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Whistleblower Complaint Involves Ukraine; Iran's Foreign Minister Warns of "All-Out War"; Post-Election Deadlock in Israel. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 04:00   ET




CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?


CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: Of course I did.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: That was the same interview. The president and his allies on defense. Did the president lean on a foreign government to help his reelection effort?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Parts of Texas under water. At least two dead from devastating weather.

BRIGGS: Another episode of blackface and another apology from Justin Trudeau. Can the Canadian prime minister overcome the scandal before October's election?

CHATTERLEY: And the number of vaping cases skyrockets to over 500 nationwide. Now, the feds are investigating.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Julia Chatterley.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

CHATTERLEY: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Happy Friday. Good morning, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, September 20th, 4:00 a.m. in New York.

The call is coming from inside the house. Compelling new details this morning about that whistleblower complaint that a source says concerns President Trump's communications with a foreign leader. Talks that could be geared toward helping his reelection bid. The "Washington Post" first to report the complaint, relates to

Ukraine. That is according to two people familiar with the matter. The "Post" reports the complaint involved some kind of promise the president made, a promise so alarming a U.S. intel official blew the whistle.

CHATTERLEY: Timing may help put some of the pieces together here. Two and 1/2 weeks before the complaint, Mr. Trump spoke to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. CNN has previously reported Mr. Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden's supposed role in the dismissal of a prosecutor who investigated Biden's son. Now Biden's campaign denies any wrongdoing. Mr. Trump assigned his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to the effort.

On CNN last night, Giuliani did not exactly settle the issue. