Meet the Press - October 27, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday... Breaking news. US Special Forces carried out a raid overnight in Syria. Forensic testing is under way and officials believe ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is among the dead. President Trump made the announcement this morning:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll have an exclusive interview with President Trump's new National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien. Plus, mounting pressure.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

That's shocking behavior of the president.

CHUCK TODD:

The top American diplomat in Ukraine describes an "aid for investigations" quid pro quo demanded by President Trump:

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Ambassador Bill Taylor testified and gave the most sweeping and devastating testimony about president Trump's efforts to shake down the ukrainian government.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump calls the charge a hoax...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I had a perfect conversation with the president of Ukraine.

CHUCK TODD:

...and goes after Ambassador Taylor:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

He's a never-trumper and his lawyer's a never-trumper.

CHUCK TODD:

...while Republicans remain quiet on the evidence, and make false claims about being shut out of hearings.

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Maybe they do that in the Soviet Union, but that's not acceptable in the United States of America.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll talk to the chair of the Democratic House caucus, Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Amy Walter, National Editor of the Cook Political Report, and Lanhee Chen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD :

Good Sunday morning. We have breaking news. Obviously U.S. special forces have killed the leader of ISIS. Commandos carried out a raid overnight in Northern Syria along the border with Turkey. President Trump just said, "ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is among the dead." President Trump made the announcement himself this morning.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP :

Last night the United States brought the world's number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS, the most ruthless and violent terror organization anywhere in the world.

CHUCK TODD :

NBC news analyst Evan Kohlmann said this would be a crippling setback for ISIS and that there are few well-recognized candidates to replace him. Joining me now from Northern Syria is our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. So Richard, there's a symbolic element to this death of al-Baghdadi and possibly an operational one. Walk us through both and what you continue to learn.

RICHARD ENGEL :

So a lot of detail in the president's remarks just a short while ago. A shocking amount of detail really. You normally don't get that level of specific information about these highly secretive raids carried out by elite special operations forces. But President Trump laid it out. He seemed to want the world to know how this happened, that he was watching, that American special operators flew in. It took them an hour and a half -- that eight helicopters landed, that they blew a hole through the wall of a compound. And that they killed apparently a number of bodyguards. And that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was crying and screaming as he was hiding in a tunnel, that he was flushed out with the dog. Tremendous specificity. And I think to a degree that's going to help his case. He's going to try to humiliate ISIS. To just say, "You weren't just defeated. You didn't just lose your caliphate. Your leader died crying and whimpering as he was underground, chased by a dog." So I think the president had a very strong message against ISIS that is going to be hard for ISIS to counter because they did, in fact, lose their state and now they have lost their leader. The other part, however, when we talked about Middle East policy and how the U.S. is changing its interest and it's going to protect the oil sent a very different message, however. A very powerful message that is not going to be lost around the world. It was the Kurds in Syria who have been fighting against ISIS for the last five years. They got one brief mention. But then President Trump said that he's still with Turkey. He spent more time thanking Turkey and more time thanking Syria than he did with the Kurds who had been fighting with the U.S. against ISIS for the last five years who right now are under attack. And he, once again, said, "Those Kurds should leave their homes. They should go live around some oil fields," where they have never, ever lived in their existence. And President Trump said, "Well, it's no big deal. They can just move a few miles." It is not a few miles. The safe zone that President Trump talked about again today is the displacement of the Kurdish people. So yes, he was very strong. He wanted to humiliate ISIS and rub their noses in this military defeat. But his message on overall Syria policy and overall Middle East policy I think is still going to be very controversial and very disruptive and a lot of people are going to say that the U.S. betrayed the allies that led to this moment.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Richard Engel in Northern Syria for us. Richard, thanks very much. Joining me now is the new national security advisor for the president. You heard President Trump talk about him, Robert O'Brien. Ambassador O'Brien, welcome to Meet the Press, sir.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Thanks, great to be here with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Quite a day to have you on to your first appearance here on Meet the Press. So let me start with the president's decision to share so many details of al-Baghdadi's death. Following up on something Richard Engel said, it seemed that, that it was important to the president that the world know how he died. Explain.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, I think today's a great day for the United States of America and a great day for the world. This was the number one wanted person in the world. He's a brutal, vicious terrorist, killed many people. The president went into detail. We can talk some more about that. But it's also important for the world to know that the United States has a long reach. And the men and women of our armed services executed this mission flawlessly. Took him down and his colleagues that are still alive should be worried.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about a few things of the details. The president gave us a lot of details. He talked about how al-Baghdadi appeared to have died. Can you explain how we can confirm -- you know, where -- do we have DNA of him already? Where would we have gotten it? How do we confirm this stuff? Explain this a little bit.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Sure. We have DNA and we have -- he had visual on him. And the DNA has now been exploited. It's been confirmed as of this morning, a couple hours ago, that it is Baghdadi.

CHUCK TODD:

We had an eyewitness account. We had -- did you see him in the -- we have a picture of you in the situation room. The president said it played out like a movie. Did you guys see al-Baghdadi?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I'm not going to get into, you know, letting know folks what we saw or didn't see in the situation room. Those technical capabilities are something I'm not going to talk about today. But I can tell you we did have -- U.S. forces had eyes on Baghdadi. And we confirmed his death. And then we took DNA and confirmed the DNA from previous samples that we had.

CHUCK TODD:

And is his body still in custody?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

His body will be disposed of properly to the extent that we have, as the president said, he died blowing up his -- pulling his -- the toggle on his vest. And --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you imagine we will follow the same protocol we followed with Osama bin Laden?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I would expect that to be the case.

CHUCK TODD:

The president said that there were a number of folks that helped. He thanked Russia first. He thanked the Kurds last. Should we read into that?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

No I don't think you should read into that. I think what the president talked about is that it was a very dangerous mission for our troops. And the president made a courageous decision to send them far into enemy territory at night, a long range helicopter raid. It was a courageous decision of the president. But it was incredible bravery and skill of our men and women in the armed forces and the intelligence community that executed the mission flawlessly. But they had to fly over areas where there was significant anti-aircraft capability, the Syrians, the Russians, the Turks, others. So I think we appreciated the fact that our helicopters and our planes weren't molested. The Kurds played an important role in the operation. And we're grateful for the Kurds and for the SDF and our allies there.

CHUCK TODD:

General, in fact, Mazloum indicated that this has been a five-month campaign to track him of sorts. Is that a fair description? And was it his forces, in some ways, that were tracking him day to day?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, I think it’s, I think it's a fair description. But you can imagine they're quiet professionals that work for other agencies of the U.S. government, that were heavily involved as well as our armed forces. The president was aware of this effort. And we thought we had a beat on him Thursday, Friday for sure. And the president made a very difficult decision to put men in harm's way. He did that. And it, it worked. And so it was a good day for the United States, good day for armed forces and for the president.

CHUCK TODD:

The way the president said Turkey was informed seemed to be -- that it sounds like you really minimized what Turkey was to know about this operation. Is it fair to say more so than perhaps any of the other entities involved in that, in that area?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

No. Look, Secretary Pompeo, General Milley, Secretary Esper were all involved in alerting their colleagues in these other countries that there was going to be a mission --

CHUCK TODD:

Was there --

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

-- taking place.

CHUCK TODD:

-- concern that Turkey could, I mean, the president seemed to be concerned that Turkey could fire on our folks.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I wasn't concerned.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Turkey's a fellow member of NATO. I wasn't concerned that Turkey was going to fire on us. But look, we were flying over air space controlled by other countries that have anti-aircraft capabilities. And we wanted to make sure our men and women were safe. And so General Milley, Secretary Esper, Secretary Pompeo did a great job of reaching out to their colleagues and making sure that we had an ingress and egress that were protected.

CHUCK TODD:

The president made a comment about the oil fields during his comments this morning. Does he believe we own the oil fields or that we control them? What is his understanding of our role in these oil fields?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, I think the point that the president made is that ISIS controlled these oil fields. And ISIS was deriving great income from the oil fields. We took, together with the Kurds, took control of the oil fields. We're going to stay in control of those oil fields for a period of time to make sure that they don't fall back into ISIS hands. And those oil fields have been providing income for the Kurds to pay for schools, hospitals, for the SDF and that sort of thing. So we're there. We took control of those oil fields from ISIS. The folks who had them before, the Syrians, could not protect them from ISIS. So we're going to be there for a period of time to maintain control of those and make sure that there's not a resurgence of ISIS and make sure that the Kurds have some revenue from those oil fields.

CHUCK TODD:

100% of this revenue belongs to the Kurds? Is that the belief of the United States government?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, look, I’m not going to get into how, you know, any sort of -- the Kurds have been using the oil revenue. I think they've been using 100% of the --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. Right.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

--oil revenue up until now.

CHUCK TODD:

But going forward is that going to continue to be the case?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, we'll have to work that out. As the president said, there are going to be deals that are made. But those oil fields should not fall back into the hands of ISIS. And we want to make sure that the Kurds have some source of oil revenue.

CHUCK TODD:

Look -- and obviously we don't have laws governing there the way we would govern here with land. But how is it that we're determining who owns that oil? Who is going to determine who owns that oil?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Well, ISIS had the oil. We took it --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

We took it back from ISIS.

CHUCK TODD:

Who do we believe owns this oil ultimately?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Well, that's something that the president said we'll have to work out. And so -- but what I'd like to focus on is not so much on the oil fields. But we had a great day for the United States of America last night --

CHUCK TODD:

No I understand that. But the president brought this up. That's why I was just curious about --

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

No and--

CHUCK TODD:

Where do we get the right to determine who controls these oil fields?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Well, the Kurds are there.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

ROBERT O’BRIEN:

Right? And we've got forces there that are working with the Kurds. And we're in control of those oil fields now. So we'll have to see what happens. I think the president said that's something we're looking into. But right now we're going to stay in control of them to make sure that ISIS doesn't get them. I want to go back to -- and focus on what happened. This leader, al-Baghdadi was the most vicious, cruel man. And my prior job as a hostage envoy who had a chance to meet the Kasichs and Muellers and Sotloffs and Foleys. I had a chance to speak with Diane Foley this morning. We finally brought justice to a man that beheaded the three Americans, two journalists and a humanitarian worker. And then Kayla Mueller who was working as a humanitarian, great young American, idealistic, young girl. And one of the things that General Milley did is General Milley named the operation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff named the operation that took down al-Baghdadi after Kayla Mueller, after what she had suffered. And that was, that was something that people should know. But justice was brought to those Americans who were so brutally killed, as were others, as the president pointed out.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Engel was -- when we first -- these reports came out, he noted that this was actually an area that had been controlled by Al Qaeda -- an off-shoot of Al Qaeda. And you know this area really well, you know these off-shoots really well. Who actually was at war, at times, with al-Baghdadi. And then now here they are, perhaps, was giving him shelter. The indication was perhaps he got turned in, if you will. That that, that this may have been an inside hit by Al Qaeda onISIS. Is that -- is there something to that?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I think that's total speculation.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

ROBERT O’BRIEN:

That's not something I'm aware of. So maybe --

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

-- better sources than I do on that front.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, let me put it, let me put it another way --

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I'm not aware of that.

CHUCK TODD:

What terrorist organizations are you most concerned about now? Now with al-Baghdadi gone, no obvious replacement. And obviously they care a lot about personalities and a little bit of that. Who is the biggest threat now that remains in that area?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, there are a number of threats in the area. Number one, Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism. We're not talking about Iran this morning. But they're a huge state sponsor of terrorism. They're supporting Hamas, they're supporting Hezbollah, they've got the Houthis in Yemen, they're in Syria. So we've got to be concerned about Iran every day in that region.

CHUCK TODD:

We did have 100, supposedly at least 100, ISIS fighters that escaped those prisons during the Turkish safe zone period there. What do we know about those folks?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Yeah. I think that's Twitter intel. I've seen that on Twitter as well. So I think the SDF's doing a pretty good job of keeping the ISIS fighters --

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe we’ve lost --

AMBASSADOR ROBERT O'BRIEN:

-- in the camps.

CHUCK TODD:

-- many of these ISIS fighters from these prisons?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, there were several thousand ISIS fighters that are under control under SDF and Turkish control. We've made it very clear to the Turks, we've made it clear to the Kurds and to others in the region that we need to keep those folks under lock and key. And so you know I think it’s a -- and we're continuing to do that. Look, we're looking for ISIS wherever it might reemerge. This was a huge win for the president. The president came into office. He was given a plate of foreign policy challenges that were probably more difficult for any president coming into office than any president since Truman who took office during the Second World War. And he's defeated the phys -- with respect to ISIS, he defeated the physical caliphate which was the size of Great Britain. We've now taken out the leader of the caliphate. I mean, I can tell you it was great news last night at 7:15, local time. We were in the situation room. And the commander of the mission called and said, "100% confidence, jackpot." And when we heard that --

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CHUCK TODD:

Jackpot meant they got al-Baghdadi?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Jackpot meant we got him. 100% confidence jackpot, over. And that was great news for us. It was great news for the American people. But it was great news for everyone in the world, in the region.

CHUCK TODD:

One of your jobs is to -- sometimes you take in a whole bunch of policy ideas and policy debates. In some ways as a national security advisor you're the moderator when it comes to the debates between Pentagon, State, sometimes the president. There is going to be a debate among some in the Pentagon that say, "Mr. President, our presence here is what allowed us to get this." The president may view this as this is, hey see, we can do both. Smaller footprint and do this. Should we assume that's how the president sees this?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, I think I think we should assume just going through the process questions you asked is that -- it’s the president’s agenda we're going to implement. I didn't come to this job as national security advisor with my own agenda. Others may have done that in the past. That's not something I did. My job is to get the very best options from the State, from Pentagon, from the IC, from the Treasury Department. And get those options to the president. And then the president has an opt -- opportunity to look at those options and make the best decisions for the American people and that's what he does.If he asks my advice I'll give it to him. But look at the end of the day, he's the commander in chief, he's going to make these decisions. And they're tough decisions like, like last, over the last couple days and last night. It was a tough decision to put so many men and women at risk. He made those tough decisions. We're going to implement them.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you comfortable saying no to him?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look it's not my job to say no to him. It's my job to give him --

CHUCK TODD:

You believe it's not your job to say no to him?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Absolutely not. I wasn't elected president. He was elected president. It's my job to make sure he gets the very best options and the very best advice from his advisors, from his cabinet secretaries and other advisors. And it's my job to give him my, my best advice. My unvarnished opinion --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this --

AMBASSADOR ROBERT O'BRIEN:

-- of what's going to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

-- are you willing to disagree with him privately, maybe not saying it publicly. Are you willing to disagree with him privately and say, "Mr. President. I don’t -- this is, this is the advice I would give. I don't think you should take that advice?"

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

The president's going to get my very best advice. And he may decide he wants to go with that advice. He may decide not to go with that advice. My advice might be different than what Secretary Pompeo or Secretary Esper or General Milley has to say. But he's going to get the best advice from all his people. And he's ultimately going to make his decision.

