Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on October 20, 2019

10/20: Face The Nation

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Representative Jim Himes (read more)
  • Representative Will Hurd (read more)
  • Retired General Raymond "Tony" Thomas (read more)
  • Michael Morell and William Burns (read more)
  • Panelists Susan Davis, Jamal Simmons, Michael Steel and Paula Reid 

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, October 20th. I am Margaret Brennan in the nation's capital. And this is FACE THE NATION.
 
With the White House engulfed by controversy, President Trump faces scrutiny of his administration strategy or lack thereof.
 
In Syria, a shaky cease-fire expires on Tuesday.
 
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant. Our soldiers are out of there. Our soldiers are totally safe.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the President's decision to withdraw U.S. troops has triggered concerns about declining U.S. influence and has left key allies questioning his judgment.
 
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is a defining moment of Trump's presidency. If we abandon the Kurds, it will be to our shame and to our national security detriment and Trump will own the reemergence of ISIS.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And in Washington, the President's chief of staff handed Democrats new ammunition in their impeachment investigation.
 
JONATHAN KARL: To be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is-- funding will not flow unless the investigation into the-- into the Democratic server happens as well.
 
MICK MULVANEY: We do-- we do that all the time with foreign policy. And I have news for everybody: Get over it.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Our guests, two members of the House Intelligence Committee. Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes and Texas Republican Will Hurd.
 
Plus, as U.S. troops continue to leave Syria, a conversation with the man who led them, General Tony Thomas, in his first interview since retiring from the job.
 
All that, and political analysis of the week up next on FACE THE NATION.
 
Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. It was another chaotic week as we bounce between breaking news on the fighting in Syria and Democrats' impeachment investigation in Washington.
 
(Begin VT)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chaos in Syria. As adversaries advance faster than the U.S. could retreat, American troops took the extraordinary action of bombing their own base to keep supplies out of enemy hands. Vice President Pence led an emergency mission to ask Turkey to pause its invasion.
 
MIKE PENCE (Thursday): Turkey and the United States of America have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Turkey agreed to a five-day pause in exchange for a U.S. promise to lift sanctions. President Erdogan won another key concession--America's Kurdish allies must flee northern Syria.
 
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (Thursday): Without spilling a drop of American blood, not one drop of American blood, sometimes you have to let them fight. Like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: A Wednesday White House meeting on Syria brought Democratic leaders face to face with President Trump for the first time since the impeachment probe began. It didn't go smoothly. Democrats walked out claiming the President insulted the speaker.
 
STENY HOYER (Wednesday): We were offended deeply by his treatment of the speaker of the House of Representatives.
 
CHUCK SCHUMER (Wednesday): Go ahead.
 
NANCY PELOSI (Wednesday): What we witnessed on the part of the President was a meltdown. Sad to say.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Earlier that day Republicans and Democrats had overwhelmingly voted to rebuke the President for his decision to withdraw troops. In a rare move, some Senate Republicans also spoke out.
 
MITCH MCCONNELL (Wednesday): Many of us have been arguing that this was a mistake, it shouldn't have been done.
 
MITT ROMNEY (Thursday): What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a blood stain in the annals of American history.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Meanwhile, the impeachment inquiry intensified. Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official told investigators that she had notified White House lawyers in July after she had heard Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the EU, offer Ukrainian officials a meeting between their president and Mister Trump if an investigation was opened into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that Joe Biden's son, Hunter, worked for. John Bolton, the President's national security advisor, likened it to a "drug deal" and said he wanted "no part" of it. But Ambassador Sondland testified that no one ever "…raised…any concerns." And said that it was the President who had directed him to work with personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on the project. The President's chief of staff was also implicated and on Thursday appeared to admit to reporters that he held up military aid for Ukraine, in part, because President Trump wanted the country to investigate a conspiracy theory about Democrats in 2016 election.
 
MICK MULVANEY (Thursday): The corruption related to the DNC server, absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money. Now there was a report--
 
JONATHAN KARL (Thursday): So-- so-- so-- so the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he wanted--
 
MICK MULVANEY: It was on--
 
JONATHAN KARL: --to withhold funding to Ukraine?
 
MICK MULVANEY: The-- the look back to what happened in 2016--
 
JONATHAN KARL: The investigation into Democrats.
 
MICK MULVANEY: --certainly was-- was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.
 
JONATHAN KARL: Withholding-- withholding the funding?
 
MICK MULVANEY: Yeah. Which-- which ultimately, then, flowed.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Later in the day, Mulvaney released a statement trying to walk back what he had just said.
 
