportedly able to read your private Facebook messages, all thanks to Facebook. Is anything private anymore?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with breaking news in the money lead, the Dow taking a dive after wild swings this afternoon, closing down more than 300 points.

This comes after the Federal Reserve announced today that the organization would raise rates for the fourth time this year.

CNN's Cristina Alesci is at the New York Stock Exchange.

And, Cristina, this closing is rather notable.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's the lowest in the year, Jake. This is not something the president wants to see.

This is a clash between economic policy and Wall Street at this point. And I saw it play out here on the floor of the stock exchange today. Essentially, as soon as the Fed decision came out, the market took a turn, started heading down.

And then Powell started speaking -- Fed Chairman Powell started speaking about the decision to raise interest rates. And you saw a little bit of a bounce-back, but very quickly again it turned south. And that is because -- not because it was a surprise that the chairman announced that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates, but because the market was looking to next year, 2019.

And it thought that perhaps Powell was going to cave to political pressure, to pressure from the markets, and maybe back off some of the interest rate hikes that were scheduled for next year. And instead he signaled that they are on the path to doing just that.

This is the kind of day that President Trump is probably not going to be happy with what happened, because, again, he was trying to pressure the Federal Reserve, which is supposed to be an independent body and not subject to that kind of pressure -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci reporting, the Dow closing at its lowest point in 2018, thank you.

Vice President Pence just left Capitol Hill, where Republican senators gave him a -- quote -- "earful" about what appears a hasty and impulsive decision by the president to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria with President Trump essentially claiming mission accomplished.

And that's our world lead today.

Senator Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Bob Corker assailing the president's decision this afternoon, saying that the president seemed to have just woken up and made this decision, deciding that the U.S. won, despite the fact that almost all of the president's experts disagree.

A Pentagon official tells CNN the planning is under way for a full and rapid withdrawal from Syria of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops there, a decision made by President Trump via Twitter, saying -- quote -- "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency" -- unquote.

A stunning declaration, considering that up until this very moment, the Trump administration and the U.S. military have sent messages that completely contradict that. They have declared that ISIS has not been defeated in Syria.

Five days ago, the U.S.-led coalition shot down any notion of a U.S. withdrawal, calling such reports "false and designed to sow confusion and chaos." Eight days ago, the U.S. special envoy to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk, signaled this military conflict was far from over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. We have obviously learned a lot of lessons in the past. We know that once a physical space is defeated, we can't just pick up and leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We can't just pick up and leave.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, said there are only 8,000 local troops trained and equipped to fight ISIS and maintain stability in the region right now, only 8,000. And the U.S. needs at least 40,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: With regard to stabilization, we still have a long way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One Pentagon official told me of the president's decision -- quote -- "Obviously, the Pentagon wasn't consulted, like countless other tweets. Or if we were, the president is disregarding Defense Secretary Mattis' advice."

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, there are two things going on here. Obviously, deciding the U.S. should no longer be in Syria, that's a debate to have, a discussion to have, an opinion to have. But the president's own military experts are saying that his claim that ISIS is defeated and that the job is done, they're saying that's just false.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the Pentagon in a senior position that says ISIS is defeated.

In fact, U.S. military policy had been to stay on the job, defeat ISIS and help stabilize Iraq. Now this very sudden reversal of that policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Devastation and ruin for miles in Eastern Syria seen in exclusive video obtained by CNN as ISIS fighters make their stand.

Still, despite the reality on the ground, President Trump says ISIS is defeated, and ordered the surprise withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. ground troops stationed mainly in Eastern Syria, where ISIS still controls territory, leaving the Pentagon, which does not believe ISIS has been completely defeated, scrambling to devise a way to safely get troops and their equipment out of harm's way and a suddenly reshaped Middle East.

[16:05:22] SETH JONES, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This clearly sends a message to Moscow and Tehran that Syria and, frankly, bigger parts of the Middle East are yours.

STARR: There is confusion on all fronts. Several allies were caught unaware. On Tuesday, the State Department was adamant the ISIS fight is not done.

ROBERT PALLADINO, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: We have made significant progress recently in the campaign. But the job is not yet done.

