Meet the Press - October 13, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the impeachment battle.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They’re pursuing an illegal, invalid, and unconstitutional, bull**** impeachment.

CHUCK TODD:

As support grows for impeachment, most Republicans stay strong for President Trump.

REP. DOUG COLLINS:

The American people are not going to stand a partisan witch hunt.

CHUCK TODD:

Some though stay silent.

SEN. JONI ERNST:

I would say that I don't know that we have that information in front of us.

CHUCK TODD:

And reports emerge that the feds have opened a criminal investigation into Rudy Giuliani's work in Ukraine. My guest this morning: Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, one of the committee chairs leading the House impeachment inquiry. Plus: Scenes of ethnic cleansing by pro-Turkish forces in Syria.

RICHARD ENGEL:

We saw for the first time alleged atrocities carried out by Turkish-backed arab militias.

CHUCK TODD:

This after President Trump orders a pullback of U.S. troops --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're getting out of endless wars. We have to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

-- giving Turkey the green light to attack the Kurds. My sit-down with Mr. Trump's first Defense Secretary, General James Mattis.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS:

Isis will resurge, it's absolutely a given that they'll come back.

CHUCK TODD:

And I'll talk to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Finally, Trump, Biden and the politics of character assassination.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Where's Hunter?

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a limit to what voters will accept? Joining me for insight and analysis are: Michael Schmidt, Correspondent for The New York Times, Peggy Noonan, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher and Ashley Parker, White House reporter for The Washington Post. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. We do have a lot to get to this morning, including the growing support for impeachment and President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, now reportedly being investigated for his lobbying work in Ukraine. But we're going to start with breaking news from Syria, where Turkey has unleashed a brutal assault on our allies, the Kurds. That invasion came after President Trump essentially gave Turkey the go ahead, and NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel is reporting on scenes of alleged atrocities carried out by Turkish-backed Arab militias and these have been caught on camera. Richard Engel is covering this from northern Syria. And Richard, you’re on the phone with us now. Just tell us what you’ve been seeing.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Chuck, things here are developing very rapidly. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned. We have so far seen a Turkish assault, that is the way it is being reported, as a Turkish assault, against the Kurds. But it is much, much more than that .The Turks are now using militia elements, extremist militia elements, that we are told, that U.S. intelligence believes includes former members of Al-Qaeda, including -- and former members of Al-Qaeda. Those forces are advancing. Yesterday, those forces themselves released a video some people might find disturbing, apparently executing a Kurdish man by the side of the road. Celebrating, shouting Allahu Akbar, telling their colleagues to film them. We are told those kinds of executions are continuing today. And then, in a very disturbing development, U.S. officials tell us that those same militias, the ones that include Al-Qaeda and ISIS members, have advanced even further in track vehicles. They are advancing close to U.S. forces. U.S. forces tell us that unless those forces withdraw immediately, they risk coming into contact with U.S. troops. U.S. troops say that their line of communication, their actual supply line between them and the Kurds are at risk of being cut off. This is a very serious situation. It has turned a corner because of these extremist militias. Also here on the ground, the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Kurdish officials tell us that one of these prison camps, holding hundreds of family members of ISIS, ISIS supporters, has been broken into, and that the detainees inside have managed to escape. We just came from a prison and saw that every day now there are -- attempts to escape at the prison where we are. So the situation is not how it has been portrayed over the last several days as a conventional Turkish assault, but one that involves militias, one that now is bringing those militias right on the doorstep of U.S. forces.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Engel with some very disturbing developments there. Richard, stay safe as you cover this story and thank you for bringing that important information. Look, President Trump is under fire even from Republicans for pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria. The other battle the president is fighting is impeachment -- and it’s also the direct result of his own actions. In that case he's accused of using the power of his office to interfere in a foreign country -- Ukraine -- for political gain, with Rudy Giuliani as his personal emissary. As a result, we may be seeing the country's most serious constitutional crisis since Watergate.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

An illegal, invalid, and unconstitutional, bull**** impeachment.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump lashing out as he grows increasingly isolated.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Impeachment. I never thought I'd see or hear that word with regard to me.

CHUCK TODD:

The New York Times reports that the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is under federal criminal investigation into whether he violated foreign lobbying laws in his work in Ukraine. The president seemed to quickly try to distance himself

REPORTER:

Is Rudy Giuliani still your personal attorney?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Well I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He’s a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney, yeah sure.

JUDGE JEANINE:

There is some confusion as to whether or not you still consider him your attorney? Is he your attorney?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Yes, and he's a great gentleman. He was a great mayor. I know nothing about him being under investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

Two of Giuliani's business associates, Soviet-born Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped investigate Joe Biden in Ukraine, were arrested late Wednesday, charged with allegedly funneling foreign money into U.S. elections.

WILLIAM SWEENEY:

This investigation is about corrupt behavior. Deliberate lawbreaking.

CHUCK TODD:

According to the indictment - the two men donated money - violating legal limits - to then Congressman Pete Sessions, referred to as "Congressman-1", asking him for help "to remove or recall" the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Sessions then wrote a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo, asking him to "consider terminating her ambassadorship". Parnas and Fruman also disguised the source of a 325-thousand dollar donation to a pro-Trump Super PAC.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don't know those gentlemen.

HALLIE JACKSON:

You were in pictures with them.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Now, it's possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody. I don't know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You'd have to ask Rudy.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday - Yovanovitch testified that Rudy Giuliani and President Trump forced her out of her job because her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine frustrated their political goals.

REPORTER:

Why did you recall her?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I heard very bad things about her. And I don't know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time.

CHUCK TODD:

Republican senators, especially those in tough re-election fights, have ducked direct questions on Ukraine

REPORTER:

I’m asking you if it’s appropriate for a president to ask a foreign power to investigate his domestic political rival: yes or no?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Well, and again I would say that I don’t know that we have that information in front of us.

SEN. CORY GARDNER:

Look you know what I've said before, you know what I've said before.

REPORTER:

But you're not answering the question. We want to hear from you

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel. He is one of the three committee chairs that is officially leading this House impeachment inquiry. Chairman Engel, welcome to Meet the Press.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to start with what normally your days are filled with, which is the foreign affairs of this country and what's happening. You just saw Richard Engel's report from what he's seen on the ground and what we've seen there. It seems as if all of the concern that people like yourself, bipartisan lawmakers, had expressed, is now happening. What can we -- is there anything to be done now?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, I hope that the House will vote for my bill. I have two bills that we're putting up this week. And it's bipartisan, by the way. Mike McCaul is the ranking Republican member on my Foreign Affairs Committee. And he is doing this with me. It’s an Engel-McCaul Bill. And what it essentially does is it's -- first of all, it condemns the president's policy with regard to the Kurds, which is very important, and slaps sanctions on Turkey and all the people involved with what's going on.

CHUCK TODD:

What does that do, though? I mean, are sanctions at this point going to do anything? I mean, the president threatened sanctions on Friday. It didn't stop the Turks from doing what they're doing.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

No. And it's not going to stop, but the -- we have to some kind of response. Chuck, I can think of nothing more disgusting, in all the years I've been in Congress, than what this president is allowing to happen with the Kurds. They have been our loyal and faithful allies for so many years. And after this, who again would trust the United States to be an ally of them? Who would think that it pays for them to align themselves with us? Nobody. This is going to make people flee from us. And it's just absolutely disgraceful that the president, the United -- of the United States, is facilitating all of this.

CHUCK TODD:

I hate to put it in these terms, but is it now too late to do anything? I mean, is this sort of -- let's say the president said, "You know what? I've seen this video. I want to stop this." At this point, wouldn't we put -- we'd be putting our troops in harm's way with the Turks, no?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, yes. We could mitigate the damage, but of course it's spiraling quickly. And what's happened, of course, is a lot of ISIS prisoners, we've gotten reports that they've been released or they've escaped. And so this is just the tip of the iceberg. And if we think this is terrible, I predict we're going to have many, many more days, weeks and months of terrible things like this. I don't know what it is with President Trump. He likes strong men. He likes to associate himself with people like Erdogan, who is the leader of Turkey. But that is not what the United States should be doing.

CHUCK TODD:

Two things. Is Turkey -- Turkey's technically a NATO ally, so it's technically an American ally. Are they acting like an American ally?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Oh, no. They're acting just the opposite. I mean, they are acting like a Russian ally. You know, they are buying Russian missile systems, not buying the United States missile system --

CHUCK TODD:

Should we kick them out of NATO? Should we be -- should there be a movement to kick Turkey out of NATO?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

I think it's something that needs to be considered. I mean, how do you have a NATO ally who's in cahoots with the Russians, when the Russians are the adversaries of NATO? And if you go back to the end of World War II, the United States prevented all these countries, including Turkey, from falling into the Soviet orb. And so how ironic now, 75 years later, Turkey is looking at the Russians like they're the best friends in the world. Erdogan's a bad guy. And I'm disgusted at the American president would feel comfortable with someone like Erdogan.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to your -- the impeachment inquiry, a couple things. Ambassador Yovanovitch, what did you learn from her that we -- that you think the American public needs to know?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, first of all, the ambassador has been a highly respected career ambassador. We have many, many of those in the State Department. And from the time she came to Ukraine she was harassed and they got rid of her. And she didn't know -- I'm saying things that, that's generally known, because I'm not really allowed to say what happened at the hearing.

CHUCK TODD:

Are we going to see the full transcripts at some point?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Yes, I think at some point. But --

CHUCK TODD:

Of all of these folks? Kurt Volker, all of these inter-- these eight and nine-hour sessions? Are we likely -- the American public going to read these transcripts?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, I think the American public should. And the American public has the right to know. And I think that we need open the door and let the fresh air come in. That's what the Democrats, that's what we're trying to do. The president, of course, at every turn is trying to stymy us, at every turn is trying to make -- disregard us. You know, remember when you were a kid and you learned the different branches of government, checks and balances?

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, take that all and throw it out, because the president doesn't think that the Congress has any right to check and balance the Executive.