We begin this morning with a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, who joins us from Stamford. Congressman, we just laid out what has developed over the course of the week. When will Democrats have heard enough to actually move forward with drafting articles of impeachment?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES (D-Connecticut/Intelligence Committee/@jahimes): Yeah. That's-- that's a great question, Margaret. It's-- It's a little hard to answer because, of course, every single day we're presented with sort of jaw dropping new information. I don't think any of us anticipated that the chief of staff would-- would basically confirm that military aid was being held up in favor of a crackpot theory that somehow the DNC server made its way to Ukraine. I-- it's almost embarrassing to see the words White House behind the chief of staff peddling a completely rebuked crazy theory. But-- but, I guess, the best I can do to answer your question is, Margaret, we have a little bit more work to do to understand exactly who was involved in stopping that military aid from flowing and what they knew. We have a little bit more work to do in understanding who exactly gave the order to fire Ambassador Yovanovitch, a profoundly well-respected diplomat. Presumably, the secretary of state signed off on that and on what basis did he do so? And then, lastly, Margaret, I would say at the very center of this whole ugly episode of the use of military aid of a White House meeting in an effort to get an investigation of Joe Biden and to get Ukraine to interfere in our election is Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani has refused to appear before the committee. But he is at the very core of this question and so I-- in my opinion, I don't speak for the chairman--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you proceed without him?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Well, I think we can. Again, one of the-- one of the shocking things about this investigation is that all of the facts that are out there that support this notion that military aid was withheld that a White House meeting was withheld-- you know, it comes from the administration. It comes from the chief of staff. It comes from the transcript. So we have a lot of what we need. But Rudy Giuliani running around, meeting with heads of state on behalf of the President's political interests is a profoundly shocking and important thing for us to understand. So while I guess we could sort of piece together exactly what happened based on what the administration has disclosed, I really think it's important to talk to Rudy Giuliani.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So in terms of what's happening behind closed doors, Republicans argue that this process is overly secretive and there was a letter sent to your committee on Friday by nine Republicans who accuse Chairman Schiff of knowingly withholding committee documents from the minority. Why is that happening?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Well, it-- first of all, it's not happening. As a Democrat on the committee, I will tell you that we are getting witnesses canceled at the last minute. We are getting documents at ten o'clock the night before a-- a witness comes in. And so, as a Democrat, I often don't see documents until well after I would like to. But, Margaret, bigger picture here, what is happening-- and you're going to talk to my friend and colleague Will Hurd shortly--what is happening is that there is no way for the Republicans to defend the actions of the President here. What the Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said-- there is no way for them to defend that behavior. So as a result what they are doing is that they are-- they are attacking the process. Now let me-- let me just spend a second on that process. The previous impeachment inquiries of Nixon and of Clinton, the Congress was handed a fully done investigation in the case of Clinton by a special prosecutor Starr. In the case of Nixon, by a--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: --by a different special prosecutor. We are doing that now and an investigation doesn't happen in the light of day, but I will tell you that there will be open hearings. Every transcript after--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: When?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: --they are scrubbed through classified information will be released publicly and this will ultimately be all out there for the American people to see. And what the American people will see is that there is not one word of testimony, written or spoken, which contradicts the notion that the President used the assets of the United States--military aid, a White House meeting--to advance his political interests of getting Ukraine to meddle in the next-- in the upcoming presidential election.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: When is that first public hearing and when will those documents be made public?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Well, again, you know, when you're shocked by the chief of staff basically saying that there was a prid-- quid pro quo, it's a little hard to make any predictions whatsoever about what the timing will be. My belief is, Margaret, and again, you know, shocking things happen every single day--my belief is that the speaker of the House would like to get this wrapped up by the end of the year. I think that's probably possible.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: I think that having cooperation from the White House, which maintains that everything is perfect and so why not cooperate. In my-- in my mind having cooperation would allow it to move much faster. But I think in any event the speaker is going to try really hard to get this wrapped up by the end of the year.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: As we laid out there were some contradictions in testimonies this week. Fiona Hill testified. She confronted Ambassador Sondland when he was discussing that offer of a meeting between the two leaders in exchange for opening an investigation. This morning Mick Mulvaney said that John Bolton who, according to the Hill, objected--never actually did raise a red flag. Sondland says no one ever objected. How do you-- how do you reconcile that without calling John Bolton and the NSC lawyer to testify themselves?
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Yeah. Well, you know, there-- there-- there have been some inconsistencies and I can't get into the details of the testimony. But, you know, it will surprise nobody to know that when a witness comes before the Congress, they recount the story in the way that makes them look the best. And so there will always be some tension around the facts. But-- but, again, we-- we-- we shouldn't get lost on the details of a particular meeting. The fact is, and we know this from any number of opening statements that have been released to the public by witnesses--the fact is that pretty much everybody that was inside the White House, from the whistleblower to all of the other witnesses that have released opening statements--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: --had profound discomfort with what Rudy Giuliani was doing and believed-- and, again, this is all very public-- believed that military aid was being held up for the President's partisan gain.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Congressman Himes, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
 