STARR: An official DOD estimate says there may be up to 30,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. Just days ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. was not close to finishing its task of training local forces to fight ISIS.

DUNFORD: We estimate, for example, about 35,000 to 40,000 local forces have to be trained and equipped in order to provide stability.

We're probably somewhere along the line of 20 percent through the training of those forces. With regard to stabilization, we still have a long way to go. And so I would be reluctant to affix a time.

STARR: The planned pullout comes just a day after the U.S. announced it was selling Turkey a Patriot missile defense system, something Turkey wanted. And now it's raising questions whether Trump's decision paves the way for Turkey to move against their longtime rivals the Kurds who have been allies of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

JONES: Erdogan has been asking the U.S. to leave, so that he can deal directly with his Kurdish problem. And, in return, the U.S. may be pushing for something, including greater arms sales, maybe a way to balance against Turkey's relationship, which has grown stronger with Moscow.

STARR: Though a State Department spokesman tells CNN it has no connection to other policy matters.

Congressional Republicans are already furious.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If Obama had made this decision, Republicans would be all over him. I don't think General Trump is going to be any better than General Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And now with opposition in Congress from both Democrats and Republicans, Defense Secretary James Mattis may be facing a very heavy road ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss this is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He also served in the U.S. Air Force and is currently a major in the Air National Guard.

Congressman, you had a rather direct response to the president's tweet asserting that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. You said -- quote -- "This is simply not true."

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes, absolutely not true.

I mean, I'm speechless today, Jake. I just -- I have tried to process this, what led to this. And, in fact, during that intro, I was looking down. I have worn this since March. It's a buddy of mine that was killed in Iraq, Andreas O'Keeffe. He was killed this year fighting ISIS.

And to see the president wake up today and say we have defeated them, when we know that's not true -- I mean, nobody would argue that we have defeated them -- that's not only going to hamper our current operation.

It's going to double or triple the ranks of ISIS, because, when we leave, they're going to say, look, we just defeated the United States without many casualties.

And, look, fighting terrorism is not a choice we have. It's just a question of where. Do we find them there or do we fight them here? This makes no sense to me. I cannot put anything into words about why this makes any sense. It's emboldening Iran. It's emboldening Bashar al-Assad.

But it's definitely emboldening ISIS, our sworn enemy. I don't get it.

TAPPER: Ambassador John Bolton, the national security adviser, said just a few weeks ago, I think, that the U.S. was not going to leave until Iran left the region.

KINZINGER: Yes.

TAPPER: And is it your understanding that Iran has left Syria?

KINZINGER: No.

And not just John Bolton. Every national security member of the president's team has said, we're not going to leave. We have a base in Al-Tanf that straddles a very important supply route where Iran wants to have access to Israel and to Israel's enemies.

So this has implications beyond just the fight against ISIS. This has to do with Israel, Jordan, everywhere in between, not to mention our -- all our allies that are involved in this fight that also woke up today and goes, oh, OK, so I guess we have to pull all the troops out too, because the United States is. Too bad we never heard that until a tweet was just submitted.

TAPPER: Do you -- explain how, because there are probably a lot of people out there who don't understand it or don't agree with you, but who don't understand why. You're arguing this makes the United States less safe. Why?

KINZINGER: So, ISIS' goal and that mind-set's goal is to destroy anybody that doesn't not just believe in Islam, but their version of Islam.

And what we see is violence right now against other Muslims. But if they have the ability to train, to gather and to project power into places like the United States of America or in Europe, they will do it. And we have seen them do it before.

[16:10:01]

If we take the pressure off of them, and we give them the opportunity to have land, to plan and execute again, the fight will be back here in the United States.

We don't have a choice whether or whether or not to fight terrorism. This isn't like, yes, we will fight them because it's good to fight them, or maybe we won't and just live in peace.

They're fighting us. The question is, do we fight them in Syria or do we fight them here at home? And I fear that that's going to be here at home if the president follows through on this.

TAPPER: A lot of Republicans are outspoken about this today.

Lindsey Graham, who's one of the president's closest allies in the Senate, says, this is a win not only for ISIS, but for Iran, for Russia and for Bashar al-Assad.

