President Trump takes credit for Turkish cease-fire in Syria

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 17, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT: Today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: We have a five-day ceasefire. During that five days, the Kurds and other people, they are going to be taken great care of. They're going to be moving around, moving out of a safe zone, which is something that Turkey has always wanted. This was something they have been trying to get for 10 years. You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn't get it without a little rough love.

MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It's a pause. This is not a ceasefire. A ceasefire can only be made between two legitimate sides.


BRET BAIER, HOST: OK, well, both sides are calling it different things, but the fighting has stopped in northeastern Syria, and that's the key. As you look at the map, the operation has been going on for now nine days. This agreement, whatever you call it, the Turkish side will pause their operation called Peace Spring for 120 hours, five days, in order to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from that safe zone that you see there. In return the U.S. will not pursue any additional sanctions during the ceasefire, and once the ceasefire becomes permanent, all sanctions will be lifted.

The problem is there are some in the U.S. military, senior sources, telling us on this, quote, "There is no way the Kurds can leave that security zone. There are thousands of Kurds who live in what the Turks want as a buffer zone. That's where these fighters' families live. That is where they are from."

So let's start there and bring in the panel, Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon," Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios," and Jason Riley, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Matthew, thoughts?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "WASHINGTON FREE BEACON": A ceasefire is preferable to the chaos that had been erupting in recent days, but the record of ceasefires specifically in Syria is not very reassuring about what the future might hold.

I would say this, though. I thought Vice President Pence made a very revealing and accurate statement in his interview with John Roberts when he said ultimately this was Turkish President Erdogan's decision, and the United States didn't really have much leverage to prevent him from invading Syria. When you combine at Erdogan's actions with Iran's growing malign behavior in the region and willingness to have these audacious attacks like on the Saudi oil facility, I fear that the American deterrent in the Middle East is quickly eroding.

BAIER: Here's another question, John Roberts to Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara.


JOHN ROBERTS, CORRESPONDENT: Based on his behavior and based on his action, can you trust him?

PENCE: I think President Trump and President Erdogan have the kind of relationship where President Erdogan knows President Trump says what he means, means what he says. And I think on the foundation of that kind of candid and honest relationship we can go forward together for a more peaceful region.


BAIER: What's the fallout at the White House, Jonathan?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": It's not so much fallout as it's becoming apparent to everyone in the administration that the U.S. -- I don't think it's a fear. I just think it's a reality that the U.S. is not going to have much leverage in this region because they are pulling out. And that just makes common sense. The Russians are moving in, Assad is moving in, Turkey now has this area as its own in Syria. Why wouldn't they like that? That's what they wanted.

The real question is, are the Kurds going to vacate the area or are they going to keep fighting? And the big point is the U.S. is pulling out, and the point at which the U.S. can actually have real leverage over Turkey has probably passed, because Donald Trump said yesterday, I don't really care. Let them fight in the sand, let them fight. Let the Russians come in. It's great. I don't want to take care of it. So the idea that the U.S. is going to be a key player in manipulating the situation, I think that that ship has already sailed.

CONTINETTI: Just quickly, they might not fear it, but I do. The big reason is the possibility that ISIS will reconstitute itself --

SWAN: No, no, but there's no reason to fears something that's already happened.

CONTINETTI: -- which was already beginning to develop before the withdrawal from Syria.

SWAN: My point wasn't that you shouldn't fear it. My point was that you sort of talked about it, it sounded to me, anyway, as if it was something that hadn't happened or may happen.

CONTINETTI: It's happening.

SWAN: It seems to that it's a done -

CONTINETTI: And it will have bad consequences.

BAIER: We talked on this panel over the past few days about the political implications in that in middle America there is a hunger to bring troops home, and it does resonate with some people to not fight the battles in other places. But there are many Republicans who have a strategic look at the world differently, and they are speaking out, one of them Mitt Romney on the Senate floor.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY, R-UT: The ceasefire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally. Adding insult to dishonor, the administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty.

