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President Trump's Communication With Foreign Leader Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; Secretary Of State Pompeo Says Attack On Saudi Oil Was An Act Of War; Political Uncertainty In Israel. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 05:30   ET




DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president made a promise to a world leader and a whistleblower complained. Who was that leader and 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 this morning over a photo that could sway an upcoming election.

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


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

NAVY PILOT 2: My gosh.


ROMANS: And are we really alone? The U.S. Navy confirms purported UFO videos are real. What do you think, Dave? Are we alone?

BRIGGS: Well, I think at least that music that we always here -- doo doo, doo doo -- that changes it, right?


BRIGGS: The audio kind of changes that kooky perception of --

ROMANS: That's true.

BRIGGS: -- UFOs. That's all I'm saying.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, 5:31 Eastern time. We start with breaking news. 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 of 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.

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.


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

And the acting spy chief, 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.

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: A 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. The Iranians deny that. 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 they say were used in the bombing. A show- and-tell of drones, missiles, and pieces of metal.

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


This was kind of the best shot that the Saudi military had of convincing not just journalists and therefore, the global community through -- you know, through what they could see on their T.V. screens -- but they actually had that show-and-tell.

They had ambassadors, they had military attaches from a whole large number of countries all sitting around, all taking -- getting up and taking their own photographs at the end, and having their own look at the military spokesman here from Saudi Arabia.

And I said look, you're saying all this is Iranian technology. You're putting out this big map and explanation of why these missiles came from the north -- CCTV footage of the attack to show that. You're saying that they don't have a range to come from Yemen -- all of that, but are you winning convincing the international community that Iran is behind this?


This is something the Saudis have been trying to do for a long time. Many of their attacks coming from Yemen. But this is sort of, if you will, their opportunity to really make that clear to the world.

And he said he felt that they were. But, you know, I also detected a -- you know, they know they've got a long way to go on this and the U.S. support on that is going to be big.

And add into the mix just after the Saudis put all that material -- that Iranian equipment, they said, on display, the Houthis in Yemen put on their own military spokesman on T.V. They're saying no, we made those weapons. We can make them again. We've got factories, we can make more -- and threatening to double down. Threatening more attacks on Saudi and more attacks on the United Arab Emirates.

So the drumbeat against Saudi and, if you will, goading it into some kind of military action, that is really there -- that's very real. But at the moment, the Saudis do seem to be trying to go down that diplomatic path and win that international support -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, in Riyadh, Nic. So nice to have you this morning.

And that show-and-tell really interesting how the Saudis really want to put all of that out there --


ROMANS: -- on display for the world to see.

BRIGGS: But patience really being preached by this administration.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Not what they're known for --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- by any means.

ROMANS: Let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: How are you this morning?


ROMANS: Let's circle back and talk a little bit about this mystery that we've been following the last couple of days about a whistleblower and some kind of complaint at a very high level. We're learning more about this, both CNN reporting and the fantastic reporting of "The Washington Post."

What's the biggest question to you this morning in terms of what is this promise made by the President of the United States to a foreign leader?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think that's -- it's two-part, right? Which was -- which foreign leader are we talking about the president made a promise to, and what was the nature of that promise? I think that that is the big question that is on the minds of everybody who is looking at this and certainly, lawmakers as well, who are trying to assess what sort of threat that they're dealing with here.

It certainly was enough to spark the concern of the intelligence official who reported it. The inspector general, who is going to be meeting with House Intelligence Committee members behind closed doors today, seemed to also think that it was an urgent concern.

And clearly, there's been a dispute with the director of National Intelligence as to whether he agrees or thinks that he should be providing or is compelled to provide the substance of that information to Congress.

But I think everybody wants to know who and what because as you put up the faces of the leaders with whom the president had interactions in the period before this incident was flagged, the first two people on that list certainly -- that the president of Russia and the leader of North Korea. These are high-tense -- tense, high-stakes interactions that the president is having with those leaders and which that that could be cause for concern.

And that's not just to direct attention to those two. There's -- any time --


DEMIRJIAN: -- the president is potentially interacting with a head of state and making promises that go beyond what the Intelligence Community thinks is legitimate that is a matter of potential concern.

BRIGGS: And, of course, the president has this long checkered history with the Intelligence Community and suggesting he wouldn't have spies in his administration --


BRIGGS: -- spying on Kim Jong Un.

