Trump defends his Ukraine call as Democrats ramp up impeachment efforts

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 15, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: So now the Democrats are making a pathetic bid to save sleepy Joe, sleepy Joe Biden. And you know what, I'd would love to run against him, to be honest. By the way, whatever happened to Hunter? Where the hell is he?

HUNTER BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S SON: Who cares? Look, like I've said, I've been through some stuff in my life. I've been through some real, real stuff. This isn't real stuff. It isn't. Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yes. But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Just hours before this Democratic debate, Hunter Biden speaking to ABC this morning. The president was definitely watching. "Hunter Biden was really bad on GMA. Now Sleepy Joe has real problems. Reminds me of Crooked Hillary and her 33,000 deleted emails, not recoverable!" the president tweeted.

Meantime, we are just getting word from Capitol Hill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided because her caucus decided not to hold a formal impeachment inquiry vote right now at this time. According to a senior aide, a consensus is no vote to launch a formal impeachment probe, continue with the way they are doing it. Many Democratic members do not want to be seen as letting the White House dictate how a separate and equal branch of government conducts itself. Maybe that's part of it.

Let's bring in our panel from Ohio, Byron York, chief political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio. Mara, surprised by the Pelosi move?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Not surprised. I don't think she's totally ruling out having a vote at some point, but she wants to make sure that the vote happens when the support for the inquiry is at its absolute peak.

BAIER: Doesn't this tell you that she either doesn't --

LIASSON: It's not there yet.

BAIER: She doesn't want to put these Democrats --

LIASSON: That's what she doesn't want to do. I think she would have the votes, a majority of the House for an impeachment inquiry, sure. But she doesn't want to put her moderate, vulnerable members in harm's way. That has been her north star, she wants to protect them. And it's only when seven of them wrote an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" that said they were for this that she went ahead.

BAIER: Without it, it does lose a little juice, a little backing.

BRYON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": The value of a vote was if the House subpoenas the White House for information, the White House refuses, the House goes to court and they say to the court we have a formal impeachment inquiry under way, this is a weighty enough procedure, it's like a judicial procedure, the White House must comply. But Pelosi has a lot of Democrats giving her the advice of we've already got enough. We don't have to go through this long process. There is enough evidence right now to go forward.

LIASSON: Based on what the president has said in public and the transcript of the call that the White House released, but also Democrats are saying, hey, look, we are having people come to us when we subpoena them even though the White House said they shouldn't cooperate. So they are doing pretty good right now, they think.

BAIER: Let's turn here and the fallout from the Hunter Biden interview, which really some Democrats I talked to were scratching their head about the timing and why it happened today, because you would think that it has to come up tonight.

LIASSON: It certainly will come up tonight. Hunter Biden would've come up whether he spoke to "Good Morning America" or not. I think if Biden can perform tonight, if he can somehow jiujitsu the Trump attacks into an argument why he is the strongest candidate to take Trump on, nobody is going to care about what Hunter said on ABC. If he can't, I think it's going to loom larger.

BAIER: But there were some things that stood out, like, for example, Hunter Biden saying, yes, of course I got jobs because I was a Biden. I got this job because I was on the Amtrak board. Why was he on the Amtrak board?


YORK: That did stand out. But last night I said Biden's position is I've done absolutely nothing wrong and I'll never do it again. I think that's pretty much what he said today. The only mistake he really copped to was giving his political enemies ammunition to use against him, really said he did nothing wrong in taking this position in Ukraine.

LIASSON: But the attack from Trump isn't you helped your kid get a job. The attack is you and your son did something corrupt and illegal, and that is what Biden wants to focus on tonight because there's no evidence for that charge.

BAIER: OK. He did say he didn't make any money from the China deal. You make the money when you exit an investment.

LIASSON: Right, right, right, right.

BAIER: You're not making money of $1.5 billion.

LIASSON: Trump says he took $1.5 billion, and he's saying I didn't do that.

BAIER: OK. This night, these 12 candidates on one stage -- I've moderated debates with eight, nine, 10. Twelve could get messy.

YORK: Somebody is going to be unhappy. There's just no doubt about it. Either the moderators will spend too much time on the top ranked candidates or they will spend too much time on the people who have no chance. Somebody is going to be unhappy. But this is the first debate since the impeachment came up, and it's the first debate that Joe Biden wasn't the real frontrunner.

BAIER: Quinnipiac has a new poll out, Q-Poll one, Elizabeth Warren at 30 percent, Joe Biden at 27, Bernie Sanders at 11. And then it's single digits all the way down. If you look at who has the best policy ideas, Elizabeth Warren 40 percent, Joe Biden 16, Bernie Sanders 12.

LIASSON: And the next is who do you think is best to beat Donald Trump? And Joe Biden is still 48 and she's about half of that. So Biden has some opportunities tonight in addition to trying to flip the script on Trump with Ukraine. He's got a big softball coming over the plate, and that's Syria. He is the only candidate on that stage with considerable foreign policy experience. He should be able to take advantage of that.

BAIER: You have all of these candidates who are single digits who have to do something to change the dynamic.

YORK: We've seen them try to do that before. Julian Castro tried to do it at an earlier debate and got into kind of an ugly mess with Biden in which Castro was actually wrong. So I expect somebody will try to do something like that.

And the last thing that's different, by the way, is this is after Bernie Sanders had a heart attack and has really fallen in the polls. Not sure what he can do to try to convince people that he is the same old Bernie.

BAIER: Be energetic?

LIASSON: Be energetic.

YORK: Do some pushups. I don't know.

LIASSON: But you know what, all those single digit candidates, who do they go after? Do they go after Biden? It hasn't worked in the past. Or do they finally start going after Elizabeth Warren who has really faced very little scrutiny, hardly any attacks. I think of those candidates Pete Buttigieg is the best positioned. Remember, he raised the third largest amount of money, and he is clearly angling to be the understudy to Biden in the centrist lane should Biden collapse.

BAIER: Also, first time that this has been after the Turks invaded Syria, going after the Kurds. You heard Senator Graham on the show earlier. There is an effort to try to clean this up, the vice president going over to the region with the secretary of state.

YORK: I think the message from what Senator Graham said, you're exactly right, is we are trying to fix this, and also to deflect blame, because he was talking about this letter that President Trump wrote to Erdogan saying don't do this, now, don't do this. I think many people, Republicans and Democrats, are saying, really, do you think a letter was going to change the whole situation?

LIASSON: The president of the United States asked a NATO ally not to do something, and they did anyway? That's bad.

YORK: Clearly, it's an effort to try to clean things up.

BAIER: Will the sanctions effect Erdogan? He's already there.

LIASSON: No. These sanctions are like a slap on the wrist. Go back to the original 50 percent steel tariffs and then talk about a $100 billion trade deal. Right now Turkey does about $25 billion of trade with us. That $100 billion was aspirational. It's not like we're taking away $100 billion from Turkey.

BAIER: Does this factor into this debate significantly tonight?

LIASSON: It could.

YORK: I think there will be a lot of unanimity in criticizing President Trump. This is one way --

BAIER: Although they want to bring U.S. troops home, too.

YORK: They won't be yelling at each other. I think they will be yelling at Trump on this one.

LIASSON: Yes. And like I said, advantage for Biden if he can take advantage of it.

BAIER: All right, we'll see. Thanks, guys.

Coming up, we have some firefighters thinking fast and getting their nails done?


BAIER: Finally tonight, an act of kindness and some really quick thinking, responding to a scene of a car crash, North Davis, Utah, Fire District Chief Alan Hadley and Captain Kevin Lloyd noticed an uninjured but very scared little girl. She was crying. She was clutching, actually, bottles of fingernail polish. The firefighters, both fathers to young girls, started talking to her about the polish to calm her down, and even then ask her to paint their nails. Within minutes, she did. The child had calmed down, and the men had snazzy new colored nails. Good job for those firefighters.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and unafraid. Complete wrap-up with Shannon Bream. I'll join that show as well, 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight after the democratic debate.

"The Story", hosted by Martha MacCallum in New York, starts right now.

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