What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.


BAIER: It was a fiery speech.

JASON RILEY, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" COLUMNIST: And it's not just Romney, you can't just dismiss this as only people, never-Trumpers and so forth. The vote this week in the House was very meaningful. Trump thought this would play well politically. He was filling a campaign promise. The fact that more than two to one Republicans, number of Republicans in the House - -

BAIER: Who are up for reelection every two years.

RILEY: Yes, voted against this. But what it shows, Bret, though, is that Republicans, a large group of Republicans are willing to buck the president on foreign policy. They don't trust his judgment. And the concern is that will spill into other areas. You've got a president who is going into election next year, he's going into this impeachment stuff. He wants a united caucus on foreign policy, at least. He does not have one.

BAIER: Can you say that today is a win for President Trump, sending Pence and Pompeo there, getting something, whether it's going to hold or not, isn't today a win for him?

SWAN: Again, it depends how you define a win. This situation happened, Turkey has moved in. They have not got -- the ceasefire is based on Turkey getting exactly what they want, which is the Kurds clearing out or they die. And I think to call it a win is sort of juvenile in some ways to say it's a win, because let's just see what happens in five days. There's a lot that could happen here.

BAIER: A lot could happen, definitely.

CONTINETTI: There's a lot of opportunism going on here, especially from the former Obama officials and some of the Congressional Democratic Caucus condemning Trump for actions that they have been calling for for some time. The fact is we decided our fate in Syria a long time ago during the Obama administration when America, because of our bad experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, we decided we did not want to take a forward-leaning posture in Syria.

BAIER: That's a fair point, and one that gets overlooked here. During the Obama years, some 500,000 people died in a civil war in Syria.

SWAN: The Syria tragedy was a disaster. I have no patience for them claiming that their Syria strategy was on track. Half a million people died. Let's be realistic here.

BAIER: Yes, it's just perspective.

RILEY: Obviously Turkey was paying attention to Syria thumbing its nose at Obama and not paying a price. And that was the calculation made here. Turkey got what it wanted. It's hard to see any concessions on the part of Turkey. They get no more sanctions, and the Kurds have to leave the border.

BAIER: What about Nancy Pelosi's statement that everything leads back to Putin, and he got what he wanted, too?

RILEY: That's Putin -- that's Pelosi, I should say, playing election politics. But in some sense, she's right. She's right for the same reasons that Mitt Romney was laying out there. That's who is going to fill this power vacuum. It's going to be Syria. It's going to be Russia if the U.S. is not taking the lead in that region.

BAIER: All right, we'll keep talking about it. Next up, the latest on impeachment, and a clarification or walk-back from the White House chief of staff.



MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Withholding the funding.

MULVANEY: Yes, which ultimately then flowed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I'd like to know what that means. I'd have a problem with you saying you can't get military aid unless you do my political biddings.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIF., CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason is a phenomenal breach of the president's duty.


BAIER: Every time you hear about this testimony behind closed doors, more is being said publicly that is raising eyebrows here in Washington than anywhere. Late today as this show started, the White House chief of staff put out a statement clarifying, or walking back, however you want to call it. That statement, "Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption. There never was any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server."

That's what the statement says. Obviously, it sounded different in the press conference. We are back with our panel. Jason?

RILEY: Well, the media and the Democrats are trying to push a narrative that says there's only one way, Bret, to interpret this phone conversation, and something impeachable took place, something illegal took place. And I think there are multiple ways to interpret this conversation. We know that the president is interested in investigating what led to, I guess, what we can broadly call Russia-gate. What the FBI, what the intelligence community, did they overstep their bounds. That is a legitimate concern for a president of the United States, and I hope he does look into it.

He was also concerned about foreign aid, other countries in Europe particularly not pulling their weight when it comes to foreign aid. And he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine, just simply pushing money out the door to a foreign country. Those are all legitimate concerns. They all came up on the phone call. And the Democrats want to pretend like there's no other way to interpret what took place.

