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Trump's Communications Triggered Whistleblower Complaint; Justin Trudeau's Brownface Photo Emerges Ahead Canadian Election; Mike Pompeo Calls the Attack on Saudi Oil an "Act of War"; Political Uncertainty in Israel Could Lead to a Third Election. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, 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?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Could a brownface scandal cost Justin Trudeau? The Canadian prime minister in damage control over a photo that could sway an upcoming election.

ROMANS: 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).



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

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour here in New York.

We begin with breaking news overnight. It was President Trump. President Trump's communication 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" it was a specific promise the president made to that foreign leader that caused such concern. 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.

Now we know President Trump spoke to at least five world leaders in the five weeks leading up to this whistleblower complaint. He spoke to Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong- un. Here's one of the "Post" reporters who broke the story.


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.


BRIGGS: These developments are raising even more concerns about the president's handling of sensitive information. The White House is not commenting for now 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. ROMANS: An apology from Justin Trudeau after a photo of him in

brownface went public. Not what the prime minister needed a month before an 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. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


BRIGGS: Trudeau admits he also put on a similar 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 has 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. ROMANS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Middle East showing

support for the Saudi regime after that 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.


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

BRIGGS: 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 Nic Robertson. Nic, good morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, Dave. Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has left now. Interestingly he left without giving a joint press conference with Saudi officials. It was a sort of on again-off again sense with -- on the Saudi side at least that this would happen. But I think it does underscore the effort here by Saudi Arabia. We know this because Prince Khalid bin Salman, the brother of the crown prince, the powerful crown prince, former ambassador to Washington, now the number two in the Defense Ministry here, on a trip to Washington recently told officials there, he was worried that the United States could trigger a wider conflict.

That was before this attack. The Saudis' concerns remain the same. That an attack on a military response against Iran this time, at least, could produce an impact on Saudi Arabia with hugely damaging consequences. Just look at the attack over the weekend, to see the vulnerabilities there. But what they are doing, and this is the message that's emerging very clearly here is the Saudis, along with the United States, are trying to build that international support for that position.

When the military spokesman here put on display part of the 18 drones and seven cruise missiles that were used in the attack over the weekend, I asked him about that. How does he believe Saudi is winning the support?


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 Saudi really feels that pressure at the moment. How to respond, and militarily doesn't seem to be the best option for them right now but at the same time they have to be seen to be strong. If they don't get that international support then they're going to need to do something. A lot of pressure domestically, as well. And not only that from regional allies, as well, concerns, or Saudis at least thinking about how they're thinking about, you know, how others in the region will want them to respond and what they may also do in terms of escalating other countries like Israel will feel under threat, increased threat when they see the capability and capacity of what the Iranians -- the Saudis believe have been behind here.

BRIGGS: Still a very patient process. Nic Robertson live for us in Riyadh this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: President Trump says there has been no change to his thinking when it comes to the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil supply. With his new National Security adviser Robert O'Brien standing at his side, the president also addressed the disagreement he is having with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who is calling for a tougher deterrence when it comes to dealing with Iran.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I am looking for a response that would be unequivocal. If they don't pay a price for bombing a neighbor's oil fields, then all hell is going to break out in the Mideast.


ROMANS: The president cautions it's very easy to start a war. He did campaign in getting the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and his reelection efforts would certainly be complicated by a new one.

BRIGGS: Former John Bolton with some blunt criticism of the president at a private event in New York. According to a person who was there, Bolton criticized the president's approach to Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan, and quote, "didn't have anything positive to say about Trump." The 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.

ROMANS: Attorney General William Barr floating a proposal on Capitol Hill to expand background checks. The pitch outlined in a document obtained by CNN would expand background checks to all advertised commercial sales. But it's not clear whether it would pass muster with lawmakers. According to a GOP source, Republican senators have not embraced the proposal with lawmakers. Their response so far described as tepid. Barr, echoing several lawmakers who are waiting on the president to commit.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're just kicking around a number of ideas. It's not a question of having a plan. The president hasn't made any decisions. I'm just kicking around ideas. So, I'm in a better position to advise him.