So we put up the time line there earlier of the whistleblower events and according to your read and according to reporting was.

Were proper procedures followed? Was the law potentially even broken here in terms of the transparency and processes being followed?

DEMIRJIAN: In terms of the whistleblower complaint being reported to Congress?


DEMIRJIAN: Right. Well, this is part of the dispute because certainly, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been saying you owed us to Maguire. That as soon as it came to him, he, by law, owed Congress transmitting of the substance of that complaint to them within seven days.

And, Maguire is pushing back and saying well, no, because even if the I.G. said it was an urgent complaint, this is interdepartmental. This is not just under our jurisdiction and so it doesn't fall within the terms of what that whistleblower law covers. And this actually is something that we've never seen or dealt with before.

I think that part of it, which came from the letters that were going back and forth between Maguire and the committee is precisely why the committee and other people are so concerned.

If you're talking about something that we've never really dealt with before -- you know, potentially involves the president making a promise to a foreign leader that is alarming the Intelligence Community that much, that's something that people with oversight power want to know about in detail.

ROMANS: We talk about the timing of all this, too. You know, it kind of shows the chaotic nature of the Trump administration as well because you have the DNI, Dan Coats, and his deputy both left, right.

BRIGGS: Yes, right in this time frame.


ROMANS: Right in this time frame. In the weeks --


ROMANS: Just the days and weeks just before this time frame. So there's been this churn.

DEMIRJIAN: There has been -- yes, exactly. And, Coats and Sue Gordon's departure happened and that was not received terribly well on Capitol Hill because they know Dan Coats from his career in Congress.

ROMANS: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: They trust Sue Gordon from her many decades serving in the Intelligence Community. There was a mutual trust and understanding there, I think, that maybe does not exist as much with Maguire right now. And I think that the fact that you've had this open dispute, really, so soon after is evidence of that.


And we'll see how this gets resolved. I mean, Maguire has agreed to come before the panel for a hearing next week. It is potentially going to be very contentious if there isn't some more opening of the communication waves between his office and the Hill before then.

BRIGGS: Yes, will we see some transparency. It's a classified briefing. Where does this end --


BRIGGS: -- absent some terrific reporting --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- from "The Washington Post."

Karoun Demirjian, thanks for being with us.

ROMANS: Thanks, Karoun.

BRIGGS: Great insight.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right.

An apology from Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, 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



JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER, CANADA: 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: And, 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.

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 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 that meeting.

BRIGGS: Deep divisions and rising tensions in the House Democratic Caucus over the Judiciary Committee's march toward the impeachment of President Trump.

This, 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.

ROMANS: All right, just in to CNN. President candidate Beto O'Rourke releasing his proposal to legalize marijuana. It grants clemency to people service sentences for marijuana possession and it builds a model for regulating pot, similar to the way alcohol was regulated.

O'Rourke also wants to provide drug war justice grants to people formerly incarcerated for non-violent marijuana offenses. They will be funded by a federal tax on the marijuana industry.

Legalizing marijuana was a big issue for O'Rourke as an El Paso city councilman. He even wrote a book about it.

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, quote, "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.

Coming up here, weeks of uncertainty ahead in Israel. Overnight, Benjamin Netanyahu with a maneuver trying to siphon support from his rival's coalition.



BRIGGS: More political uncertainty ahead in Israel. Local media projecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is 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 Gantz's coalition.

Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem with the never-ending election. Good morning, my friend.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Dave, I think we're now well past political uncertainty and very quickly heading for political chaos.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spent the last three months -- especially the last few days of campaigning -- tarring his opponent, former chief of staff Benny Gantz, as a leftist -- is now shifting the goal post and suddenly calling on him to join a unity government. It's not likely going to happen since Gantz's entire campaign was basically anyone but Netanyahu we're ready and happy to sit with.

Meanwhile, how is this viewed from Washington? President Donald Trump has said he knew it would be close and he's watching. But he also said the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is with Israel. He didn't mention Netanyahu there. And that can't be what Netanyahu wanted to hear since he's spent the last three years cultivating a relationship with President Donald Trump.

Also worth noting that Netanyahu canceled his upcoming trip to the United National General Assembly and that is a big deal and gives you an indication of how tight Netanyahu's situation is.

This is one of his favorite international podiums to rail against Iran, which he's done there the last few years. It also would have given him a chance for a photo op with Trump. The fact that he's missing that means he realizes right now that his situation is pretty precarious.

