7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - October 14, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, October 14, 2019. 22 days until Election Day 2019. 112 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 386 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

U.S. troops to fully withdraw from northern Syria amid "total chaos"

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria will be evacuated, accelerating plans to withdraw from the region one week after announcing an initial pullback.

"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The decision marked a "doubling down" by President Trump in the face of biting public criticism by his Republican allies on Capitol Hill — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), among others — and reports of private pushback from top advisers inside his administration.  

Trump's initial redeployment of about 100 to 150 troops from northern Syria was followed in the last week by Turkey launching a long-feared offensive into the country, which battered the Kurdish forces who had long been allied with the United States in opposition to ISIS. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan informed Trump of his plans to move forward with the invasion in an October 6 phone call; hours later, the White House announced that the U.S. would "no longer be in the immediate area," abruptly reversing long-held American policy and abandoning support for the Kurds. (Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as a threat; the invasion has led them to form an alliance with the Syrian government, which is viewed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism and is backed by Russia and Iran.)

"They trusted us and we broke that trust," one Army officer who has fought alongside the Kurds in northern Syria told the New York Times. "It's a stain on the American conscience."

The withdrawal has also upended recent gains made by the U.S. against ISIS; at least 750 people with suspected links to the terrorist group escaped a detention camp in northeast Syria on Sunday. Additionally, the Times reported, the U.S. "failed to transfer five dozen 'high value' Islamic State detainees out of the country" while withdrawing.

"We may want a war over; we may even declare it over... but 'the enemy gets the vote,' we say in the military," James Mattis, the retired four-star Marine Corps general who served as President Trump's first Defense Secretary, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "And in this case, if we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back."

Mattis resigned from the Trump administration in December 2018 due to disagreements over Syria policy. As the Washington Post reported, Trump's recent moves in the region represent something "he has long wanted to do" but is now empowered to enact without "moderating officials" like Mattis or former White House chief of staff John Kelly (another retired Marine four-star general) in the way.

While many of his usual defenders have been silent, Trump stood by his non-interventionist policy in a series of tweets over the weekend. "Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change," he said on Sunday. "Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made."

But with ISIS making gains and U.S. allies being "slaughtered," uncertainty has defined the Trump administration's strategy in Syria. "This is total chaos," a senior administration official told the Post on Sunday, calling the situation "a total s---storm."

Trump's increasing isolation over Syria comes as he concurrently faces another grave political threat to his presidency...

Impeachment inquiry further ensnares Trump's inner circle

As the impeachment inquiry into President Trump enters its fourth week, scrutiny is increasingly bearing down on the president's inner circle while additional administration insiders prepare to offer testimony that could pierce Trump's defenses.

Trump's personal attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, has been at the center of the impeachment fight from the beginning, reportedly pushing the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations into Trump's political rivals in the months leading up to the infamous phone call in which Trump himself pressured the president of Ukraine to do so.

Giualni is now under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, the New York Times reported on Friday; the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which Giuliani once led, is examining whether the ex-mayor's efforts in Ukraine violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which regulates foreign lobbying.

The probe into Giuliani's efforts is tied to the case against two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last week on charges that they funneled foreign donations to U.S. politicians in a scheme to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations. Although President Trump has denied any connection to the two men — "I don't know these gentleman," he told reporters — photographs have surfaced tying them to him as far back as 2014.

Meanwhile, the impeachment inquisitors on Capitol Hill continue to accelerate their investigation.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified for nearly 10 hours on Friday; in her opening statement, she told lawmakers that she was suddenly removed from her post by President Trump due to "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," including Giuliani and his associates.

This week, two more key figures will offer testimony. Fiona Hill, who served until August as President Trump's top aide on Russia and Europe, will testify behind closed doors today. According to NBC News, she "plans to tell Congress that Rudy Giuliani and E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine."

Sondland will then testify on Thursday; his text messages with other diplomats have become central to the investigation. In one message that has been held up by President Trump's defenders, Sondland offered an assurance that there was "no quid pro quo's of any kind" with Ukraine. But according to the Washington Post, he will tell lawmakers that he was simply relaying what Trump told him in a phone call and "he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth at that moment."

"It's only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth," a person familiar with Sondland's planned testimony told the Post.

Trump's allies have been scrambling to form a coordinated defense against the impeachment inquiry. Giuliani is slated to remain on the president's outside legal team, "but will not participate in matters related to Ukraine," according to CBS News. Former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who was announced last week as the latest high-profile member of Trump's legal team, is no longer expected to join, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The arrangement reportedly fell apart due to lobbying rules that would have prohibited Gowdy from starting until January, when the inquiry could already be over.

With Gowdy out of the picture and Giuliani increasingly sidelined, "even Mr. Trump — who for the most part has been operating as a one-man war room, setting the tone of grievance from the top — appears confused about which of his staff members is in charge" of the administration's impeachment response, according to the Times.

Trump has stood by Giuliani despite the reported investigation into him, praising his attorney on Twitter as a "legendary 'crime buster' and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC" and meeting with him for lunch on Saturday.

Biden seeks to quell concerns over son's foreign work ahead of Tuesday debate

Hunter Biden is stepping down from his seat on the board of a Chinese investment company and pledging to forgo all foreign work if his father, former Vice President Joe Biden, wins the presidency next year, his lawyer said Sunday.

"No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in on meetings as if they are a cabinet member, will, in fact, have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country," Biden told reporters in Iowa. "Period. Period. End of story."

The Biden campaign's attempt to quell concerns over his son's foreign work — which has been increasingly weaponized by President Trump — comes ahead of the fourth Democratic presidential primary debate, which is tomorrow night. The debate could be a key moment for Biden to wrest momentum in the race back from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has been buoyed by rising poll numbers, a large fundraising haul, and viral moments such as her rejoinder at a CNN's town hall on LGBT issues last week.

A CBS News/YouGov Tracker estimate of convention delegates released on Sunday placed Biden's estimated delegate count through Super Tuesday only slightly ahead of Warren's, 600 to 545. State by state, CBS/YouGov polls found Biden maintaining his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire but slightly trailing Warren in New Hampshire and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Nevada.  

Read tomorrow's issue of Wake Up To Politics for a full preview of the debate...

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter and tell them to subscribe at wakeuptopolitics.com.

Today at the White House

--- Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence has any public events on their schedules.

Today in Congress

--- The House and Senate are on recess through October 15.

Today at the Supreme Court

--- The Supreme Court justices are not meeting for any conferences or oral arguments today.

Today on the trail

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) holds a meet and greet in Mason City, Iowa.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) continues his walk across New Hampshire, visiting with prisoners and administrators in Keene, holding an event on Citizens United in Dublin, holding an event with veterans and military families in Merrimack, and attending a town meeting organized by local Democrats in Somersworth.

--- The other candidates are likely huddled with advisers preparing for tomorrow night's debate.

*All times Eastern