Do you agree?

KINZINGER: Absolutely. Absolutely. They are -- they're cheering right now in Tehran. They're cheering in Moscow. They're cheering in Damascus. They're cheering in the rat's nest of ISIS.

Where they're not cheering is in Tel Aviv, and we're confused here in Washington, because we don't know what's happening. And we don't know why this decision was made with relatively small military footprint. We had them on their heels. They're not defeated. Now they're going to be emboldened.

TAPPER: One person who is celebrating this decision is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

KINZINGER: Of course.

TAPPER: A couple days ago, he shared on Twitter an opinion piece from The National Interest titled: "When Will Trump Bring Home U.S. Forces From Syria?" which reads in part: "President Trump should live up to his promise of America first. At the very least, that should mean no more foolish, unnecessary Middle Eastern wars. Pulling out of Syria would be a good start."

So there are people who support President Trump who think this is President Trump just putting America first. KINZINGER: Well, Rand Paul's viewpoint is a legitimate viewpoint for a libertarian. He's not a Republican. His foreign policy is not Republican. He's a libertarian masking as a Republican.

When he in fact got elected, he put out a budget that slashed the U.S. military by something like 25 percent. That's what he wanted to do. He wants to bring everybody home and live in isolation in the United States.

In the 21st century, we can't do that. So I hope that the president wasn't listening to Rand Paul's op-ed vs. all of his people around him that know this stuff, because I fear that this is going to be a massive disaster. We're going to have to go back to Syria again anyway, when ISIS triples in size, if we're not careful.

TAPPER: Do you think this kind of decision is the kind of thing that even General -- I'm sorry -- Secretary Mattis should resign over? I mean, is that big mistake, in your view?

KINZINGER: Well, look, it's a decision -- that's a decision obviously for Secretary Mattis. If I was in that position, I would have a hard time moving forward on executing a strategy that I think will put the United States into more danger.

We have to keep this war against ISIS on -- keep them on their heels. This announcement today, I pray the president reconsiders, and I will give him great credit for reconsidering. But if this goes through, I mean, it would be tough for anybody in that position that knows this is wrong to continue.

But it's the president's right to do it. He's the president.

TAPPER: What do you say to the viewer at home who thinks, I mean, we can't just be abroad fighting these wars for the rest of our lives? We're never going to kill every member of ISIS in Syria. We're never going to kill every member of the Taliban or ISIS or whatever in Afghanistan.

What do you say to them?

KINZINGER: Yes, I fully agree.

This is a generational fight. I think it's going to last probably the rest of my life. But I think part of the way to win is showing a commitment to the next generation of people in those areas that they too can have hope and freedom. And leaving them to the hands of ISIS is only going to encourage more ISIS members, more desperate regime, more problems and more attacks on the United States and our allies.

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much for your time and for your service as well, sir.

KINZINGER: Yes, thanks. Yes.

TAPPER: Congress is making progress in preventing a government shutdown, so why is President Trump now reportedly worried? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:19] TAPPER: In our national lead now, did President Trump's border wall just crumble before it was ever even built?

Just days away from a government shutdown, the Senate will vote on a short term spending bill to fund the government through February 8th. It's a bill does not have the $5 billion that President Trump demanded for the border wall, saying on camera just last week he would proudly shut down the government if he did not get it. This deal comes after the White House blinked on that issue and told the Senate to just get something to the president's desk.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now live from the White House.

And, Kaitlan, Senate Democrats are on board with this stopgap spending measure. House Democrats aren't board with the bill. We just learned that President Trump has agreed to sign it if it passes the House and Senate. But the White House somehow is claiming this is neither a blink nor a flip.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And they're struggling with that defense. And we're told by sources that behind the scenes as they are struggling with what to say, President Trump is becoming increasingly concerned that there is this criticism that he's backing off his signature campaign promise of building that wall on the U.S./Mexico border, and that concern from the president is coming as there is increasing concern among aides that they are running out of ways to potentially fund this wall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): The White House tonight bracing to cave.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens. Too early to say. We need border security.