And, as you said, we are bringing now into the conversation your friend Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd. He joins us this morning from San Antonio. Good morning to you, Congressman. Let's-- let's start on that point of discrepancy between the two of you. Congressman Himes said there is nothing being withheld from the minority. You signed a letter with eight other Republicans saying yes, there is information being withheld from you.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD (R-Texas/@HurdOnTheHill/Intelligence Committee): Well, Margaret, it's always a pleasure to be with you on a Sunday morning talking about important issues and-- and I want to confirm one fact. Jim Himes and I are indeed friends and we have worked together. That may shock a-- a lot of the American people that Republicans and-- and Democrats actually work together. Here-- here's why I signed that letter. My-- my issue is not necessarily with the information we're getting in advance because Congressman Himes is right. Sometimes those documents are given at midnight before the hearing. My concern is with the information that the committee has access to after these depositions are done. As a member of the committee, I was only able to get access to the transcript of the Ambassador Volker interview a couple of days ago and that interview had been conducted almost three weeks prior. You know why haven't we gotten access to all the text messages that Ambassador Volker has sent over? I haven't been able to review that. These depositions have been going on for ten or-- or twelve hours a day and you're not able to sit in all of them. So I want to know why hasn't that information been made available to you, Margaret? And I appreciate you asking the question about when some of this stuff is going to be made available because I think the press and the Fourth Estate plays an important check and balance in this. And-- and I would say, you know, this is also not an impeachment inquiry. These are just regular-- these are just reg-- regular oversight hearings. And why are we doing this in the Intelligence Committee? You know this is-- when it-- when it started this was a whistleblower, whose identity we should be protected. I was one of the few Republicans that said the whistleblower allegations were significant and serious enough that we should investigate. Even--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --Chairman Schiff has said this-- this-- that we shouldn't have the whistleblower in front of the committee so why is-- why is the intel committee doing this when the intel committee should be looking at the intelligence we had on Turkey before they moved in to Syria where we should be calling--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --intelligence professionals to come in and tell us, you know, how are we going to be prepared to fight a resurgent ISIS which is going to happen--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I do want to ask you--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --after this?
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I do want to ask you about Syria but just to be clear you are permitted to sit in on those depositions. You just have not--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: Well--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --chosen to, correct?
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: For-- for sure. I-- I've- I've sat--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --in a lot of them, but I haven't also gotten the information after it was over. Those are all being transcribed. The evidence that is given in those meetings has not been made fully available to-- to Republicans and there's issues like Republican staff is being limited from being in some of these hearings when the majority staff is able to have more and-- and having staff in those-- those interviews are-- are super-important.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that there was, if not a quid pro quo, an understanding or a perception of one between the White House and Ukraine?
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: That-- that's a good question. And to me that's the heart of this-- this-- this matter. And what was the-- you know, if there was a quid pro quo, what was it for? Was it for investigation of the previous election? Or was it to get dirt on-- in-- it for-- for 2020? And what we haven't heard yet-- we haven't heard from any Ukrainian official that felt like there was this arrangement. We haven't even had an-- a Ukrainian official tell a State Department official that their-- that they felt like their arms were being twisted. I would have thought based on some of the State Department officials that we've met-- that we've interviewed so far, that you would even get an inkling of that was happening. When I was in the CIA, I participated in, you know, diplomacy as well. And this is very often that a-- the-- the country you're posted to, in this case, let's say, Ukraine, if they hear something, they're going to go to their contacts at the embassy and say--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --hey, what does this actually mean? And we haven't gotten any whiff of that when it comes to this-- to this issue. I also want to know who did Rudy Giuliani actually talk to.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: We know he's-- we know for a fact he's talked to two Ukrainians. The former--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you'd like him--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --AG--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to come before the committee and answer questions--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: Oh, for sure--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --from Republicans too?
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: I think-- I think-- I think--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --having Rudy-- Mayor Giuliani come and testify is-- is important.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to get to Syria because I know you--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: Yeah.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --feel strongly about this and do agree with Leader McConnell who said it was a grave mistake for the President to have pulled out of Syria. Is Congress just completely powerless here to limit-- limit the damage that you see?
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: Our-- we have some restrictions, it's always easier to compel an administration to stop doing something than it is to-- to begin something. I think what we could be doing now is bringing in some of the-- the heads of the military, the heads of the intelligence service, the heads of our humanitarian organizations to talk about what are we going to do to-- to prevent ISIS from becoming resurgent, to prevent ISIS from doing some coming back into that region. How are we going to be prepared for the humanitarian crisis, which is already happening and that's why I think the-- the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was-- was correct in saying that this is, indeed, a grave mistake. ISIS is going to come back. We know that there is about thirty thousand ISIS fighters that are throughout that region. We know the leader of ISIS is still around. And now in-- instead of saying this is a peace deal, unfortunately, and I still-- I still haven't seen all the details but what I am learning it looks more like terms of surrender than a peace deal. And--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should--
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --unfortunately, our-- our-- our enemies and our adversaries like Iran, Russia, Turkey, they're playing chess and unfortunately--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: --this administration is playing checkers.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, yes or no. Should President Erdogan of Turkey come to the White House next month?
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: That's-- that's a tough question. I think--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
 
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD: You know-- yeah, it's a tough question.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. That's not a yes or no, but we'll give you time. Thank you, Congressman. I got to leave it there.
 
