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Trump Communications Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; Justin Trudeau Apologizes for Brownface Photo; Mike Pompeo Travels for Coalition Building in Middle East; Benjamin Netanyahu Faces Uncertain Future. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president made a promise to a world leader, and a whistleblower complained. Who was that leader? What was promised and why is that complaint still being kept secret?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A brownface scandal for Justin Trudeau. The Canadian prime minister in damage control over a photo that could sway an upcoming election.

BRIGGS: Scathing criticism of President Trump from his former National Security adviser. What John Bolton had to say behind closed doors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the (INAUDIBLE).



ROMANS: Are we really alone? The U.S. Navy confirms reported UFO videos are real.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Good morning.

BRIGGS: Do you believe in UFOs?

ROMANS: Oh, I believe that there was something on those -- on those videotapes. It's unidentified.

BRIGGS: That's not an answer to my question.

ROMANS: I believe there was something unidentified, an object, in those videotapes.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Thursday, September 19th. 4:00 a.m. in New York. Get off the fence. Breaking overnight, it was President Trump's communications with a

foreign leader that led to a whistleblower complaint from a U.S. intelligence official. That complaint is still being kept secret from Congress. And two former U.S. officials tell the "Washington Post" specifically it was a promise the president made to a foreign leader that caused concern here. The inspector general of the Intelligence Community felt the complaint was a matter of urgent concern but the office of the DNI disputed that characterization.

We know President Trump spoke to at least five world leaders in the five weeks leading up to the whistleblower complaint, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.


ELLEN NAKASHIMA, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: We don't know the nature of the promise but it was of sufficient concern. It was troubling enough that the Intelligence Community official who learned of it felt compelled to lodge a complaint with the inspector general of the Intelligence Community. And he did this in August so, you know, just -- it wasn't too long ago. And if it was Putin, it was only a couple of weeks after that.


ROMANS: These developments are raising even more questions about the president's handling of sensitive information. The White House is not commenting. And acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share details with Congress. He blew past the deadline Tuesday and that's touching off a legal and political dispute. Maguire has agreed to testify next week and the DNI inspector general will brief the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today.

BRIGGS: An apology from Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau after a photo of him in brown face went public. Not what the prime minister needed a month before election day in Canada. The existence of this 18-year-old photo was first reported by "TIME" magazine. Trudeau says he did not realize at the time that his actions were racist.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: In 2001, when I was a teacher out in Vancouver, I attended an end-of-the-year gala where the theme was Arabian Nights. And I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn't have done that. I should have known better, but I didn't, and I'm really sorry.


ROMANS: Trudeau admits he also put on some more makeup for a high school talent show. Right now he's locked in a virtual tie in his reelection bid with conservative Andrew Scheer, who said he was shocked and disappointed by the prime minister's actions. Scheer called the brownface photo an act of open mockery and racism. Election day in Canada is October 21st. BRIGGS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Middle East, showing

support for the Saudi regime after a crippling attack on their oil fields.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there's always risk that that could happen.


BRIGGS: The term act of war is a clear reference to Iran. Saudi and U.S. investigators have already determined with, quote, "very high probability" that Saturday's attack originated and launched from an Iranian air base. Iran denies it.

ROMANS: Pompeo says he is in the Middle East to build a coalition to deter Iran and he is signaling the Trump administration will use next week's U.N. General Assembly to rally support for action against Tehran.

On Wednesday, the Saudi Defense Ministry released videos and images of alleged Iranian weapons that were used in the bombing.

Let's go live to Saudi Arabia and bring in CNN's Nic Robertson -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Good morning. What the Saudis authorities there, the Ministry of Defense, put on display the cruise missiles and drones that they said were used in the attack.


They said there were a total of 18 drones and seven cruise missiles used in the attack, and they laid this out making very clear in their statements that these attacks could not have come from Yemen, that it was the Iranians that made these missile systems. They wouldn't be pushed on where the attack came from. They did say those responsible would have to be held accountable.

But what seemed very clear in the picture emerging here, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo coming here but not having a press conference, is leaving right around now, and I think that alone shows you that they're trying to -- the United States and Saudi both trying to sort of dampen down expectations of what may happen next. The fact the Saudis won't point the finger of blame anywhere shows you again that they are not looking for a military confrontation at this moment.

What they are trying to do is build international support for their position. And I asked the military general in charge of this if they're achieving that. This is what he told me.


LT. COL. TURKI AL-MALKI, SAUDI DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: This attack is not just against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It's not against Saudi Aramco. It's against the international trade and against the security of the global energy. So --

ROBERTSON: And do you feel the international community -- does the international community believe that finally now?

AL-MALKI: I think we have a common understanding and we are working with our allies to stop Iran from their hostile act.


ROBERTSON: So playing into the picture of Saudi slow-rolling, if you will. They are pointing the finger of blame publicly, at least playing to this Prince Khalid bin Salman, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, and now the deputy Defense minister, and brother of course to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who's telling U.S. officials recently on the trip to Washington, that Saudi Arabia does not want an escalation of conflict in the region. Does not -- this is before the attack. Does not want the United States triggering a regional war.

The bottom line here is, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have way too much to lose. And this attack exposes that. But the question then is, what do you do about Iran and the use of these drones and missiles?

ROMANS: All right. Nic in Riyadh for us this morning. Thank you so much for that, Nic Robertson.

All right. Former National Security adviser John Bolton lashing out at President Trump at a private event in New York. According to a person who was there, Bolton slammed the president's approach to Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan, and quote, "didn't have anything positive to say about Trump." Now this attendee says Bolton called the idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David disrespectful to the victims of 9/11.

CNN has previously reported Bolton and the president got into a bitter argument over that plan, with Mr. Trump asking for Bolton's resignation at the end of their meeting.

BRIGGS: Deep divisions and rising tensions in the House Democratic caucus over the Judiciary Committee's march toward the impeachment of President Trump. In the aftermath of Corey Lewandowski's testimony, some Democrats are openly questioning the wisdom of bringing the former Trump campaign manager for another hearing that descended into partisan rancor. But the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, telling CNN Lewandowski's refusal to answer questions adds weight to the impeachment push.

At a private meeting about two weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her annoyance with the Judiciary staff for pushing ahead on impeachment. According to several sources, she told lawmakers to, quote, "feel free to leak this."

ROMANS: The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point for the second time in two months. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: We took this step to help keep the U.S. economy strong in the face of some notable developments and to provide insurance against ongoing risks.


ROMANS: Those risks slowing global growth, ongoing trade policy tensions and geopolitical risks like Brexit. Interest rates, you know, which of course control mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing will now hover between 1.75 percent and 2 percent for the Fed funds rate. There's other interest rates then of course higher than that but are pegged on that Fed funds rate. President Trump who called for negative rates last week criticized the decision tweeting, "Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve failed again." Fed chair Jerome Powell said the central bank expects the economy to remain strong. He left the door open for another rate cut.


POWELL: It can be a mistake to try to hold on to your firepower until a downturn gains momentum. What we think we're facing here is a situation which can be addressed and should be addressed with moderate adjustments to the Federal funds rate.


ROMANS: With only two more meetings this year, seven of the 17 Fed officials now see the possibility of at least one more rate cut.

BRIGGS: There are possible terrorist ties in the case of an American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a flight. Prosecutors say Ahmed Alani had ISIS propaganda on his phone and recently told a fellow employee he traveled to Iraq to visit his brother who was a member of ISIS.


The judge at Alani's bond hearing ordered him remanded, calling his actions reckless and unconscionable. Officials say he tried to damage or disabled the system on a plane that reports critical data like speed and pitch. The pilots safely aborted their takeoff when they noticed a system error.

All right. Right here overnight water rescues in Texas, as up to 20 inches of rain in some areas. A flash flood emergency, as the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda hit the Gulf.



ROMANS: Hurricane Humberto is heading out to sea, but not before leaving 80 percent of Bermuda without power. That's about 28,000 customers. Bermuda's utility company warning it is in a state of emergency with winds over 120 miles an hour lashing that island.

And a flash flood emergency has been issued for parts of Texas this morning. Some areas already reeling from 20 inches of rain thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda. There are water rescues at this hour in Jefferson County. Rain and gushing water on roadways in Galveston and Houston.

BRIGGS: The teen vaping epidemic showing no signs of letting up. According to a study just published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" rates of teen vaping doubled between 2017 and 2019. The researchers found this year one in four 12th graders had vaped in the last 30 days, along one in five 10th graders, and one in 11 eighth graders. They say current efforts by the vaping industry, government, schools to curb the problem have thus far proved insufficient.

