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Trump's Communications With a Foreign Leader Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; Trudeau Apologizes for "Brownface" Photo; Bolton Eviscerates Trump; "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena"; CC Sabathia Gets Big Ovation at Yankee Stadium. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 05:00   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 kept secret?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Could a brownface scandal cost Justin Trudeau? The Canadian prime minister in damage control this morning 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.


NAVY PILOT 1: There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the (INAUDIBLE).

NAVY PILOT 2: My gosh.


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

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: I believe.

ROMANS: You believe?

BRIGGS: In aliens. Yes, indeed. You think it's just spy planes.

ROMANS: It could be spy planes. It could be drones. I'm not sure.

I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, September 19th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Breaking overnight, it was 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" specifically, it was a promise the president made to a foreign leader that caused 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.

We know President Trump spoke to at least five world leaders in the five weeks leading up to this whistleblower complaint, including 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 (via telephone): 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 weeks after that.


BRIGGS: These developments are raising even more questions about the president's handling of sensitive information. The White House is not commenting.

And the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share details with Congress. He blew past a deadline Tuesday and that is 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 Election Day in Canada. The existence of the 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.


BRIGGS: Trudeau admits he also put on 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 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 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.


ROMANS: The term "act of war" is a clear reference to Iran. Saudi and U.S. investigators have already determined, quote, 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 they say were used in the bombing.

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

Nic, good morning.


The -- what the Saudi ministry of defense has tried to do here, and we were allowed to get a close-up look at these missile parts, of course, again. We're not experts. But experts will have been able to get a degree of familiarity with them and certainly see what sorts of missile systems are there. And that may or may not back up the Saudi claims that these are Iranian-made missiles.

But the Saudis have invited weapons experts to actually come here, international experts to come here, get their hands on this equipment and take a look at it with the U.S., Saudi investigators. We know the French are coming here. The U.N. has been invited to send experts, as well.


And Saudi Arabia is really using this attack right now. Not as a -- not to call for war on Iran, but to just, if you will, to pull back the cotton wool over the international community's eyes, that they are under attack and the region is under the threat of this maligned influence from Iran, that Iran is responsible for these missiles, wherever they were fired from, and they refuse to say at this stage publicly where that was from. That Iran is responsible.

So, they -- what they seem to be doing is to try to use this argument to bring international support to curb Iran's aggression in the region, without going the full distance of saying they will launch from Iran, because, of course, that would increase pressure on Saudi Arabia to have a military response. And we understand that they don't want to do that. We know that the crown prince's brother, Khaled bin Salman, the number two in the defense ministry in Washington, a couple weeks ago, told U.S. officials, he was concerned that the White House might trigger an increase in escalation of military tensions in the region. That's not something Saudi wants.

Quite simply, they have too much at stake. And this is the picture here. Saudi is going down the diplomatic route. They have too much at stake to go to war. They feel Iran knows that but Saudi's hands are tied in that regard without greater international support.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicating the White House absolutely onboard to bring that broader international coalition.

BRIGGS: All right. Nic Robertson live for us in Saudi Arabia this morning, thank you.

Former National Security adviser John Bolton with some blunt criticism of President Trump 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, quote, 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: Deep divisions and rising tensions in the House Democratic Caucus over the Judiciary Committee's march toward the impeachment of President Trump.

After Corey Lewandowski's testimony, some Democrats are openly questioning the wisdom of bringing the former Trump campaign manager in. It ended up being just another hearing that descended into partisan rancor.

But the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, tells 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 feel free to leak this.

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.

ROMANS: All right. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point for the second time in two months.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: 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 growth around the world, a trade war and geopolitical risks like Brexit. Interest rates which control mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing will now hover between 1.75 percent and 2 percent, the key Fed funds rate.

President Trump, who called for negative rates last week, criticized the decision, tweeting Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve fail again. Fed Chair Jerome Powell says the central bank expects the economy to remain strong but left the door open for another rate cut.


POWELL: It can be a mistake to try to hold on to your firepower before 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: Overnight, water rescues in Texas, up to 20 inches of rain in some areas and a flash flood emergency, as remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda hit the gulf.


[05:14:08] 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's in an emergency state 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 reeling from 20 inches of rain, thanks from the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda.

There are water rescues at this hour in Jefferson County. Live pictures here from Winnie, Texas where Riceland Hospital has been evacuated. Rain and gushing water on roadways in Galveston and in Houston.

BRIGGS: The teen vaping epidemic shows no sign 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 tenth graders and one in 11 students in the eighth graders.