We'll be back in one minute with General Tony Thomas, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with General Tony Thomas who retired earlier this year as the commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command. He spent thirty-nine years in the U.S. Army. Sir, thank you very much for joining us. Something you know intimately, of course, is what the U.S. architecture in Syria was and the work that we did with the Kurdish-led SDF forces. You helped set all of that up. The leader of those forces, General Mazloum, says this is a terrible deal for him. President Trump says it's a great one for humanity. Which is it?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS (Retired) (Former Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command): Well, Margaret, I think it's-- it's best we start by-- the discussion by talking about how we got here. Four years ago when we had no real solutions, no real plan to take on the caliphate that ISIS had declared in northeastern Syria, we were introduced to a group called the YPG. They are a group of Kurdish Syrians who were barely surviving in the area of Kobani up on the border with Turkey. And all they asked for at that time was our close air support. We've had some faltering efforts to try and develop some other partners that had come to nothing. And so we helped-- we helped the YPG at that point in time. That's where I made my personal acquaintance with-- with General Mazloum and then, remarkably, and-- and I-- I attribute it to some incredible efforts by our Special Operations Forces, we were able to-- to form a partner force that was several thousand when we started, ended up being in the-- in the realm of about seventy thousand mixed--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: --Arabs, Kurds and Christians who took the fight to ISIS. And so they have been our great partner up till now. We knew that this would come to some eventual conclusion, but I think they and we were surprised by how abruptly it came to a halt.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel that the Kurds led by General Mazloum are, essentially, being asked to surrender?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: I think they are being asked to survive. And, truthfully, the conversation that we've had with them-- and I was partner with Brett McGurk at the time was the intent that they will be part of the future of Syria, whatever that entailed and, truthfully, we didn't have a-- a solid plan for how-- how it would end. But they believe that they would be part of the fabric of the future of Syria. And-- and-- and, obviously, right now, they are forced to make deals with the Syrian regime and the Russians.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that's-- that's an important point you raise there because the State Department has said that no-- no promise was ever made to the Kurds to help protect them. But you're saying there was some understanding?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: There was absolutely a discussion. Brett McGurk and I were there in Kobani where we said that they would be part of the future discussion of Syria in-- in return for doing our bidding. That was absolutely the-- the-- the approach from the previous administration, obviously, carried over into the current administration, but they were not fighting for free. They were fighting to be part of that-- that future demographic.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mitt Romney called this a bloodstain on the annals of American history. Is that how you would put it?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: I-- I don't know that I would be that hyperbolic. I-- it-- it is certainly going to be a challenge for our future friends and allies in terms of our staying power. This has devolved to a Turk-Kurd issue when reality is that it was all about ISIS. So, we have not finished our business with ISIS. You heard the previous comment-- commentators say there are thirty thousand ISIS left. The- the debate is tens of thousands. But, nonetheless, it reminds me very much of 2011 where we did not finish what we started and we were back two years later when ISIS came out of the-- out of the ruin of what was al-Qaeda in Iraq at the time.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you do believe that ISIS will resurge?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: I think they'll have a-- a-- a great opportunity to do that because you've got all the precursors that existed before the Assad regime. Representative government, or not, in Iraq. So there'll be a void, and I think they will rally. These are resilient adversaries. We've done nothing to knock down the ideology, and I think they'll see this as certainly a respite if not an opportunity to have a resurgence. So I-- I am concerned about that.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, General, this term endless wars is something that is really popular on the campaign trail both for President Trump and for Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, who use it frequently. Do you see this as a broader trend in this country towards isolationism?
 
GENERAL RAYMOND THOMAS: Hard to tell and-- and, truthfully, none of us support endless wars. Most-- most specifically, those of us in the military who were served in the military but reality is we have had difficulty ending what we've started. On-- you know, you could go back to Vietnam, the Korean War, et cetera. And, in this case, we jumped into Syria which is a morass. Where I was not too long ago we were within mortar range of Syrian regime forces, Russian forces, Russian paramilitary forces that we've already fought, Iranian forces of all sorts of varieties, Shia militia, Turks and their surrogates, just-- and the Israelis over the top. Very, very complex-- I can't imagine a more complex situation. So, obviously, how we-- how we finish there is a challenge, but also how we stay engaged in other places so that we don't have to conduct larger scale operations.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. General, thank you very much for your insights.
 
We'll be back in a moment.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Tomorrow on CBS THIS MORNING, 2020 contender Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will sit down for their first joint interview since she endorsed him for President. They talk the future of his campaign, including whether she would ever consider being his running mate. More tomorrow.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of our stations are leaving us now, but we will be right back with analysis on all the news of the week. Stay with us.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We're now joined by former acting director of the CIA and CBS News senior national security contributor, Michael Morell as well as career diplomat, former ambassador William Burns, who also recently authored a book called The Back Channel. Thanks so much to both of you for being here.
 
MICHAEL MORELL (Former CIA Deputy Director/CBS News Senior National Security Contributor/@MichaelJMorell): You're welcome.
 