COLLINS: After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he'll introduce a bill that would fund the government through the New Year and end a looming government shutdown, but deny President Trump funding for his much-promised border wall.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.

COLLINS: The move will put funding the government into the hands of newly empowered Democrats next year, while effectively closing the door on one of the president's loudest campaign promises.

CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall!

TRUMP: Do not worry. We are going to build the wall, OK?

COLLINS: Three sources close to the president tell CNN he has become increasingly sensitive to criticism he's breaking that promise, as conservatives who were once his allies have become his critics.

ANN COULTER, COMMENTATOR: It'll just have been a joke presidency that scammed the American people, enraged the -- you know, amused the populists for a while, but he'll have no legacy whatsoever.

COLLINS: The fight over the wall has created a bitter divide inside the West Wing, between aides who consider themselves pragmatists and those who are ideologues.

Sources tell CNN, Steven Miller, a hard liner on immigration, told colleagues that building the wall would be nearly impossible after Republican losses in the midterms. Yet he continued to dig in this week.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISER: We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall.

[16:20:01] INTERVIEWER: That means shutdown?

MILLER: This is a very -- if it comes to it, absolutely.

COLLINS: That as other officials have struggled to explain how U.S. taxpayers won't be the ones footing the bill if the wall is built.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has asked every agency to look and see if they have money that can be used for that purpose. And that's exactly what we're doing.

COLLINS: Critics quick to point out, those agencies are funded by taxpayer dollars. Despite aides signaling an impending concession, Trump maintaining today the wall will be built one way or another.

But the president's aides won't say with confidence if he'll sign the measure without the $5 billion in funding for the wall, recalling this moment from last March when Trump threatened to veto the spending bill just hours before signing it.

TRUMP: I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, members of the Freedom Caucus are set to take to the House floor tonight to urge President Trump not to abandon his promise to build a border wall. But White House officials are telling CNN that while they won't guarantee it, they do expect the president to sign the short-term funding bill, therefore avoiding that government shutdown.

But, Jake, they will not make that promise 100 percent, because they say nothing is final until President Trump has put his name on it.

TAPPER: Nothing is final until it's final. Indeed.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Let's talk about this with my experts. And, Kristen, I want to start

with you as the pollster at the table. Can president Trump get re- elected -- can he get his base to the polls if he does not deliver on the border wall, which is arguably his biggest campaign promise?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: One hundred percent. Because when you ask voters -- when Trump talks about a wall, do you think he means a physical border wall, or do you think he means enhanced border security that will include a wall in part, but will also include stepped up surveillance?

Democrats think he's talking a wall-wall. Republicans, a majority of them, think it's kind of this mix, which is often the language that you'll see White House advisers dip into. That what he's really talking about is border security.

I think notably, Kellyanne Conway was asked today, what's going to happen with this resolution? And when she talked about what the president is committed to, she didn't use the word wall. She used the word border security multiple times.

That is the more politically palatable way to go. It's the thing that brings more people together. It's 100 percent the politically smarter thing to do. And I think for the most part, his base will go along with him if he says I've secured the border.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree with you that the base, A, doesn't care whether Mexico pays for it or not or whether it looks like a fence or a great wall to China type of thing. What they do care about is President Trump looking weak. The Democrats just broke him before they're even sworn in to take over the House. He threatened it shut down and then he ran away from that fight.

This was his last best chance to get big funding for that wall. And it's over. People are waking up to the fact that after two years of the Trump presidency, he got tax cut, he got judges. And now, you get investigations as far as the eye can see. There's just a lot of fatigue that comes with that.

Republicans take a lot of incoming supporting Trump. If they're not getting anything out of it, they're going to start to go away.

TAPPER: So, just two facts I just want to bring. First, a recent CNN poll shows that 57 percent of Americans oppose -- oppose building a border wall, 38 percent favor it. So it's popular with the Republican base, and unpopular with the majority of the country.

And then last night, the president tweeted, because you're talking about what is this wall going to be. And he's been all over the map, quite frankly, about what the wall will be. He tweeted last night, the Democrats are saying loud and clear they do not want to build a concrete wall. But we are not building a concrete wall. We are building artistically designed steel slats so that you can easily see through it.