CHUCK TODD:

On a policy front, Russia. Are they an ally of the United States in this fight in ISIS? And are they an adversary of the United States in this situation with Ukraine? How would you describe it?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Well, let me just make it very clear, Russia is not an ally of the United States. The president doesn't believe that. I don't believe that. I think there's anyone --

CHUCK TODD:

First country he thanked today.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Look, there are times when our interests overlaps with the interests of Russia. Last night it overlapped. We didn't want Russian air defense missiles being shot at our men and women who were executing this raid. And, and so last night -- and they don't like ISIS, as the president pointed out. Last night, our interests overlapped with Russia. When our interests overlap with Russia, there’s no reason we shouldn’t work with them. Russia is not an ally of the United States and look Russia presents a great danger to the United States. And something we keep an eye on every single day.

CHUCK TODD:

When it comes to the situation in Ukraine and what Russian forces are doing right now, threatening and killing Ukrainians, how much of a concern is that to you?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Well, it's a big concern. I wrote about this long before I was in government. I went to Ukraine to monitor the elections back in 2014. And when I went there in 2014 Ukrainians were looking at me and saying, "We can't get bulletproof vests. We can't get Kevlar. We can't get any offensive weapons. We can't defend ourselves. You're sending us blankets and MREs. The United States was once the arsenal democracy. You're giving us nothing." And since this president took office we've given lethal aid to the Ukrainians, we've given them anti-tank weapons. We've supported the Ukrainians very vigorously and very robustly. So I think if you talk to Ukrainians, especially Ukrainians that are facing off against either, you know, Russian-supported militias or irregulars or dissonan-- you know, armed dissonance in Eastern Ukraine, they're much happier with this administration because they're actually getting lethal aid.

CHUCK TODD:

Bill Taylor is the current ambassador to Ukraine. How long will he stay in that position?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

You know, I don't know. I don't know Ambassador Taylor. And --

CHUCK TODD:

Have you ever interacted with him at all?

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

I have not. I never met him when I was at the State Department. So I don't know Ambassador Taylor. And I think he's the chargé there. I think he was an ambassador in --

CHUCK TODD:

He's sort of in acting. He's sort of right now -- he’s the chief diplomat right now. In that the fairest way to say --

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

He's the principle officer in Ukraine right now. I have not interacted with him before at the State Department. And I don't know what his career plans are.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, Ambassador Robert O'Brien, the new national security advisor. Quite a morning. Quite an amount of information both from yourself and the president of the United States. Thank you for coming on, sharing your views. I really appreciate it.

ROBERT O'BRIEN:

Thanks for having me, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Jeremy Bash. He's the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Defense and at the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama. Jeremy, let me start with what you heard. We heard an amazing amount of detail. Just your initial reaction.

JEREMY BASH:

Well, this is a highly-complicated operation, Chuck. It involved eight helicopters flying for an hour and ten minutes over a complicated and dangerous terrain. By my math that means that there were 50 to 100 U.S. special operations forces on the ground. They had to breach the compound where U.S. intelligence had identified the location, the probable location, of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But there were other individuals on the compound. U.S. forces had to engage them, chase Abu Bakr into this tunnel while Abu Bakr set off the suicide vest, killing himself and three children. And then it was complicated from there because the U.S. forces had to clear the tunnel, obtain DNA and exfiltrate the force. So the president this morning, Chuck, appropriately lavished intense praise on U.S. intelligence and U.S. military forces. And I think that was appropriate.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this, what should be our concern going forward now? We've gotten al-Baghdadi. Obviously a big symbolic hit to ISIS. But what is the real threat now coming from that region to the United States?

JEREMY BASH:

Well, the reason ISIS had been contained in recent months was because our allies on the ground, the Kurds, the Syrian Democratic forces had fought them, had battled them, had contained them and we're guarding them in these prison camps. But of course with the president's decision to allow Turkey to come over the border and fight the Kurds, that strategy is in doubt. And we've heard reports from Secretary Esper and others that there have been escapes from prison by ISIS fighters. So if ISIS is able to reconstitute itself, obtain more operational cohesion, control some territory there, that could be very dangerous. And they could ignite a reign of terror in that region and around the world.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you this, the president seemed to outline what our future, near-term military strategy is going to be there which is essentially we're going to have a small number of forces in Iraq that essentially can continue to do these missions when necessary. What's wrong with that as the footprint going forward which is basically almost no footprint in Syria, a very small one around the oil field, to what the president is sort of seemed to telegraph which is a small base of operations inside of Iraq.

JEREMY BASH:

I think the problem was allowing Turkey over the border because once Turkey came over the border after that greenlight by President Trump then the Kurdish forces had to, in effect, abandon their mission of being the ground force, the defeat force against ISIS.Counter-terrorism from afar works to an extent. And you can have its high-profile precision missions and most of the time they'll be effective against one or two elements. But if ISIS regroups and they and their hundreds and potentially thousands of followers and fighters continue to amass territory and gain operational cohesion we can't do this from afar. We need people on the ground. The Kurds were those people.

CHUCK TODD:

I got to ask you about the president's comments about the oil fields and about who controls the oil. And he seemed to imply that the U.S. had a lot of say over deciding who gets to control that oil in the future. In the past, how have we handled situations like this?

JEREMY BASH:

Who controls the oil has not traditionally been part of any calculus about our military operations in the Middle East. And I think it's really inappropriate and somewhat bizarre and strange for the president to focus on it. It's not the role of our military and it's really not an ambition of the United States to, quote, control the oil in Syria or elsewhere.

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously it's an important source of income for the Kurds. It does raise to me, raise the question of, okay, we've successfully gotten rid of the caliphate. What's going to happen to what we know on the map now as Syria?

JEREMY BASH:

Well, Syria is being kind of divided up between spheres of influence by Turkey, by Russia, Iran will be involved as well. And of course there's another battle raging in the south between Hezbollah aligned forces and Israel. And so the future of Syria is very much in doubt. And I think we were holding together the balance of power with our force presence there. We were a trip layer against Turkey coming across the border. That's now over. And we don't know whether or not ISIS is going to regroup and pose a more dangerous threat in the future, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Jersey Bash, a veteran of the Obama administration, both from the Pentagon and at the CIA. Thank you for coming on and sharing your views. When we come back, I'll talk to the chair of the Democratic House Caucus, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, joining me now from New York is Congressman Hakeem Jeffries who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, one of the top leadership positions on the House side of things. Congressman Jeffries, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES:

Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously there were a few other topics I want to talk to you about. But the news of the morning, the killing of al-Baghdadi. Your initial reaction to it. And I'm curious if you've learned or if you know if Speaker Pelosi has learned any information outside of what's been said on camera?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES:

Well, it's not clear yet whether the administration has communicated with Speaker Pelosi. As the president indicated he did not do so in advance of the operation. This is a very meaningful step in the right direction in terms of the war on terror. The military should be commended. The intelligence community should be commended. The men and women of the Delta Force who carried out this operation should be commended. I'm pleased that it's been completed in a very substantial way. And that they have returned home safely and no American lives have been lost.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you pleased that the president greenlit this mission? And do you think it's been an appropriate mission to greenlight?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES:

It was certainly an appropriate mission to greenlight. And so in that regard the president made the right decision. Now we need him to continue to make appropriate decisions moving forward.

CHUCK TODD:

What does that mean?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

The war -- well the war on terror continues. And we can't cede American leadership in the Middle East which remains a dangerous part of the world to entities like Russia or Turkey or Syria and Iran.

CHUCK TODD :

What does that mean? When you -- i t's interesting you use the phrase, the war on terror continues. You don’t -- I take it you don't approve of the shrinking of the American footprint in Syria?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

That was an erratic decision that has been widely condemned. Just this week, Chuck, as you know, the House in a strongly bipartisan way denounced the decision by President Trump to abandon our allies, the Kurds, in Northern Syria. Individuals who have fought with us closely, who have died fighting on behalf of their land and behalf of the safety and security of the American people. That was an inappropriate decision. And in terms of international relations, our credibility is the ultimate currency that we have. And so betraying our allies is wrong. It has consequences. And hopefully we'll see a continuing American presence as appropriate moving forward because we know that ISIS will still try to reconstitute itself, notwithstanding the death of its top leader.

CHUCK TODD :

Do you still -- does this at all though make you feel better about the idea of shrinking footprints but having the smaller -- the president seemed to describe perhaps our military being stationed more in Iraq. And then being able to do these sort of precision strikes when necessary. And is that a model for Afghanistan?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

Well, certainly I think a smaller, strategic force is the ultimate objective. We have been involved in the Middle East now, particularly Afghanistan, for the better part of 18 years. And I think the American people in a broadly bipartisan way understand the need to withdraw and extract ourselves from that situation. But it has to be done in a responsible fashion.

CHUCK TODD :

Let me move to the other big story that is the focus in the House of Representatives and that is the impeachment inquiry involving the president and his decisions around Ukraine. I want to show you a few quotes here from members of your caucus. Gerry Connolly, "What I think you have in the public domain already is more than sufficient for an article of impeachment."

Ted Lieu, "The most damning evidence basically already came out." Jackie Speier, "Frankly, I think we have enough." The point being this, at what point do you think it is time to move to a public airing of everything you've found and moving toward wrapping up your inquiry?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

Well, Speaker Pelosi, who by the way is doing a phenomenal job, has made clear that we're going to continue to proceed in a serious and solemn fashion to undertake our constitutional responsibility. We're going to follow the facts. We're going to apply the law. We're going to be guided by the constitution. We're going to present the truth to the American people no matter where that leads because nobody is above the law. Chairman Adam Schiff will make the ultimate decision from the committee standpoint in terms of when we transition from the accumulation of information which has been coming in in a rapid way to the public presentation. And we'll see when that occurs.

CHUCK TODD :

I only ask it this way, many have compared this stage of the impeachment inquiry to sort of a grand jury. And you can seek an indictment from a grand jury even before you've got all your, all the information you're going to use in your trial. So do you view this the same way that you may have enough to get your indictment but that doesn't mean you stop your investigation?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES:

Well, let's be clear, the evidence of wrongdoing, as many of my colleagues have suggested, is hiding in plain sight. We have the rough transcript of the July 25th call where Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to target an American citizen for political gain and thereby solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. That undermines our national security and is textbook abuse of power. We have the whistle-blower complaint that has been validated by the witnesses who have come forward. We have a confession that was made by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who acknowledged that there was an ongoing pressure campaign to withhold $391 million in aid that had been allocated in a bipartisan way in order to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. We have Ambassador Bill Taylor come forward. He is a Trump appointee. He is a West Point graduate. He is a Vietnam war veteran and acknowledged that there was a scheme that was underway essentially to elevate President Trump's personal political interests and undermine our national security interests.

CHUCK TODD :

Let me -- you've got a lot of deadlines you guys are going to have to meet perhaps between now and the start of the Iowa caucuses when it comes to impeachment. But there's one that comes up on November 21st and it's funding the government. What are you and your colleagues in House leadership doing to try to avoid a government shutdown?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

We continue to be in dialogue with the Senate. But it's important to note that the House has done its job. We have passed the appropriations bills according to the timeline that had been set forth, led by Steny Hoyer, in partnership with the entire House Democratic Caucus.

The Senate has failed to act. That said, we expect that we will actually come to an agreement to fund the government sooner rather than later in light of the reckless 35-day government shutdown that took place earlier this year where Donald Trump was effectively forced into an unconditional surrender. I don't think Mitch McConnell wants a shutdown. We certainly don't want a shutdown. And we need to find common ground in order to fund the government.

CHUCK TODD :

And --

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

And do it soon.

CHUCK TODD :

-- and do you believe that you do need to be wrapped up with what you're going to do with impeachment before the end of the calendar year?

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

No. We're not going to put a timeline on this investigation other than, as Speaker Pelosi has said, we're going to proceed expeditiously. And of course we're going to proceed comprehensively and fairly in order to get this done. This is a matter of urgent national security concern. The president betrayed his oath of office. He's undermined our national security, of course. And the integrity of our elections. This is an abuse of power and it's fundamentally about the United States constitution. That is the timeline that will dictate when we wrap things up.

CHUCK TODD :

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the leadership in the House Democratic Caucus, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus technically. Thanks very much for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated.

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES :

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD :

When we come back, boy do we have a lot to digest this morning. So, the panel is next.

CHUCK TODD :

Welcome back. Panel is here. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson; Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, our own chief foreign affairs correspondent here at NBC News, Andrea Mitchell; and Lahnee Chen, fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Well, this is quite the morning, I- I should say. We had this panel planned before all of this and it's perfect. Andrea, the president, it's a big deal. The president wants to make it the biggest deal of all time, obviously, as well. But put this in some perspective for us.

ANDREA MITCHELL :

It's a very big deal to get Baghdadi. It's arguable how operational he still was. He was on the run, clearly moving around. It's a tribute to U.S. intelligence and obviously the special forces. I think he could have praised them more vigorously before he thanked Russia and Vladimir Putin for clearing the ground so we could move in unimpeded. But it does tell you that the Syrian Kurds were valuable allies. And the ground intelligence that we are losing by having withdrawn from the sector we withdrew from in Syria is a concern. And there are going to be a lot of questions about whether or not we're going to have that kind of ground intelligence. I don't understand the securing of the oil and why the president makes such a big deal out of that. We went overboard in the '90s saying we didn't go in and help, you know, free Kuwait after Desert Storm for the oil. It wasn't about the oil. It was about international global interests. So for us to make it an economic argument it's only going to fuel other counternarratives. I thought it extraordinary that he had not after the operation was over, spoken to the Speaker of the House. That we were so broken down, the Speaker of the House, the big eight or the big four, those are the leaders that as far as we know he has not -- he has not notified any Democrats.

CHUCK TODD :

Jeh Johnson, before you were at Homeland, you were actually also a council at the Defense Department. So a lot of times you're being asked, "Is this legal," type of things. And so the point is, you know a lot of operational details. You kept expressing surprise as to how much, how much detail the president was sharing. Explain.

JEH JOHNSON :

Well, first, there's always the risk that in the first 24 hours after an operation a lot of what we hear is inaccurate.

CHUCK TODD :

He seemed to think he was watching it. How much do you think he actually was watching?

JEH JOHNSON :

Well, we do have some pretty good technology in the basement of the Pentagon, in the situation room where you can see all of that. But, Chuck, normally, and this wasn't just President Obama, I think it's his predecessors too. A presidential level address announcing a strategic success like this is, "On my orders we conducted an operation. We took out the leader of ISIS. We brought justice to him. Thank you to our men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm way — harm's way. God bless America," over to the Pentagon for the operational details.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

JEH JOHNSON :

And the briefing from the secretary and the chairman and perhaps somebody in the intelligence community. So I thought that was extraordinary. But I do have to say I was in the Pentagon on May 1st, 2011, the way we got bin Laden. And at I think 3:23, whenever we heard, "Geronimo, we got him," my first thought was the courage and the dedication of the professionalism of men and women in uniform who did put themselves in harm's way just like today. And I think that's where the credit belongs. Mr. O'Brien refers to this as a win for the president. This is a reminder of the excellence of our military and our special forces. And it is a win for the country. But as you have pointed out, you can kill an enemy but you don't defeat an enemy necessarily. So there's more to do here.

CHUCK TODD :

“Geronimo” was bin Laden, apparently, “Jackpot” was al-Baghdadi. Lahnee, the president, I feel, as if he's going to use this as a way to vindicate his point of view on Syria policy versus, frankly, most of his advisors. Not just Republicans in Capitol Hill.