BRIGGS: The NRA already says it opposes the plan being circulated. Congress has repeatedly failed to enact stricter gun control, even in the aftermath of last month's back-to-back mass shootings. On Air Force One overnight, President Trump said he would like to do something, but said it depends on whether or not Democrats move the goal posts.

ROMANS: There are possible terrorist ties in the case of an American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a flight. Prosecutors now say Ahmed Alani had ISIS propaganda on his phone and recently told a fellow employee he had 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 the system error.

BRIGGS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg making a rare appearance in Washington, D.C. His first visit since testifying on Capitol Hill last year. It comes at a time when lawmakers and regulators were ramping up the pressure on Facebook. Last night, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia organized a dinner meeting for Zuckerberg to discuss the role and responsibility of social media platforms when it comes to protecting our democracy.

Facebook says Zuckerberg is ready to meet with policymakers and discuss future Internet regulation. One of those meetings, according to Axios, will be with Missouri's Republican Senator Josh Hawley. He's been a major thorn in the tech giant's side and has been introduced a bill to combat social media addiction.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump is threatening to slap San Francisco with environmental violations within a week because of the city's homeless problem. Mr. Trump claims tremendous pollution is flowing into the ocean because of waste and used needles in storm sewers. The president suddenly concerned about the environment just hours after the administration revoked California's right to set stricter auto emission standards. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among dozens of groups saying the move threatens the health of people and our planet. California's top elected officials are vowing to challenge the White House in court.

BRIGGS: While you were sleeping, Stephen Colbert's late show weighed in on President Trump's move to roll back California's vehicle emission standards.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introducing the brand-new Hot Wheels car collection. Hot Wheels Trump edition.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, they come with lower emission standards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your kids will have hours of fun enjoying the toxic tailpipe pollution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you? I can't see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Race them. Crash them. Contribute to greenhouse gases. Hot Wheels Trump edition. Collect them all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is awesome.


ROMANS: You must have been a Trump Hot Wheel guy. Not a Trump hot -- a Hot Wheel guy.

BRIGGS: Very much a Hot Wheel guy.

ROMANS: When you were a kid.

BRIGGS: Vast collection. I don't think kids rock the Hot Wheels so much these days. Do they?

ROMANS: I don't know. I don't know.

Forty-two minutes past the hour, former president Barack Obama with some advice for making clear decisions. President Trump won't like it.



BRIGGS: 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 the island.

And a flash flood emergency has been issued this morning for parts of Texas. 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. Riceland Hospital has been evacuated in the town of Winnie. Rain and gushing water on roadways in Galveston and Houston.

ROMANS: A Los Angeles temple vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. Police say a welcome sign at the temple was marked with the words "6 million was not enough."

BRIGGS: Six million is a reference to the holocaust and the number of Jews killed was not enough is the equivalent of saying Hitler did not finish the job. In a letter to the congregation, temple leaders say it's the first time in 40 years they've been vandalized.

A New Jersey referee suspended after forcing a black high school wrestler to cut his dreadlock before competing in a match. You remember a video of this from December 2019. The incident showed Andrew Johnson's hair being cut on the sidelines. The ref in question, Alan Maloney, was suspended for two seasons. Officials also announced mandatory bias training for all referees and coaches involved in high school athletics to help prevent future incidents of discrimination.

ROMANS: Some friendly unsolicited advice from one president to another. Or was it? Barack Obama speaking at a tech conference in San Francisco Wednesday had this tip for clear decision-making in the Oval Office. Avoid TV and social media. He says it only clouds your judgment. Mr. Obama adding, " You can make sure that people who are providing that information get a clear signal from you that you want facts. And you want bad news first. And you don't want spinning. And you don't want sugar-coating. And you want a diversity of opinion and you send that signal strong at the outset." Mr. Obama never mentioned President Trump by name.

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 have 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 incursions.

ROMANS: With all this new drone technology, too, there's a lot of stuff out there so, you know, the Navy concerned about some of these pilots up there with all the stuff. They want them to report what they see -- what they see out there.

BRIGGS: Moving awfully fast for a drone.

ROMANS: I know. I know.

All right. The trade war with China and geopolitical risks are weighing on corporate America. CNN Business has the details on what CEOs are saying, next.


BRIGGS: More political uncertainty ahead in Israel, with local media projecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trailing his centrist rival, former army chief of staff, Benny Gantz by just one seat.


And overnight a fresh move by Netanyahu to try and break his rival's coalition. Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem with the latest on the never-ending election.

Oren, good morning.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are already rumors or suggestion that Israel may be headed to a third election and we are now just two days after the last election. All of these leaders warning that that's not what they want to do but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu essentially saying, look, his rival, former chief of staff Benny Gantz should now join him and create a unity government, or hinting that third elections might be the only possibility.

Netanyahu at this point trying to play the few cards that he has because he knows he doesn't have the right-wing government that he wants. Meanwhile, when you look around at the international stage, President Donald Trump saying that he is looking at the results of the election. He sees it is very close. But he also says his alliance is with Israel. He didn't specificaly mention Netanyahu there. And that can't be good news for Netanyahu, who has spent years now cultivating his relationship with President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu also canceled this upcoming trip to the United Nations General Assembly. He's spoken there every year for the past 10 years or so. And that's a big deal because this was Netanyahu's favorite international podium to rail against Iran. It would have also offered him a photo op with Trump, which is something Netanyahu would never miss but that gives you an idea of the tight spot that Netanyahu is in right now.

Again Netanyahu made a call this morning for a unity government. That's essentially a move to try to put pressure on his rival to support him. But that doesn't seem likely because Benny Gantz's entire campaign was basically predicated on not sitting with Netanyahu. So now it seems then that Netanyahu is just trying to blame Gantz if this country goes to a third election. Suddenly that seems like a not all that remote possibility.

BRIGGS: Quite a long road ahead for Oren Liebermann. Thank you, sir. The Washington monument will reopen to visitors after being closed for

years for renovations. First Lady Melania Trump will attend the reopening of the 555-foot tall monument which was closed after a 2011 earthquake centered in Virginia damaged. It reopened after $15 million worth of repairs only to close again in 2016 after an elevator cable snapped.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. First, a look at global markets. You can see mostly higher around the world, although Hong Kong closed down 1 percent. On Wall Street, checking futures at this hour, you can see they are leaning a little bit lower, kind of directional. And a look at the energy sector after those bombings in Saudi Arabia this weekend. You can see crude is up again.

OK, so, the second rate cut from the Fed sparked some confusion really for investors on how to react. It wasn't deep enough to make them real excited about lower rate juicing the economy. The Fed did suggest it could cut rates again in the future. The Dow fell more than 150 points after the Fed's announcement. It closed then -- looks like it closed up about 37 points. The S&P 500 finished slightly higher. The Nasdaq fell a bit.

First Lady Melania Trump is scheduled to ring the opening bell on Monday. Her spokesman said she is ringing the bell to promote her "Be Best" program and that she'll be joined by children from the U.N. International School. The "New York Daily News" reported there has been controversy from parents about students appearing with the first lady, something her spokeswoman did not address when asked by CNN. But we often get a notable people ringing the opening bell so we will look for that on Monday morning.

More trouble for U.S. steel. Its stock down almost 4 percent Wednesday after U.S. Steel lowered the outlook for the second half of the year. The reason, falling steel prices, negative market conditions and a lack of demand. President Trump said he would revive U.S. manufacturing but his tariffs on China may actually be hurting U.S. Steel's European operations. U.S. Steel share price is down about 60 percent from last year.


ROMANS: The trade war with China and geopolitical risks weighing on corporate America. A new survey by the Business Roundtable shows confidence among the nation's top CEOs the lowest since 2016. CEOs have downgraded expectations for hiring, capital investments and sales growth amid trade war uncertainty. The CEO of the Business Roundtable said, quote, "American businesses now have their foot poised above the break and they're tapping the brake periodically." That is not good when CEO confidence falls. We'll continue to watch that here.

Consumer confidence remains strong. The consumer keeps driving things forward. But when you talk to the, you know, people in the "C" suites, they're worried about what they see around the world.

BRIGGS: Interesting political implications. Ahead, thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a

great rest of your day. For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: 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 kept secret?

BRIGGS: Could a brownface scandal cost Justin Trudeau? The Canadian prime minister in damage control over a photo that could sway an upcoming election.

ROMANS: Criticism of President Trump from his former National Security adviser. What John Bolton said behind closed doors.