And we should note, this is not the first time we've gotten a preview of the wall on top of being artistically designed with steel slats. He said it would be see-through one time. Another time he said it would have solar panels. What do you make of all this?

JENNICE FUENTES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Oh, it's a big mess. And I wish we could take credit for breaking him. I think he breaks himself every day.

But the wall, again, it's more of the same. It's wasteful. I mean, you could talk to the congressman from the area where that tenement city is. Congressman Hurd will tell you. It's like this is a waste of money.

Why do we have all the adjusters in Houston? It's not near the border. Why don't we have more money for the equipment and the people who should be there so we don't have children 7 years old in a bus for 90 minutes dying of dehydration? It's a waste of resources. If they had resources in the right place instead of building a wall, it would actually be serving the immigrant community.

TAPPER: And, Paul, take a listen to Kellyanne Conway talking this morning about the bill coming before Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This is all breaking news. In other words, what the Congress is going to put before him. A short-term CR -- or a CR that goes through February 8th, keeps the government up and running. But that doesn't mean the president is backing down from a central promise. Not a campaign promise, a promise as our commander-in-chief to keep us safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It does sound different than what we heard from the president a week ago.

[16:25:02] PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It does, or what we heard from Steven Miller Sunday, just a couple days ago. We'll do anything. We'll take any price.

The problem with his aides is they have no idea what he's going to do. They have no idea. He wakes up in the morning and says, I have a good idea, let's get out of Syria. Or now instead of a wall, it's going to be artistically designed, you know, in Brooklyn --

CARPENTER: Basically, Trump Tower at the border.

BEGALA: Sure.

TAPPER: Artistically designed steel slats.

BEGALA: That's hilarious. That actually was the name of my garage band in college.

He's his own worst enemy. If he would listen to Kristen, he'd be right. He could cut a deal. That's the thing. The Democrats are not against border security, per se. A lot of it has to be people, technology. By the way, a lot of it has to be development and security in Central America. So these poor people who are fleeing for their lives won't have to come here. He could do a lot, and the Democrats would help him, they would help him out of his own mess. But he's his own worst enemy on this.

FUENTES: You know, it's interesting. We continue not to have a border strategy. And then if you listen to every within leaving office, from Bush to Speaker Ryan, oh, I wish I had taken care of the immigration problem. Let's please take care of that.

He had the platform. He had both branches. He had the White House, he had the Senate, he had the House. Why was he always on the sidelines before he became speaker? Yes, he was actually a co sponsor of the McCain, Kennedy, Flake, Gutierrez bill that we had.

TAPPER: Paul Ryan you're talking about.

FUENTES: Yes, he was. And then when he becomes speaker, what is his promise to his party? No, I will not bring an immigration bill.

And then did he face up and use his leadership and use his position on his perch to speak up to the White House and say, you know what, that is not the right way to talk about immigrants. No, that is not the right way to treat children. No, that is not the right way to treat the Latino community and the Hispanics and all the immigrants in general.

Did he use his power that he has? No, it's a wasted opportunity. He's a good man. And I know he regrets it.

But when is it going to happen? If somebody like him was initially committed walks away from the opportunity of a lifetime.

TAPPER: Well, the concern was -- to play defense for Paul Ryan for one second. I think the concern was that the bill would pass, but it would lose a majority of Republicans. It would be a pass -- pass --

FUENTES: That is one opportunity, yes. I agree with you.

TAPPER: I'm just saying, that was a promise he made to the caucus.

FUENTES: Yes, but then he could have spoken up to the president.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

FUENTES: And said no. This is wrong time and time again.

ANDERSON: But this is also something that Democrats could have solved when they had control of Congress and had Obama in the White House. I think there is a lot of --

TAPPER: Also true. ANDERSON: Not to be cynical, but there is a lot of political

incentive to not solve the issue and use it as a cudgel against the other --

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

First, Rudy Giuliani said that Donald Trump had never signed a letter of intent about building that Trump Tower in Moscow. Well, now that CNN found that letter with Trump's signature, Rudy is changing his tune.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)