CHUCK TODD:

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., now A) says he wants to testify despite the Administration encouraging him not to and, B) is saying on the "no quid pro quo" comment in his text that he was essentially saying “That was the president.” What do you make of Ambassador Sondland sort of taking a step back, it seems?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, let me say first of all, I'm delighted that he's coming in. And we think it'll be this Thursday. I'm anticipating -- I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say because he's certainly key. And I --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand why the ambassador to E.U. was the point person on Ukraine?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

I don't.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

I don't.

CHUCK TODD:

You have not gotten an answer to that question?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

No. No. No. It doesn't make sense because obviously he shouldn't be. But apparently he was -- close relations with the president and the president liked him.

CHUCK TODD:

You have said you're fine if there is a vote in the House impeachment inquiry. Why not at this point? Why not put everybody on the record, Republicans and Democrats? Everybody seems to want to be on the record. So, put them on the record.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Well, we can go on the record by actually having impeachment hearings. I don't know that we need another step to kind of push it further back --

CHUCK TODD:

Does it bother you to vote?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Doesn't bother me to vote. But, you know, the Republicans would rather talk about anything else than about what's really happened. So, they throw this out that there should be a vote. If we had a vote on that, they'd come up with six other things, there needs to be a vote. I think there needs to be an impeachment inquiry and we should stop the delaying tactics of the Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

Congressman Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, one of the three committee chairs running this inquiry. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. I really appreciate it.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL:

Always a pleasure, Chuck. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Senate side. Senator Paul is also the author of the new book, “The Case Against Socialism”. Senator Paul, welcome back to Meet The Press, sir.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Thanks, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the news of the morning. I hope you caught our report from Richard Engel and what he's seeing on the ground. I know where your views are philosophically and I want to get to that in a minute. But are you concerned that this decision was too hasty and it, and it sort of created a more chaotic situation than necessary?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, I think one of the things about the Arab militias that Turkey is using that your reporter reported on, it's interesting that some of them are from the Free Syrian Army, which was our ally for seven years, which just shows how messy this is. Turkey's an ally, the Free Syrian Army was an ally for seven years, and the Kurds have been allies in Syria. So it's a very complicated, messy situation. But I think a lot of people are not acknowledging that Turkey was coming in one way or another and 50 soldiers would simply be in the way and be a tripwire to a much worse outcome. And so I think the president was right in moving 50 soldiers out of the way of an onslaught of tens of thousands of Turkish troops.

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you so convinced of that? It seems as if -- and I'm not going to get to whether it was exactly 50 and all of that, but it does seem as if our soldiers being there was serving as a deterrent to Erdogan --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, they were --

CHUCK TODD:

--for a period of time.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

They were until they weren't. I mean they were until the Turks decided they were coming. The Turks gave us forewarning they were coming. And the president made a judgment that I think most military commanders would agree with, that you don't have 50 soldiers, you don't go to war with 50 soldiers. 50 soldiers don't deter anything. Once the Turks said they were coming it would've been foolish to leave 50 soldiers in the wake of tens of thousands of people coming across the border. This is a --

CHUCK TODD:

I want to bring -- go ahead.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- hundred-year-old war between the Turks and the Kurds. Realize the president's asking is it in our national security interest to somehow figure out how the Kurds can live with the Turks? The other interesting thing that people don't mention is all the Kurds aren't the same. The Iraqi Kurds actually are cooperating with Turkey to turn in Kurdish Workers Party officials that they see as terrorists. So the Iraqi Kurds are actually turning over some of these Kurds that are aligned with the Syrians. So realize that all the Kurds aren't the same on every side of every border.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm glad you brought this up. When you were running for president you actually -- you had a proposal on how you would handle this situation at the time and I want to play it for you 'cause I'm curious if you still hold the same view. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. RAND PAUL:

So I would provide armaments to the Kurds as well. In fact, I'd go one step further. I'd promise them a homeland and a state. But I would do it in conjunction with talks with Turkey. It would have to be a three-way discussion, Kurds homeland. But I'd like to get the Turks involved as well.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Look, it's an interesting proposal. I think you're not alone in that. I think a lot of folks would argue that at some point the Kurds need a home. Have you shared that idea with the president?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I haven't talked specifically about it, but the interesting thing is they kind of do have a homeland. There's a Kurdish semi autonomous region in Iraq. So what I was referring to is Iraq. And I still do agree with that sentiment. But here's one of the interesting things: As we've gotten stability in Iraq and as the Kurds have a lot of self-control in governing sort of like a province, there's actually 1,800 Turkish businesses doing business in that part of Iraq that is controlled by the Kurds. It's a prosperous oil region, and there's back and forth between the Turks and the Kurds. And it actually works pretty well. But these Kurds don't actually get along with the Syrian Kurds so well. And many of the Syrian Kurds have been trying to break off part of Turkey into an independent country. It's been going on for really close to 100 years. Many of the Kurds in Syria actually were expelled or exiled from Turkey back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. So there's this long history. And the question we have to ask is, and I have to ask, am I going to send the sons and daughters of American mothers and fathers, am I going to send them there to die to try to figure out how the Kurd and the Turks can get along? And I don't see that in our national interest. And we should vote on it. We should vote on it in Congress and declare war if that's what people want.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, what do you -- I get that. What about that line that says, "America made a commitment to these folks." You may not have agreed with that policy decision at the time, but abandoning them could lead to a worse outcome. Look, that’s a -- these are not easy decisions. I'm not -- but what do you say to that line?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

But, you know, what President Trump said was not, "I'm committed to making a Kurdish homeland in Syria." What he said is, "We're going to wipe out ISIS," which was to the benefit also of the Kurdish people who live in that region.

CHUCK TODD:

But if ISIS is back --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

So we never pro -- no, well, that's, that’s to be debated. What I would say is ISIS has been militarily defeated and whether they come back or not is conjecture at this point. But what I would say is this. We have to debate in Congress. Our -- my oath is to the Constitution. My oath isn't to some promise that somebody thinks we made for a Kurdish homeland. We should vote. And here's the reason why we won't vote. They don't know who to declare war on. We're going to declare war on Turkey? We're going to declare war on the Free Syrian Army, which was our ally for seven years? Are we going to declare war on Assad? And really, to tell you the truth, what needs to happen is we need to exert our leverage and our pressure to bring all sides together. And ultimately it's probably in the Kurd's best interest to be aligned with Assad. But as long as we continue to say, "Assad has to go," we're never getting to a peaceful situation. Assad is staying. And if Assad were aligned with the Kurds and the Kurds were given some semi-autonomy in their region, it could develop the way it is Iraq currently. In Iraq, they have a semi autonomous region. What if the Kurds were under Syrian sovereign entity, but had a semi autonomous region up there? You might find some peace with that if Syria would guarantee that they're not going to have incursions across the border into Turkey, which means everybody needs to be at the table having this discussion.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, the president at the same time this week quietly sent more troops to Saudi Arabia and claims that the Saudis are going to pay for those troops. Are you comfortable with the U.S. military being treated almost like a mercenary force for the Saudis?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I'm not. In fact I would withhold troops and arms from the Saudis until we see better behavior. I think that our arms are uniquely -- belong to the American people and that we shouldn't be sending them to the Saudis until we see a change in their behavior. But it's inconsistent to say we're not going to be there for endless senseless wars and then to have them in Saudi Arabia. One of the things that Bin Laden said motivated him, it's not a justification obviously, it was terrible and he got what he deserved, but one of the things he said that motivated him were troops in what they considered to be their holy land. And so I think having troops in Saudi Arabia becomes a magnet for all the crazy jihadists around the world to motivate them to attack again.

CHUCK TODD:

On the issue of impeachment and what's been going on, I'm curious, are you disturbed at all by the role Rudy Guiliani's been playing as a private citizen here, possibly dabbling in foreign -- foreign affairs in ways that frankly is now being investigated. But there seems to be almost, like, a shadow foreign policy that he might have been running. Does that bother you at all?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think what's interesting about this is both sides seem to be doing the same thing. If anything is consistent here it's that both parties have tried to involve themselves in Ukraine. So for example, four senators, Democrats, wrote a letter to the Ukrainian government and said, "If you don't keep investigating Trump we may reconsider our bipartisan support for your aid." Both parties seem to be doing this. And that's why I think ultimately the American people are going to say -- they're going to throw up their hands and say, "Well, Biden threatened the aid. You know, Menendez threatened the aid" --

CHUCK TODD:

But that, but that is a misleading --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

"Murphy threatened the aid"--

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that they could get gaslit and think that it's all equal in both sides of it. But I'm talking about --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, I mean, it's an argument --

CHUCK TODD:

-- specifically --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think it is an argument that they're both doing the same thing.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, then do two wrongs make a right?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, what I would do is I wouldn't give them any aid. I wouldn't give them any aid 'cause we don't have any money. We're borrowing that money from China to send it to Ukraine. So I disagree with trying to manipulate them in any way. I just wouldn't give them the aid, period. I wouldn't say, "You get the aid if you do X for me." I would say, "We don't have the money. Let's take care of stuff at home. Let's build roads and bridges in America not over there."

CHUCK TODD:

Are you comfortable with the role Rudy Guiliani's been playing on behalf of the president?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I don't really know enough about what he's doing. I knew he traveled over there to try to seek information on Hunter Biden's corruption. I think a lot of America's see the $50,000 a month Hunter Biden was making and it doesn't pass the smell test. I think most people do think there was some corruption involved with Hunter Biden. And I hope we do get to the bottom of it.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I see that you wanted to get that in there. So you think it's perfectly legitimate for the president to use his personal attorney to go to a foreign country and seek help for a political campaign?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think it's equally as legitimate as the Democrats going there and saying, "Hey, we should investigate Trump." They really did. Menendez and --

CHUCK TODD:

They were talking about Paul Manafort.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- four other Senators --

CHUCK TODD:

They were talking about Paul Manafort --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- wrote a letter --

CHUCK TODD:

-- who was doing some shady business who's now in jail --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Right. Democrat Senators -- I know.

CHUCK TODD:

-- for the business he was doing.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

But Democrat senators --

CHUCK TODD:

Was that not legitimate?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- did the same thing -- well, here's the thing is if you're going to condemn Trump you need to condemn the Democrat senators. It shouldn't be just one-sided. Everybody's going after President Trump. Someone needs to actually, in an objective way, evaluate a letter from four Democrats that said to Ukraine, "If you don't keep investigating Trump we will reconsider our bipartisan support for aid." That's a threat. And that's the same kind of stuff they're accusing Trump of. But nobody's talking about that the Democrats are doing exactly the same thing.

CHUCK TODD:

Unfortunately I'm out of time. Senator Rand Paul, good luck with your new book. Thanks for coming --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Thank you--

CHUCK TODD:

-- on and sharing your views. I appreciate it.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, my sit-down with President Trump's first Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis and what he has to say about the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It was last December that retired General Jim Mattis resigned as President Trump's first Defense Secretary. He did so over policy differences, including the president's decision then to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and his rejection overall of international alliances. Well, General Mattis is also the author of a new book, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead." I sat down with him yesterday morning before we learned of the alleged atrocities that Richard Engel has been reporting on and I began by asking him for his assessment of the situation in northern Syria.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Well, what we see is the continued reliance that we have on allies. The fight against ISIS was fought largely by the Syrian Democratic Forces. We have lost, during several years of fighting in Syria, for example, less than a dozen troops, each one a tragedy, but the Syrian Democratic Forces, primarily the Kurds, have lost well over 11,000 killed, over 23,000 wounded. So you see how we are fighting this enemy, doing it in a way by, with and through allies that spreads the load, so it's not just the American people, the American taxpayer, the American troops carrying the full load.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you feel as if, are we still doing this fight now? Or is it, or have we just pulled back, and it's now up to the Kurds on their own?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Well, it's, it’s in a situation of disarray right now. Obviously, the Kurds are adapting to the Turkish attacks. And we'll have to see if they're able to maintain the fight against ISIS. It's going to have an impact. The question is, how much?

CHUCK TODD:

How would you turn this around now, if you could?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

That's a very good question, Chuck. That's a very good question. You turn issues like this around based on trust. And re-instilling trust is going to be very difficult for the Americans, at this point.

CHUCK TODD:

There's a, a movie called Charlie Wilson's War, that the theme of it is, is-- has to do with the Americans walking away from the mujahideen in Afghanistan. And of course, we can-- we all know what happens 20 years later. How concerned should we be about abandoning an ally, like the Kurds, that, maybe 20 years down the road, this comes to bite us?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Right. I think Secretary of State Pompeo, the intelligence services, the foreign countries that are working with us have it about right, that ISIS is not defeated. We have got to keep the pressure on ISIS, so they don't recover. We may want a war over. We may even declare it over. You can pull your troops out, as President Obama learned the hard way, out of Iraq. But the “enemy gets a vote,” we say in the military. And in this case, if we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's, it’s absolutely a given that they will come back.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Turkey an ally?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Turkey is a NATO ally, absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

NATO ally, I understand that, officially. Are they acting like an ally right now?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Well, nations have interests. And they have legitimate security concerns about what has happened with the PKK and the active insurgency inside Turkey. I think that what we've got to do is try to find the common ground. Turkey's security is not enhanced by the pullback of the American forces who are keeping an eye --

CHUCK TODD:

Turkey doesn't know that, do they? Turkey doesn't believe that.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Turkey has a different, has a different view of it. And that's where diplomats have got to figure out a way forward.

CHUCK TODD:

If you were the head of the Pentagon right now, I'm curious how you would react to a troop saying the following. This is what a distraught soldier, on the front lines, serving -- fighting alongside the Syrian Defense Force. '"I am ashamed for the first time in my career,' said the distraught soldier. 'American troops are doing nothing,' the source lamented, 'just sitting by and watching it unfold.' Of the president's decision, the source said, 'He doesn't understand the problem. He doesn't understand the repercussions of this.'" Are you concerned about troop morale?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

We're always concerned about troop morale. We have an all-volunteer force. What we have to remember is every one of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, marines, they have voluntarily stepped forward and looked past all the hot political rhetoric and rallied to the flag. We have to always be concerned with this. We have got to have policies that make sense on the front line, mostly, that make sense in terms of the defense of the country. The troops are committed. They've signed a blank check, payable to the American people with their lives, to defend this experiment that you and I call America. And so their, their views on, on matters of policy are important to us. And how do we bring them onboard and keep their heart and soul committed to the mission? It's always critical.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned that, while the country speaks with one voice, on a governmental level, when it comes to Russia, that the political leader is not?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Yeah, I won't, I won’t make political assessments right now. The military’s job is to protect this experiment, this America. And the American people will decide who the political leaders will be. I have a lot of faith the American people will be represented by the right political leaders.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to -- I'm curious how you handle all of the recommendations you get in the media to speak out. As you know, there's probably a column every other day, where somebody says, I'll put up some headlines from some of them. You've seen them. "It's time for these officials to come to the aid of their country. Trump is in freefall. We need insights on his fitness from Mattis, Kelly, and others now. Those who work with Trump must now tell Congress what they know." First of all, if Congress subpoenaed and, and for -- to try to find out what you knew about decision-making processes, when it came to Ukraine or other things, would you cooperate?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Well, I'd have to know, specifically, what it was about. I mean, I obey the law.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

And I've obeyed the law my entire life. So that's not the issue. But again, remember that the Defense Department stays outside of politics for a reason. There's a longstanding tradition, why you do not want the military to be engaged in politics. And I realize, some individuals have done so. But again, only in Washington could I resign publicly, over a matter of policy, a stand of principle --

CHUCK TODD:

You feel like it’s pretty -- do you feel like your resignation letter is pretty clear, what you think? Like, what more do you need to add, as you're saying.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

It's a page and a half long. It talks about our, our security being tied, inextricably, to our alliances. I don't know what more I could say about how I think we ought to treat allies and how we should treat those who are adversaries.

CHUCK TODD:

Is America safer today because of this decision in Syria?

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

That's a complex question. I would say, America's always safer when it builds the trust and a sense of reliability among our allies that we're reliable.

CHUCK TODD:

When you have said, if you feel like you need to speak out more, you will, you'll know what that looks like. That seems to think that you do have more to say. You just don't believe this period of time is appropriate.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

Well, Chuck, I have a lot of faith in the American people. They know how to vote. They don't need military generals telling them that they think this political assessment is the one they should go with, or the other one is, that sort of thing, especially as corrosive as the political debate has grown in the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

This would be the worst time, I think, for military people to step out like that. But also, the Constitution, I think, is a very hearty document. I've got a love affair with the U.S. Constitution. I actually used to read it about once a year and always found something new in it. So I would --

CHUCK TODD:

I always carry one with me, right here --

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

And I admire that.

CHUCK TODD:

-- all the time because you need it.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

I had a pocket, pocket version, myself. I didn't carry it all the time. But I carried it a lot of days.

CHUCK TODD:

I used to not carry it all the time. I need it more often, these days.

GENERAL JAMES MATTIS:

We all need it today.

CHUCK TODD:

I also asked General Mattis whether President Trump had ever asked him, by the way, to meet with Rudy Giuliani. Mattis said, unequivocally, no. There’s much more in this interview and you can see it in its entirety at MeetThePress.com. When we come back, impeachment, Syria, the presidential race. Lots to get to. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panelists here, Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher. Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Ashley Parker, White House reporter for The Washington Post and Michael Schmidt, correspondent for The New York Times, had that big scoop over the weekend on Rudy Giuliani. Welcome to all of you. Before I get to Turkey specifically, Peggy, Jim Mattis. What do you make of what he said and what he didn't say and what he was trying to imply?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh! Solid American opposed to what he thinks is a foreign policy blunder being made by the Administration in northern Syria. I think he was frank about one of his central concerns, which is how the allies and friends of the United States view this decision, to abandon people who have long been our friends. What did he not say? I think it was pretty clear he did not get -- want to get into his experiences of and observations of the president he served as secretary of Defense. One wonders if he will ever decide that it would be a good time to speak in a very candid way, or if he feels constraint, perhaps, by his position and the possibility of doing any damage. I'm not sure how he's thinking.

CHUCK TODD:

A Marine is a Marine. And I think he views himself as being a Marine first, not a --

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--not a political warrior.

CORNELL BELCHER:

I thought that interview was brilliant. And a lot of things he said, but didn't say, immed -- you know, right out in front. And one of those things that came through for me was we are weaker now because of these actions, right? This is -- he didn't say it, but this is basically cut and run. And America's cutting and running from an ally who fought for us. And ultimately, that's not going to make us in the long run stronger. That's going to make us weaker.

CHUCK TODD:

Ashley, I want to -- look, the Republican criticism of this decision, Liz Cheney, "impossible to understand," Lindsey Graham, "puts this presidency at risk," Marco Rubio, "great mistake," John Shimkus, a congressman who's not running again says, "Pull my name off of the 'I support Donald Trump' list." That was the warnings. This morning we have the reality. What happens next? You know, okay, they've criticized the decision. Now what?

ASHLEY PARKER:

Well, that's why you've seen so much concern going forward because of what was reported this morning. And I have to sort of reiterate how stunning it is to have Republicans break with this president on anything. So to have them come out and give that degree of criticism means there is deep, deep alarm under this surface. They never ever break with him. What next? I don't know. There's talk of bipartisan sanctions that could --

CHUCK TODD:

And Eliot Engel talked about that, yes.

ASHLEY PARKER:

That could potentially have a veto-proof majority. There's that. But at a certain point, what the president responds to most is -- is his base. And so if he thinks that his base is going to move on this or he's going to lose them, that is the thing where you see him take a stance and retreat back. And I think that's what he's going to be looking for. He's going to be looking for the polls. He's going to be looking for his base. He's going to be looking at the response at his rallies more than he's going to be looking at what Leader McConnell says, frankly.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

What group of people are most important to Donald Trump right now? The Senate Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

So you think this a big deal.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

But why, why do you ask them to carry more for you? Those are the people that stand between Trump and the end of impeachment. That's it. There's no more Mueller. There's nothing else. You know what the House Democrats are going to do. So why ask more of them in this situation?

PEGGY NOONAN:

It’s an odd, odd darn thing. I can tell you also, there's -- I think it is legitimate to be asking, "Why did this happen? How did this happen?" A phone call with Turkey's leader, Erdogan last Sunday --

CHUCK TODD:

But Peggy, this is twice now. Do you know that --

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes. It --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Erdogan -- and it was right after --

PEGGY NOONAN:

-- a lot of interesting phone calls.

CHUCK TODD:

-- an Erdogan phone call. Both time -- the first time he announced that --

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

-- it was after an Erdogan -- I asked General Mattis. I said, "What is it about Erdogan that --"

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes. Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And he goes, "That's politics. I'm not going to get into that." You'll see that in the extended play version.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, uhhh!

CHUCK TODD:

But Erdogan clearly has a -- he has the playbook on how to -- how to encourage the president to his point of view.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes. It looks to me -- I don't know enough to say this -- but one has the suspicion the president was rolled. I'm sorry, but the president of Turkey wants something. He says, "Can I have this?" And the president of the United States says, "Sure." And there are repercussions and implications on this decision that were perhaps not imagined.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to put up something Susan Glasser in The New Yorker wrote.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I’m sorry.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean --

PEGGY NOONAN:

I'm just here to amuse Cornell.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, I do think that is your job this morning. Let me put up what Susan Glasser wrote, because it sort of merges these two issues of impeachment and the Syria situation. "At this particular moment the Republican fury at the president over the decision seems like an almost incomprehensible act of hypocrisy. How is it different from Trump's threatened abandonment of the Ukrainians and his apparent blackmailing of them for nakedly personal, political reasons?" Ashley?

ASHLEY PARKER:

Well, they are and they aren't different. You know, the images you saw today, you have militias executing people on the side of the road. But what we saw with Ukraine, with the president asking for a favor, asking for a foreign government to potentially intervene in digging up dirt on a rival? And let's put that in context. That's coming on the heels of, we know that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections with the goal of helping the president, an assessment of his own intelligence community he doesn't always accept. That is also incredibly destabilizing and a very different sort of threat to the nation. It's basically an open invitation to any foreign country to meddle in our elections. And you have the president kind of coming out publicly calling on them to do it -- on Russia, on Ukraine, on China. And, and they can see that there's no repercussions. And just the mere fact of it is destabilizing to democratic institutions.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Schmidt, about the one Republican I can think of that would link these two things is Mitt Romney at this point, in the Senate side. It is not going to be a surprise to me if more start publicly linking this type of foreign policy, sort of a rogue foreign policy.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

Well, that's the other thing about the call with Erdogan that just doesn't make sense. It is that same issue that is at the root of the Ukraine problem. And that is a call with a foreign leader in which things are discussed that maybe don't line up with the country's feeling about our foreign policy, things that -- you know, secret deals, you know, trying to work the system. So, amid an investigation, an impeachment investigation into that issue on Ukraine, you go ahead and you do a deal with Turkey.

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, by the way, there's a link. Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani has a client that Erdogan is really interested in who is a Turkish gold trader in Turkey, never mind Ukraine. I mean, the irony that Rudy actually ties these two phone calls in some way.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

Yes. No, I spent a lot of this week trying to understand Giuliani's clients. And it's really hard to get your head around. I mean, I really struggled. But at the root of it is this problem. You can't have the president's lawyer out there doing business with foreign countries. There's just a reason why you don't mix those two things together. If you --

CHUCK TODD:

Apparently we're going to have to pass a law to prevent this in the future, right?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

No, but -- if the president needed investigators, he's in charge of the Executive Branch. He has an FBI. He has a CIA. Well, why did he need Rudy Giuliani to do it?

CORNELL BELCHER:

It's called corruption.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think that -- the question of why did he need Rudy Giuliani is probably going to be at the heart of this impeachment --

CORNELL BELCHER:

It's called corruption.

CHUCK TODD:

-- impeachment inquiry. I'm going to pause it there. When we come back, the growing support for an impeachment inquiry. Who's for it? Who's not quite ready? That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back to Data Download time. According to our latest NBC News Wall Street Journal poll, most people have moved closer to supporting impeachment but not Republicans. Let me show you the numbers. 24% of all adults polled believed there is enough evidence to remove the president from office right now. Another 31% want an inquiry to determine whether he should remain or be removed from office, totaling a majority wanting some form of investigation. 39% say there is not enough evidence to even start the inquiry. Now it's not too surprising there, Republicans are the outliers with more than three quarters of Republicans saying there is not enough evidence to even start a formal inquiry. But, there are different types of Republicans that we noticed in our poll. Among so-called Trump Republicans, people that support Trump before they're a Republican, 91% of them say there is not enough evidence to even investigate. But among folks that say they're a Republican before they're a Trump supporter, which is about 40% of the party, only 58% say there is not enough evidence. See? A 33-point gap. These quote "party Republicans," they're kind of like the Senate Republicans, this is the group you have to watch because if their support continues to erode then you would see a fundamental challenge to this presidency. When we come back End Game, Trump versus Biden and the politics of character assassination. How much is too much?