BAIER: However, they do step into in, this press conference, it clearly stepped into it.

SWAN: OK, but let's all just acknowledge that, yes, you can have different points of view on that transcript, you can think it's impeachable, you can think it's totally fine, we can all agree on that. What I hope we can all agree on that Mick Mulvaney literally said on camera and we just watched it that there was a link between holding up Ukrainian aid and investigating the Democratic thing, and he said it happens all the time. He said it on TV. The idea that the media misconstrued that --

RILEY: I watched the press conference, and I think is larger point was that the U.S. regularly gives foreign aid to countries based on their behavior, based on certain conditions.

SWAN: I have no doubt about that.

RILEY: We are dealing with Latin America right now for illegal immigration purposes. It happens all the time.

SWAN: That's not my point. That's fine. But my point is he said on TV that there was a direct link between investigating the server and the aid. He said that.

BAIER: He obviously saw that he said it not the way that he wanted to say it. The president was just asked about this press conference. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you watch Mick Mulvaney's press conference.

TRUMP: No I didn't. I wasn't able to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you aware the he suggested that there was some sort of a quid pro quo with --

TRUMP: No, I didn't. I heard somebody said he did a very nice job. You know what I have been focused on today, very much? All of this, and also if you look, Turkey and the great thing that happened in Syria -- I don't know. But Mick is a good man. I don't know. I have not heard anything. I have a lot of confidence in him.


BAIER: I have a lot of confidence in him.

CONTINETTI: Well, what Mulvaney did wasn't a walk-back. It was a sprint back. When you're running backwards, you tend to trip over yourself. And I think that's what's happened here. The issue -- we certainly hold foreign aid for policy reasons. The issue at hand is whether the aide was being held for the political gain of the president of the United States. That is under dispute, but the fact that voters can understand that, right, is why we've had this precipitous rise in the support for impeachment.

It gets support from Democrats, it gets support from independents, and it's beginning to get support for some liberal and moderate Republicans. It hasn't yet stretched to conservatives or very conservative Republicans, and until it does, the president's job is secure.

BAIER: Let me just say why that news conference happened, and it was to make an announcement about the G7.


TRUMP: It's just a great place to be. I think having it in Miami is fantastic, really fantastic. Having it at that particular place because of the way it's set up, each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow, and the bungalow, when I say they have a lot of units in them. So I think it just works out well.

MICK MULVANEY, INCOMING ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Doral was by far and away, far and away the best physical facility for this meeting. You're not making any profit. He knows exactly that he's going to get these questions and exactly get that reaction from a lot of people, and he's simply saying, OK, that's fine.


BAIER: So the G7 at Doral, a Trump property.

RILEY: It makes it very difficult for Republicans to, on one hand, defend what Trump is doing here and then go after Joe and Hunter Biden for similar type of self-dealings in their businesses.

SWAN: We knew that he was looking at this. I actually broke the story that it was in the short list. And it's one of those things where a lot of his aides who I've spoken to don't think it's a good idea, but the president wanted to do it. So there are some things as an aide you just say OK, it's what he wants. And --

BAIER: Of all the things that are happening, on this day, all the things, the news, this announcement on this day, it's quite something.

CONTINETTI: When you're in a hole, stop digging. But I think Trump is taking the Kennedy-esque approach. Some people ask why not -- and Trump asks why not when other people ask why are you doing this? He says, why not?

BAIER: It's also another shining thing. We are talking about it tonight, and I bet you it will come up over the weekend. Panel, thank you.

When we come back, announcing yourself with a bang.


BAIER: Finally tonight, a little drummer boy. Tabitha Wilcox took her son Seneca to the football game at Telfair County, Georgia, Middle School for his birthday. While he was in the stands he starts playing his drum along with the drum line. The drum line saw that, and they invited the four- year-old down to show off his percussion skills. And it looks like he might be on a drum line pretty soon. We'll see. Nice job.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That is it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and unafraid. "The Story" hosted by Martha MacCallum starts right now.

Hey, Martha.

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