WILLIAM BURNS (Former Deputy Secretary of State): Thank you. Great to be with you.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to start on the immediate crisis around Syria. Mike, you know the general who, clearly, knows what's happening on the ground. He was pretty polite in what he said but his frustration in terms of the promises made to the Kurds was clear.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: Right.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: How much of a loss to U.S. intelligence is it to have this pullout from northern Syria?
 
MICHAEL MORELL: So, the Kurds were during a number of things for us. They were actually fighting ISIS for us in a very significant way and that is now lost. They were also collecting intelligence for us and giving that to us so that we could use it in our fight against ISIS and on the other side of the border in what the Iraqis were doing and I don't know that we've lost that but I bet you we either have or it is at significant risk.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And who benefits from that besides ISIS?
 
MICHAEL MORELL: ISIS benefits. The Russians benefit because they're going to be the ones getting that intelligence now or the Syrian-- the Syrian regime is going to benefit. But the-- the biggest-- the biggest winner here is ISIS.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Bill, I mean, you've-- you've negotiated with Erdoğan, with a number of these regional players. You know, typically, it-- it-- it's a rule that military presence gives diplomatic leverage when you're in a negotiation. When Vice President Pence went to Turkey this week, he promised to lift U.S. sanctions. He seemed to promise that the U.S. allies would withdraw from this area, as well. Was this a negotiation or was this, as some say, a surrender?
 
WILLIAM BURNS: Yeah, I mean, I think there was a smart way and a dumb way to deal with what was a very complicated situation in which we had modest leverage in northeast Syria. I think we chose the dumb way. In one impulsive presidential phone call, we in a sense gave away our leverage. And then in a pretty hasty negotiated cease-fire, we threw the Kurds under the bus and, essentially, gave Erdogan everything he wanted. And so while the President has called this a great deal, if this is a great deal, I'd hate to see what a bad one is because the winners, as Mike suggested, are not only the Turks and the Russians but also the Assad regime and the Iranians and I am afraid, ultimately, ISIS which is going to try to revive itself out of the chaos and the insecurity and the grievance on which it thrives.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But is this hyperbolic in some ways? I mean that American influence has diminished because of this one single decision.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: I don't think so at all. So you have all of what Bill said in terms of what happens in the Middle East but there's also the broader message that this sends to the entire world, right? And there's two things. One is that might makes right, right? That you can accomplish with violence differences between countries and that's not something that is in American interest, right, to have that view in the world. The other is that the American word, right, the American guarantees that we provide to people aren't worth anything, right? That at the end of the day is going to strengthen people like China and people like Russia who are going to come in behind us and make promises that they can't keep.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: It was-- it's always interesting to hear General Thomas say there was an understanding that America had given its word there. Bill, I want to switch to another topic because you know, personally, many of the diplomats who have gone up to Capitol Hill and behind closed doors given testimony about what has happened with Ukraine. You were scathing in an op-ed that you wrote. In terms of Secretary Pompeo, you said was derelict in his duty, not protecting his diplomats. He took a shot at you this morning and said you're just auditioning for a role in the next administration as Elizabeth Warren's secretary of state. Is that what you're doing?
 
WILLIAM BURNS: No. You know, my-- my concerns-- the concerns I expressed in that article are not about politics. You know like Michael, I spent three and a half decades proudly serving secret-- Presidents of both parties. My concerns are about the hollowing out of American diplomacy, whether you measure that in tangible ways, the sidelining of career expertise, not standing up for your people when they are unfairly accused, but also intangible ways. You know when President Trump was asked a little more than a year ago whether he was concerned about a record number of senior vacancies in the State Department, he said, "No, not really because I am the only one who matters." That's diplomacy as an exercise in narcissism, not the diplomacy I learned as a young diplomat many years ago working for Presidents like George H. W. Bush and secretaries of state like Jim Baker.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But for people on the outside when they hear the President say, well, this is just deep state bureaucrats being frustrated they are being sidelined. What is important about having done this professionally?
 
WILLIAM BURNS: What-- what's--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean what-- what is it that is lost when you have one of the President's friends intervene as you had Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland, who is a political appointee, a financial donor. Many Presidents appoint financial donors to ambassadorships.
 
WILLIAM BURNS: That's true. But I think what we're seeing right now is career public servants, like Ambassador Yovanovitch, who are fulfilling their obligation to tell the truth when they are asked by Congress and they are doing it honorably and they are doing it with their heads held high. That's a pretty sharp contrast to the behavior of the President and people around him who are doing a pretty good job of concealing their own sense of decency right now.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: And just to-- just to add, Margaret, expertise, knowledge, experience are extraordinarily important to making the right decisions in government and that's what's being lost by not relying on these people.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. I mean the intelligence community has been accused by this President of having its own deep state of just-- he was disrupting and they didn't like it and they pushed back, is the President's narrative around this. The attorney general who launched this investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, which concluded definitively that it was Russia that meddled in the 2016 election, seems to be expanding this probe.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: Right.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: What is the impact of this on the intelligence community?
 
MICHAEL MORELL: So, I think that-- that Durham's investigation at Barr's behest into the intelligence community's work on the link between the Trump campaign and the Russians is okay in one respect and not okay in the other. The respect that it's okay is taking a look at what the intelligence community did and answering the question: was it done by the book from a legal perspective? Was it consistent with statute? That's okay to me. What's not okay is to put the analysts under a spotlight and say, did they get the analysis right? Why is that not okay for me? It's a-- it's not okay for two reasons. One is that the Justice Department has no experience, no knowledge of, no particular perspective to bring to bear on analysis and they are likely to get the answer wrong because their standards of making a judgment are very, very, very different from the intelligence community standards. And I think there is going to be an effect on analysts who now have to go out and hire lawyers before they sit down with a Department of Justice prosecutor. There is going to be an effect on analysts in terms of them saying, do I really want to make the hard call in the future?
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you-- John Brennan, former head of the CIA, and Jim Clapper, former Director National Intelligence, have-- CBS has confirmed that they have been approached for--
 
MICHAEL MORELL: Yes. Yes.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to answer these questions.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: Yes.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying this is all political and not legitimate?
 
MICHAEL MORELL: So-- so there are questions, right? There are questions out there about whether the intelligence community and the FBI did the right thing, right? From a legal perspective, I think it's okay to look at that and put that issue to rest.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: I don't like looking at analysis because that's a completely different issue.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. Last word here. Ambassador, Mike brought up all these people having to go out and hire lawyers and sort of defend their positions. Do you see this as a long-term hit to the national security architecture of this country?
 
WILLIAM BURNS: It is. I mean, I think it's-- it's really taking a toll on career public servants and on expertise, as Michael said, at precisely the moment when the United States needs to rely on that expertise whether it's in the intelligence community, the State Department, the Defense Department more than the other time because we're on a very competitive international landscape and we're digging a very deep hole for ourselves right now.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thanks very much to both of you for lending us your expertise.
 
We'll be right back with our political panel.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to our political panel for some analysis. And we know you need it, it's been a busy week. Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR. Jamal Simmons is the host of The Remedy on Hill TV, a Democratic strategist, and now--congratulations--a new CBS News political contributor.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS (Hill.TV/@JamalSimmons/CBS News Political Contributor): Thank you. It's good to be here.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome to the family.
 
Michael Steel is a Republican strategist and Paula Reid is a White House correspondent here at CBS. And she also keeps a very close eye on the Justice Department for us as well. So, Paula, you're a lawyer.
 
PAULA REID (CBS News White House Correspondent/@PaulReidCBS): Recovering.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Oh, yeah, recovering. Tell me what happened this week when Mick Mulvaney went to that podium and said what he said. This morning he is out there trying to walk it back yet again.
 
PAULA REID: That's right.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: (INDISTINCT) change.
 
PAULA REID: Well, Democrats have taken some-- some criticism for holding most of their hearings behind closed doors, hearing from witnesses, not-- not in the public sphere. But then they got the best witness imaginable, not just in the public sphere but on national television at the White House podium. Mulvaney came out, not only did he confirm the quid pro quo, which he-- he has subsequently walked back. But that is a significant-- that's a significant blow to the impeachment defense, but he also got it muddied the waters even further on the Durham review, which is already under some scrutiny as Morell just mentioned as to whether this is actually a review where they are trying to gather facts or whether they are trying to give the President a political win. So Democrats could not have asked for a better witness than Mick Mulvaney at the podium. And this morning, he tried to just deny that he said a-- there was a quid pro quo. I went back, I looked through the transcript. He was asked repeatedly, are you saying this aid was tied to cooperation in this investigation? And he said, yes.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the DOJ did not like what they heard. They issued a statement.
 
PAULA REID: Not at all. They did issue a statement. I got some other comments to words I can't say on TV. But they were livid because they know that the Durham review all-- is all-- but there already is some skepticism about that if this is Barr trying to do what the President has long asked the Justice Department to do. And so to have Mulvaney muddied the waters, they were not happy.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sue, you had Adam Schiff who is leading--
 
SUSAN DAVIS (NPR/@DaviSusan): Mm-Hm.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --this investigation as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He said Mulvaney took it from very bad to worse. This was a gift to him. But does it actually move the needle politically in anyway?
 
SUSAN DAVIS: Yes, because I think to Paula's point this happened on public television, which is the problem that the Democrats have had is making this case to the public. A lot of what we know, and we should-- most of what we know has been leaked either by Democrats on the committee or through the testimony from the people that have come, that have given it to us. They have been-- there has been some fifty-five hours of testimony just last week. And we don't know a lot of that. So when these public moments happen, certainly, Mulvaney helped Democrats case. I mean it was-- also what it had the effect of doing was blowing up three weeks of semi-coordinated Republican messaging on Capitol Hill, trying to defend the President's actions. And Mulvaney saying that erase all of it and left all of the President's allies on the Hill once again scrambling to try and defend this behavior.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's not the first time that has happened, though, Michael, for--
 
MICHAEL STEEL (Republican Strategist/@michael_steel): No.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --for Republicans to have to adapt to the changing talking point. Does it matter in terms of changing the calculus of standing by the President?
 
MICHAEL STEEL: Of course, it makes it much more difficult to stand by the President when he admits that there is a quid pro quo, when his administration admits that there is a quid pro quo, I do think to, Sue's point, this highlights the weakness of House Democrats' efforts right now because they are doing it behind close-- behind closed doors. Because they are not making a public case, impeachment is an inherently political exercise and they are not telling the public why it needs to happen.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But which Republicans are actually going to back away?
 
MICHAEL STEEL: That's a very, very difficult question. I think right now a lot of the smartest Republicans, at least in the Senate, are sticking with what he did was wrong but it does not rise to the level of impeachment a year before the election. And that's a position they can-- they can defend at least until the next shoe drops.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: The caveat there there being-- being key. Jamal, I mean, for-- for us on the campaign trail, we also had the other Democratic attempt to not impeach the President, to remove him from office through the election path. Anything that actually moved the needle on that debate stage that we all watched?
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: Well, the debates-- debates didn't move the needle for a couple of candidates. I think Pete Buttigieg did something very well at the debate stage. He-- he kind of stood up for American honor and integrity, you didn't really hear a lot of people can make that argument and-- but the national security, defense on that stage. I thought it was very strong. Amy Klobuchar, obviously, has had a moment. What's tough for her is she doesn't have any money. There's a say, you know, in order to catch lightning you got to have a bottle. She doesn't really have very much of (INDISTINCT) so she's going to have some trouble voting up. I'm going to give it to one more thing that Michael just said, the difference between what the Republicans trying to say that if Trump-- Trump did something wrong with that impeachable. Democrats did this when Bill Clinton was in office. The difference here is Bill Clinton went on television in August of 1998 and said what I did was wrong. He actually took accountability after getting cornered. It's an accountability for what he did was wrong, was then gave every Democrat the ability to go out in public and say that without getting in trouble with the White House.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. 
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: That's not the rule right here with the Republicans in the Senate, in the House, with the President. And I think if I were the White House, they don't pay me for advice, they need a-- they need a war room fast, but they can coordinate their messaging. They need a Mark Fabiani or Chris Lehane or somebody who can stand the podium and say or stand in some part-- part of the--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: --complex and give people the facts from the White House perspective. Otherwise somebody else is going to catch a case.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We have to take a quick break.
 
Regroup. Come back with more from our panel. So stay with us.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back now with our political panel. It was a busy news week. It was also a sad one, particularly here on Capitol Hill with the passing of Elijah Cummings, really a-- a giant in Washington.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: On a human level, I think Cummings was what fewer and fewer members of Congress are as he had commanded profound respect across the political spectrum. And you had, obviously, Democrats in the words of Nancy Pelosi, she said they lost a North Star for the party. But you also saw effusive praise from Republicans who he did hardcore hand-to-hand combat with over the years, who also praised him and sort of one of the honest players in the game. On a practical political level, Democrats have also lost one of their best chairmen.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: Also one of their chairmen who was leading the impeachment investigation and not beyond the impeachment investigation, oversight the committee he was running was looking at everything from the treatment of children at the border, to the cost of prescription drugs, core Democratic Party issues in which he was a player, and figuring out who's going to fill that role is going to be incredibly hard for Democrats. One other thing I would say is the speaker announced he will lie in state in the Capitol this week that does not happen very often. The last member of Congress who did it was John McCain. Obviously, a very storied career. So it is a testament to his life and legacy that he's going to be given that honor.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And Jamal--
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: Yeah.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --you and your family knew him.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: Yeah. He was my wife's first boss out of college. So he was a very close member of her network and mentor. And I interviewed Cedric Richmond this week for our show on the Hill, and he-- he said very specifically that there were tears in the caucus, people were fighting back tears in the Democratic caucus when they had the meeting after he passed away. And I think there's a real loss not only there but he sat as a bridge between sort of the-- the squad that everybody talks about, because he had three members of the squad that's had on that government oversight committee. He kind of tried to mentor them. So he was one of the voices from kind of the old guard at some of this new guard was going to listen to. So the Democrats are-- they've lost a-- a big voice-- a big voice personally and there's a void there also and how they govern the caucus.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: And-- and he was a friend to this show, and I know we remembered him this week. But when it came to the job he was doing in this moment, I think you, Jamal, said he was signing subpoenas--
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: He was-- he was--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --on the day he died.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: The night before he asked the staff to come up and he was signing documents.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we know one of the stories that Mick Mulvaney also brought to the public eye this week. Paula, Michael, was this decision to bring the G7 world leaders to the President's own golf course, Doral, next year?
 
MICHAEL STEEL: Yeah.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Last night that was reversed. It didn't take House Oversight to stop it from happening, though. Why do try-- they-- they--
 
MICHAEL STEEL: Yeah.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: They would have tried.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: --definitely would have tried. Why the reversal?
 
MICHAEL STEEL: This is the first big high-profile reversal I have seen from President Trump of something that he was personally committed to personally in-- behind. I think it was because he was getting bipartisan pushback on this because it was simply, obviously, indefensible. And I think that his chief of staff's explanation this morning that the President still sees himself as being in the hospitality industry is profoundly disturbing for a number of Americans who'd like him to have higher priorities.
 
PAULA REID: This morning the White House is deferring to the President's tweet which effectively says, well, Democrats and the media were upset so I'm going to backtrack. Since when is that his philosophy? And we know this has to be a political calculation because the President floated this idea at the G7 this year in August. And at that time senior White House officials told me, of course, he wouldn't even mention that unless it had been vetted and they said it had been vetted, the Emoluments Clause concerns, conflict of interest. So they understood the legal and ethical concerns. They put it out there this week anyway. And then at some point they must have decided that without Republican support the optics of backtracking were preferable to the fight.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: But, Michael, the President often says he doesn't back down. Does the fact that he did on this signal that he is getting worried that Republicans aren't there? Why?
 
MICHAEL STEEL: I think this is one more front he needed to fight-- he couldn't fight on when he was already fighting on Syria, on Ukraine. He needs to keep the support of those Republicans particularly in the Senate in order to avoid being removed from office. And I think this is one more fight he didn't want to have.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: It just seems like that hotel, you know, they searched the entire country and this was the only place they could find was very Dick Cheney of them, right? You know he was the only vice president-- he was the only vice president that George Bush could find after he ran the--
 
MICHAEL STEEL: VP search.
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: --VP search. You know the hotel's just seem to function more and more sort of the presidential tip jar. They are the place where you go, you stay in Washington, you stay there, the President knows that you stay there before you go have your meeting in-- in-- in-- at the White House. And also if you are now a foreign leader, you know, you come and you stay at a presidential hotel, if you're in the Air Force and you stop in Europe, you go and stay at a presidential hotel. It just seems to be the place where the money gets a little put in the President's, you know, jar and then you can go and do business.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: The-- the President claims it was not going to be for profit. That is what Mick said from the podium.
 
PAULA REID: Exactly, but they had no-- no explanation on how exactly they would determine what the costs were that should be either donated or just not pass along to the President. And the idea that the President's brand doesn't need any help, but we all know empirically that's not true. And he has taken a hit on his-- his personal business since he's come to the White House.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Jamal, I want to ask you about this extraordinary charge by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that one of the 2020 candidates who was later confirmed she meant Tulsi Gabbard was somehow working for Russia. Why did she say that?
 
JAMAL SIMMONS: You know, it's-- it is often hard to know exactly what the Clintons are up to and-- and how they're thinking about things. What may be true, though, is that she is worried about something happening to the Democratic nominee that she feels happened to her in 2016, and she is willing to sacrifice herself to raise these questions very early, to try to preempt whatever those attacks may be. Now Tulsi Gabbard has a big following on the internet, she has a big following among some of the more progressive voices in the party, so they did not take this laying down. They came for Hillary Clinton pretty hard. But now we're talking about it on FACE THE NATION.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, they both came out swinging and pretty hard.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: Yeah, Tulsi shot back pretty hard. She did, I mean she's obviously someone who has been struggling in the Democratic presidential primary. It was kind of a bizarre attack, I mean, it was a bizarre news week to begin with, and then you add this Hillary Clinton attack out of nowhere on a member of her own party. I mean there is a certain underlying truth that if you listen to all the intelligence officials and members of Congress and some people in the administration, there is still ongoing efforts to meddle in the 2020 election.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: It's a real present threat to the country. I think Hillary Clinton could be a voice on that but the way that she stepped out to use it--
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
 
SUSAN DAVIS: --was just a really bizarre first step.
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: It was good to have all of you here today. Thanks for your analysis.
 
We'll be right back.
 
(ANNOUNCEMENTS)
 
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are a few things left that aren't political in this town, the Nationals heading to the World Series is one of them. But more vital are the public servants who work no matter if it is a Republican or a Democrat in office. They have uncomfortably stepped into the spotlight with this crisis and they are warning that their particular nonpartisan brand of patriotism is in danger.
 
This week and last, diplomats were stuck between the choice of defying a White House order not to answer questions or ignoring the congressional subpoena that compelled them. Each spoke out led first by Marie Yovanovitch, a respected ambassador who said she had nothing to do with Ukraine's scandal and may have had her career cut short because of that. One of the men working on that project, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, said he felt bad about it and even he, one of the President's friends, now thinks the professionals should have been left in charge. A senior aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mike McKinley, said he quit in part because no one was defending public servants like Marie against political targeting.
 
With more testimonies this week, it may be worth listening to those quiet voices who have issued a warning that mixing politics and foreign policy comes at a cost. And that personal benefit should not be confused with public good.
 
That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. And thank you to the Jones Day law firm for the facilities here on Capitol Hill. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I am Margaret Brennan.