LAHNEE CHEN :

What this sets up as is the president wants this to be the single defining foreign policy moment of his presidency. In a presidency that's had a number of interesting moments. Let's not forget, he went to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. And now you've got him sort of center stage. And he wants this to be --

CHUCK TODD :

We needed a victory. He hasn't had a big victory yet.

LAHNEE CHEN :

This is the principal argument for going into an election year, quite frankly. In terms of going forward, I do think that the argument that a lot of Republicans are going to make is, look, what made this possible was U.S. presence on the ground. What made this possible was our strategic alliance with the Kurds. What made this possible was all of the great relationships we had in the region. And this was an operation, by the president's admission, that was five months in the making. Five months of intelligence gathering, much more than that obviously. But certainly working with forces on the ground. What's going to happen going forward if we reduce that footprint? Are we going to be able to continue to constrain in ISIS in what they want to do? They still have aspirations going forward.

CHUCK TODD :

Amy, though, I remember after the bin Laden capture and kill, there were plenty of politicians that said, "Great. Okay."

AMY WALTER :

The election's over.

CHUCK TODD :

No, we got him. No, no, no, meaning, "We got him. Now we can start pulling back." And then you would have these fights. I mean, my point is the political world or the average voter is going to side with the president on this. "Great. You got him. Let's go. Pull back. We don't need as many troops over there." It becomes a harder argument that Lahnee's making to keep troops on the ground.

AMY WALTER :

To keep troops on the ground versus keeping special operations on the ground. And I think that's the distinction that even many Republicans were making was, "We don't have. This is not about thousands and thousands of troops in this region." This is about a very specialized group of smart intelligence officers and, and leaders who are there getting this for us. It is a smaller investment to do this rather than let it fall apart and then have to make a serious investment in literally putting lives -- American lives on the line in this area.

ANDREA MITCHELL :

And the fact is, right now Vladimir Putin is the commander of Syria. I mean he has --

CHUCK TODD :

That's a big statement.

ANDREA MITCHELL :

He well --

CHUCK TODD :

That you feel like he has the most influence over the largest portion of Syria--

ANDREA MITCHELL :

Because he has --

CHUCK TODD :

-- than anybody else.

ANDREA MITCHELL :

-- influence over Turkey even though it's a NATO ally. And he has obvious influence with Iran and Assad. He is -- he has the political influence where we can no longer be the brokers at the table negotiating any kind of solution if there ever were going to be one, politically, for Syria. Putin will have his say.

LAHNEE CHEN :

Yeah. I think unquestionably, it's hard to argue, as the president does, that somehow the U.S. pulling back is something that Russians don't like. I think the Russians like the hegemonic control they have in the area. And certainly our withdrawal, even if we leave some small presence there, is still a win for the Russians. It's still a win for the Iranians. I have a very difficult time seeing how that would be the case as the president argued today.

CHUCK TODD :

Is it possible a year from now we couldn't do an operation like this, Jeh, if we have pulled back as much as we may be pulling back?

JEH JOHNSON :

Yes. It could become exceedingly difficult. What type of presence we have in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan is not actually a political judgment. It's a fact-based analysis of what you need in that region to deal with the threat that exists in that region. That's a fact-based analysis that our chiefs, our joint chiefs should be delivering to the civilian leadership. That shouldn't be a political debate necessarily. I agree with what's been said, you need a force sufficient to deal with counterterrorism purposes in these countries.

CHUCK TODD :

All right, I'm going to pause it here. When we come back we're going to the other big news of the week: impeachment, Ukraine and the Democratic race for president, perhaps. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD :

Back now with end game. In the past few weeks, standing evidence has mounted concerning President Trump in Ukraine. Rather than question the evidence Republicans have taken to attacking the process, blaming implausibly that they are being denied access to testimony. And President Trump is using the same attack, the process game plan he used to undermine Robert Mueller before Mueller's report was released.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And I have my own experience, you know that. You see what's going on with witch hunt.

CHUCK TODD :

President Trump on Friday comparing impeachment to the criminal injustice faced by African-Americans at a historically black college in South Carolina. Mr. Trump increasingly frustrated that he has not been able to stop the impeachment inquiry.

SEN. JOHN THUNE :

The Picture coming out of it based on the reporting that we've seen is not a good one.

REPORTER :

Does the White House need to do a better job of communicating on impeachment?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM :

Yes.

CHUCK TODD :

Nine key figures have testified so far including the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who contradicted the president's assertions there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine in explosive testimony on Tuesday. Taylor testifying that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told him everything was dependent, including security assistance, on Ukrainian President Zelensky announcing he would investigate the Bidens in the 2016 election.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP :

He's a never-Trumper and his lawyer is a never-Trumper.

CHUCK TODD :

Actually Taylor was hired by Secretary of State Pompeo to take on the Ukraine role. Now Mr. Trump is scrambling to reconstitute his legal team and White House officials are assembling a war room.

SEN. LINDSESY GRAHAM :

I talked to Chief Staff Mulvaney. I think they're working on getting a messaging team together.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP :

I don't have teams. Everyone's talking about teams. I'm the team.