And this certainly won't help the fight. Two men now charged in an illegal vape pen bust in North Phoenix, Arizona. Detectives seized over 1100 cartridges the type that has been associated with recent vaping deaths.

ROMANS: 1200 UAW workers in Canada are the first casualties of the strike against General Motors. They're being temporarily laid off. GM is blaming the move on the parts flow from the United States. 50,000 workers are entering day four of their walkout. And there are concerns the job actually could trigger a recession in sections of the Midwest. About 10,000 American companies supply GM with products and services. Many of them have already halted or planned to stop production on the products they sell to the automaker.

BRIGGS: While it's not clear what these flying objects are, the U.S. Navy now confirms the UFO videos are the real deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that thing? It's rotating. There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all going against the wind. They wind's 120 miles to the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude.


BRIGGS: The mysterious hurdling object seen in clips of declassified military footage had been designated by the Navy as unidentified aerial phenomenon. Two of the videos both from 2015 contain audio, as you heard, from U.S. fighter pilots attempting to make sense of what they're seeing. A Navy spokesperson says the transparency about the UAP is largely done to encourage trainees to report any, quote, "incursions." Convinced yet?

ROMANS: I don't know. Some -- they're drones. A lot of them are oblong shaped. I'm not sure exactly what they are. Sometimes they're flying together in like a formation.

BRIGGS: Reluctant to embrace the idea of aliens.

ROMANS: But releasing the -- I mean, releasing the video, I think, is important. Especially if you've got pilots who are seeing this stuff. You know, open it up, let people try to figure out what's going on.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Agree there. All right. Ahead, weeks of uncertainty ahead in Israel. With Benjamin Netanyahu's future uncertain, President Trump is already creating some distance between he and his key ally.



BRIGGS: More political deadlock and uncertainty ahead in Israel. Local media project Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trailing his centrist rival, former army chief of staff Benny Gantz but just one seat. The vote is so close Netanyahu has canceled a noteworthy trip next week.

Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem with the latest. It sounds like a new car by Benjamin Netanyahu for a unity government.

Oren, what are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't have all that many cards to play and that is one of them, shifting the goal posts from what he was all along, which was a right-wing religious government to now suddenly a unity government. Meanwhile, we heard from President Donald Trump, who said the race is too close to call, he is watching it, and that the U.S.'s relationship is with Israel.

That's probably not what Netanyahu wanted to hear since he spent the last three years or so cultivating this relationship to his advantage. And now it seems like Trump may be getting ready for another leader.

Meanwhile Netanyahu canceled his trip to the U.N. General Assembly. That would have been next week. And that's a pretty big deal and indicative of the tight spot that Netanyahu is in because the UNGA has been Netanyahu's favorite podium from which to rail against Iran. It also means he's missing a potential photo op with President Donald Trump. And that is a tight spot for Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu in that statement he put out this morning said he's calling for a unity government from the left. From his statements over the past 24 hours, he has placed himself in charge of big block of right-wing and religious parties and he sees himself as the next prime minister, trying to bring in his rival, former chief of staff Benny Gantz, who has the biggest party but doesn't have the bigger sort of group of parties behind him.

Netanyahu is positioning himself here. He wants to try to bring together him and his rival into a unity government to lead Israel. [04:25:02] And if not, Dave, he's already setting up the possibility

and putting forward the possibility that there may be a third election in Israel some time in, let's say, four or five months or so. And he is trying to cast the blame already on his rival if that were the case.

Dave, if we're going for a third election, you and I can easily switch spots and you can come it here.


BRIGGS: Get comfortable, my friend. We're not trading spots.

Oren Liebermann, live in Jerusalem. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 25 minutes past the hour. President Trump's special representative for Afghanistan set to brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee today after originally being subpoenaed. The Democratic chairman accuses Zalmay Khalilzad of stonewalling Congress for answers on the U.S.-Taliban peace talks. All of this unfolding at an especially violent moment in Afghanistan. Dozens were killed in attacks this week, including 15 in a new attack overnight.

And a U.S. Green Beret was killed in Afghanistan Monday. Sergeant 1st Class Jeremy Griffin was the 17th American killed in combat there this year.

BRIGGS: Ahead, a whistleblower took action after the president made a promise to a foreign leader. What was the promise? And when will the acting spy chief share it with Congress?