They say current efforts by the vaping industry to curb the problem have proved insufficient to stop the rapid spread of adolescent vaping. And this certainly won't help the fight. Two men are charged in an illegal vape pen bust in North Phoenix, Arizona. Detectives seized over 1,100 cartridges, the type that has been associated with recent vaping deaths.

ROMANS: Twelve hundred UAW workers in Canada are the first casualties of the strike against General Motors. They are being temporarily laid off. GM is blaming the move on the parts flow from the United States.

Fifty thousand workers are entering day four of their walkout. And there are concerns the job action could trigger a recession in parts 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 GM.

BRIGGS: Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg appearing in front of Congress, at a House hearing on the climate crisis. The 16-year-old from Sweden submitting her testimony, a special report on global warming, which reveals rapid temperature increases.


GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I don't want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science.

I am from Sweden, a small country. And there, it is the same argument. Why should we do anything? Just look at the U.S., they say. So, just so you know, that is being used against you, as well.


BRIGGS: Greta Thunberg's appearance comes just days after she met with former President Obama who called her one of the planet's greatest advocates. On Monday, she is scheduled to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

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


U.S. NAVY PILOT 1: What is that thing?

U.S. NAVY PILOT 2: It's rotating. There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the ASA (ph).

U.S. NAVY PILOT 1: My gosh. They're all going against the wind. The wind's 120 knots to the west.

U.S. NAVY PILOT 2: Look at that thing, dude.


ROMANS: The mysterious hurtling objects seen in the clip of declassified military footage have been designated by the Navy as unidentified aerial phenomena. Two of the videos, both from 2015, contain audio from U.S. fighter pilots attempting to make sense of what they're seeing. A navy spokesperson said the transparency is to encourage trainees to report incursions.

BRIGGS: So intriguing.

ROMANS: I wonder what it is. Spy drones? I don't know.

BRIGGS: I don't know.

ROMANS: You're an alien guy.

BRIGGS: Yes, I believe there are -- there's life out there.

All right. The final home start for Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, got quite the sendoff from New York fans. Can the bats deliver for him?

Andy Scholes with that story in "The Bleacher Report."



BRIGGS: The Houston Astros, the first team this season, to get to 100 wins. They also clinched a spot in the playoffs last night.

Andy Scholes, he's not biased at all.

(LAUGHTER) BRIGGS: Astros fan.

He has that story in "The Bleacher Report". Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I may be more fond of this news than others, Dave. But still big news, because it's easy to forget how far the Astros have come in a short period of time. You know, they lost more than 100 games in three straight seasons, from 2011-2013. They have won 100 games for three-straight. The first team ever to do that in the same decade.

They had one of their aces on the mound last night, Gerrit Cole. He was just mowing people down in this one. Cole striking out ten batters, eclipsing 300 strikeouts of the season. He's only the 18th player since 1900 to strikeout 300 in a season. The Astros, they beat the Rangers last night, 3-2.

Yankees fans, meanwhile, showering pitcher CC Sabathia with cheers, as he walked off the field in the regular season for the last time at Yankee Stadium. The 39-year-old says this is his final season. He got a big ovation. He would be pulled in the third inning.


CC SABATHIA, NEW YORK YANKEES PITCHER: Yes, that was amazing. You know, nothing like, you know, the Bronx and New York City and putting the pinstripes on. So, got a chance to do that for 11 years was a blessing.


SCHOLES: Yes, the Yankees losing to the Angels last night by a final 3-2.

The New York Giants, meanwhile, beginning a new era of football with Daniel Jones as the starter. The team announcing that they are benching Eli Manning after 16 years to go with their first round pick Jones.

Eli is taking the move like a pro.


ELI MANNING, NEW YORK GIANTS QUARTERBACK: In some ways, you know, I signed up for this, knowing if you draft a young quarterback, this can happen. I'm not dying. And the season is not over.

So, there's a lot to be positive about. A lot to be grateful for. And, you know, I just got to, you know, accept my new role and make the best of it.



SCHOLES: All right. Finally, the Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski taking to the mound last night at Fenway to throw out the first pitch, and this was actually special for the Hall of Famer because he was throwing to his grandson, Mike, who plays for the Giants.

The 80-year-old, look at that, throwing in a strike, and Mike hit a home run in his Fenway debut last night.

I tell you what, Dave. It seems like baseball genes transfer better than any gene in any sport, because we see so many familiar last names in baseball these days between Biggio, Guerrero, Bichette, Yastrzemski, you know?

BRIGGS: Indeed, indeed. That Manning family, they've done all right.

SCHOLES: That's just one family in football. In baseball, it's over and over and over again.

BRIGGS: There must be something to that. Great tradition.

All right. Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Romans, what's coming up?

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