CHUCK TODD:

Without facts to contradict the testimony of the current and former Trump aides President Trump's allies in Capitol Hill are instead condemning the process. On Wednesday, barging into a secure room where impeachment investigators were deposing their latest witness.

REP. MATT GAETZ :

We're going to go and see if we can get inside.

CHUCK TODD :

Of course 47 House Republicans, including the vice president's brother, already have access to those closed door sessions which Republicans have also held in the past.

REP. TREY GOWDY :

The private ones always produce better results.

CHUCK TODD:

In the Senate, Republican Lindsey Graham was forced to water down a resolution condemning impeachment in order to gain Republican support, also having to focus on process. Three Republican holdouts remain, Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY :

We certainly can't have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is, after all, against the law.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD :

The panel is back. Amy look, sometimes it's hard and we try to pack in everything to try to figure out in our space time continuum continues to go all over the place. But the Bill Taylor testimony was singularly I think impactful. So impactful that it caused I think all of this sort of crazy response in the next 48 hours.

AMY WALTER :

There's no doubt about that because it was a very hard thing in the testimony itself to push back on. So as you pointed out, then you go to process. “This is closed door. There is no transparency. The Democrats are trying to run out the clock.” All of that is the most effective argument they've made. The one thing though that I think we learned though this week that is effective for the president is -- well actually a couple of things. The first is, as you pointed out, Lindsey Graham puts this resolution out. At first not all Republican senators joined. But now it's all but three, which tells you everything you need to know about where this is going in the Senate which is absolutely nowhere. There's an impeachment in the House. It's not going to make it through the Senate. There's not going to be a conviction. The second is, if you look at the overall polling about how Americans feel about impeachment, nationally the numbers have inched up a little bit. But going to those battleground states, state like Wisconsin, new poll came out of there this week, underwater in terms of approval rating of impeachment.

CHUCK TODD :

The minute we reported that number we got wind that the same numbers in Minnesota and similar numbers that we'd seen. Jeh Johnson, where are you on all of this and what you would hope how the Democrats should handle this impeachment inquiry going forward? Because I want to show you something. The Iowa Caucuses are 99 days from today. If they do focus on impeachment, this is all -- everything that's got to happen in the next 99 days. First of all, we've got to avoid a government shutdown. You've got to have the hearings themselves public. We've got to have the trial which, by the way, took about a month the last time we had an impeachment trial. There's going to be three, maybe four debates, by the way, between now and then also slipped into here. NAFTA 2.0 is supposed to be passed now or forever hold your peace. And now by the way, I do think Americans still want to celebrate Thanksgiving and the holidays, or at least members of Congress do. So Jeh, there's a time crunch here to win. Americans will see the campaign begin. Impeachment is about the president. What would you like to see your party do?

JEH JOHNSON :

Well you're right. There's a lot on the table here. And Congress typically does not perform ahead of schedule. They're very last minute. And I think it's important for Americans, and I suspect it's going to play out exactly the way Amy said, it's important for Americans to not forget that there is an election in a year. That is the opportunity for change. If voters go to the polls, if voters don't like what is happening with Ukraine, with the Mueller report and all of the other things, that is the opportunity for change. It's up to the voters to turn out and bring that about if that's where we are.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

One thing that happened this week that should not be overlooked is that a federal judge, and this could be overturned perhaps at the Supreme Court Level, a federal judge validated the House Democrats approach in every regard. And they're right. Congress is right in separation of powers to all of the information, the grand jury information. The fact is that these very same people, Mike Pompeo when he was on the Benghazi committee were refusing to let State Department lawyers in. That whole process argument is exactly the process that they were performing. And in those two previous impeachment exercises, the one leading up to Watergate, also the Clinton impeachment, there were special prosecutors or independent counsels. So they are doing the work of an independent council. It is more analogous to a grand jury probe. I think that they have absolute right to be having these witnesses in private. Taylor could not be, should not be underestimated. This was the critical testimony. Now what will happen with John Bolton. Is he angry enough that he is going to come in because he knows everything?

CHUCK TODD :

I keep painting this picture, Lahnee of the next 99 days because I just don't think people have totally absorbed all of this--

LAHNEE CHEN :

How much has to happen in these 99 days. Yeah. And I think the reality is that for Republicans this process argument was always going to hit a wall. And the question was not if but when. And so that really the problem I think for Republicans is how to pivot that into the substance of this. Is there a way to pivot into the substance to say, look, even if there was a quid pro quo it's not an impeachable offense. I tend to think the best way forward for Republicans is to say that this whole process is divorced from the reality of what voters are facing on a day to day basis. And that seems to be the reason why you're seeing this disconnect, maybe swing state versus national. Look, Democrats are so focused on impeachment, they're not focused on jobs, the economy, health care, the topics that voters care about. That's really where the argument needs to go.

CHUCK TODD :

Yeah. No. My guess is that is or some form of let the voters decide. In some form of that they have. That's why this window I think is closing fast. Anyway, woo, what a morning. Thank you all for watching. Much appreciated. Let's see if the Nats win game five tonight. Big win tonight. Let's go, Nats.

AMY WALTER :

Come on, Nats.

CHUCK TODD :

Get this World Series back into our control. We'll be back next week though because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.