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game and some Sunday morning news. We're going to assume it was almost designed for all of us to consume, and that is Hunter Biden, actually Hunter Biden's lawyer, put out a fairly lengthy statement of what is going to be commitments about how he would conduct business. And he resigns from the Chinese hedge fund already, claiming that he hasn't made any money out of that yet. Here's what the lawyer says. "Hunter makes the following commitment: Under a Biden administration Hunter will readily comply with any and all guidelines or standards a President Biden may issue to address purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, including any restrictions related to overseas business interests. In any event, Hunter will agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign-owned companies." It's interesting to me Cornell, that for a campaign that said that they weren't going to bother addressing anything Hunter Biden, they have now decided to address it.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, it's interesting because they've pushed -- the Trumps have -- pushed Hunter Biden out front in this conversation. And as you saw with Senator Rand Paul, it's muddy up the water. And look, I'm a political hack. This is what I do for my living. And I know when you can't win an argument, muddy the waters. And that's what you have going on right now. And it's a shame that Hunter Biden is stepping down when no one in the Trump world steps down. No one in the Trump world breaks ties from their business interests. In fact, he's got his lawyer running around the globe, you know, working on -- representing America but also representing his business interests. It's a terrible double standard.

CHUCK TODD:

Responding to Trump this week here was -- I want to -- Peggy, before, I know you want to jump in, but I want folks to see how Vice President Biden earlier this week directly addressed the president's attacks on him.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOE BIDEN:

Folks, he's targeted me and my family with lies and distortions and smears. And his lying is matched only by his manifest incompetence.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy, it is -- the Biden campaign has been trying to find that balance between trying to mitigate the damage that they think Trump's doing and at the same time not letting Trump dictate the message. But Trump's been dictating the message.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes, Trump is the president. He has that megaphone. I think Joe Biden, for the past two weeks, has been a little on the back of his heels over this issue, not sure how to address it, not sure what exactly precisely to defend and what to concede. But I have to tell you Cornell, I disagree with you a little bit. I don't think this is merely a “muddy the water” story. This is a story that at least half the American people understand the Hunter Biden story as a story of the swamp, the elite, buddy-buddy-ism, using your family influence to do well in life. The American people don't like it. They have never liked it. And it is --

CHUCK TODD:

So how does it come from the Trumps though? Like, it's sort of an awkward charge coming from the Trumps. But you say with a Cheshire cat smile.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Well, was that a Cheshire cat smile?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah --

PEGGY NOONAN:

I'm so relieved to hear it was. That's an interesting question, I think is how I'd respond to your question.

ASHLEY PARKER:

But it's asymmetrical warfare. And it's not necessarily fair, but it's a reality in that it is the fact that the president, whose children are still working abroad and have dealings abroad even when they said they wouldn't, feels perfectly fine. And sort of one of his greatest political talents is his shamelessness. He feels perfectly fine to have that reality and to go in and to make the case against Hunter Biden. And it's worth noting, as we all note in our stories, that there's no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens. That's important and that goes to the muddying the water. But it also goes to Peggy's point that, is it swampy? Absolutely. And when you talk to the people who showed up and maybe had never voted before and came out and voted for Trump it was because they felt like they were playing by one set of rules and the people in Washington are playing by another.

CHUCK TODD:You know Michael, though, there was somebody who was a pretty -- a pretty big Trump supporter, did a lot of work for him, who shared with me, the whole point of Trump was to get rid of the political dynasties. That's why I was into him. "He got rid of the Bushes and the Clintons. I didn't vote for him to replace the political dynasty."

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

Yeah, but this is -- we're five years into Trump on the national scene, three years into the presidency, two years running. And his enemies or his opponents are still struggling to figure this out. They still can't figure out how to run the play against him. Biden's sort of going back and forth here. They've known about these issues for at least two years that were going to come up about his son. They knew he was running for president. And here they are in the middle of a primary and they still didn't know what to do. No one's figured it out --

CORNELL BELCHER:

It's overwhelming. I mean, that's a problem. Usually in politics you have one or two really good negatives and you pound those negatives over and over. You have a dozen a day that -- half of the stuff this president does in a week, if Clinton did it or Bush did it or if Obama did it, it would ruin them.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

But if Biden can't figure it out now?

CHUCK TODD:

How does he do it?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT:

He's going to do it for another year?

CORNELL BELCHER:

But we don't have to figure it out because in Quinnipiac poll he's at 40 percent. Close to that same number of 39 percent who’s saying --

CHUCK TODD:

Biden’s numbers -- I’m not going to show them now because we're out of time, Biden's numbers haven't budged.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Haven't changed.

CHUCK TODD:

Haven't budged. What a great panel. You guys are terrific. Thank you. Thank you for watching, as always. I really appreciate that. We'll be back next week, I promise. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet The Press and hopefully the Nats are going to the World Series.