What's the way out of this? Well, Gantz will issue a statement in the next hour and a half. We'll see if that clears anything up. But that's not quite likely.

We are now two days after election and already, there are people here warning of another election -- a third election. Dave, one of those people warning of that possibility is Israel's president, already.

BRIGGS: Wow, desperate times call for desperate measures from Netanyahu.

Oren, thank you.


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 time 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 First Class Jeremy Griffin is the 17th American killed in combat this year.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on "CNN Business" this morning.

First, a look at global markets -- you can see mostly higher here. The Hong Kong down one percent at its close.

On Wall Street, futures pretty undecided this morning, down just about two-tenths of one percent for Dow futures.

And a quick look at energy. We've been focusing on this all week. You've got crude oil prices up one and two percent again around the world because of that uncertainty in Saudi Arabia between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Now, the Fed cut interest rates for a second time but there was some dissent inside the Fed about this cut and future cuts, so that made stocks wobble. The Dow fell more than 150 points after the decision and then recovered to close up just 36. The S&P 500 finished slightly higher. The Nasdaq fell a bit.

You know, it's kind of a rite of passage to ring the opening and closing bells on Wall Street. We found out that first lady Melania Trump is scheduled to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

All right, more trouble for U.S. Steel. The company cuts its outlook for the second half of the year and the stock dropped almost four percent. U.S. Steel blames falling prices, negative market conditions, and a lack of demand.

President Trump vowed to revive U.S. manufacturing and save American steelmakers but his tariffs on China may actually be hurting U.S. Steel's European operation. U.S. Steel's share price down about 60 percent from last year.

Confidence among America's top CEOs is the lowest since 2016. Blame the trade war with China and geopolitical risks.

A new survey by the Business Roundtable finds trade war uncertainty is crimping their plans for hiring, capital investment, and sales. The CEO of the Business Roundtable said this. "American businesses now have their foot poised above the brake and they're tapping the brake periodically."

We'll be right back.



BRIGGS: Hurricane Humberto is heading out to sea but not before leaving 80 percent of Bermuda without power. Bermuda's utility company warning it's in an emergency state.

And a flash flood emergency has been issued this morning for parts of Texas. Some areas reeling from 20 inches of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda.

There are water rescues in Jefferson County. Live pictures from Winnie, Texas where Riceland Hospital has been evacuated.

Rain and gushing water on roadways in Galveston and in Houston.

ROMANS: Under a new proposal, New Mexico residents would get free tuition at public colleges. The plan would provide undergraduate tuition for in-state residents at four-year schools and two-year community colleges.

The governor's office estimates the program will cost $25 to $35 million. It will combine with a state lottery scholarship and build on existing federal grants to cover costs.

A new report by the Institute for College Access and Success shows about two-thirds of 2018 college graduates left school with debt. The average graduate with debt owes about $29,000. That's a record high in the U.S.

BRIGGS: 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.

Quote, "Avoid T.V. and social media." Mr. Obama adding, "You can make sure that people who are providing you 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 sugarcoating, and you want a diversity of opinion. And you send that signal strong at the outset."

Mr. Obama never mentioned President Trump by name, but did he have to?

ROMANS: Well, 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 miles to the west.

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


ROMANS: These mysterious hurtling oblong objects seen in declassified military footage have been designated by the Navy as unidentified aerial phenomenon. A Navy spokesperson says the transparency now is largely done to encourage trainees to report incursions.

Some of it's wild. You wonder if it's some sort of --

BRIGGS: Very cool.

ROMANS: -- spy drones or just what that is there.

BRIGGS: Well, they were on military training ranges. I do --


BRIGGS: -- believe there is other life out there, but on military training ranges -- spying.

ROMANS: You're a UFO guy, huh? You're a believer.

BRIGGS: Oh -- oh, yes.

ROMANS: All right. Doo, doo, doo, doo -- doo, doo, doo, doo.

BRIGGS: There's got to be something else out there, my friend.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Here's some other alien life -- "NEW DAY."

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 19th, 6:00 here in New York.

And we begin with breaking news, and this one is a bombshell that raises more questions about President Trump's handling of classified information. CNN has learned that it was President Trump's communication with a foreign leader that led to U.S. Intelligence official filing a whistleblower complaint.

"The Washington Post" reports that the president made a promise that was so troubling to this official that it prompted that official to come forward to report it. According to "The Washington Post," White House.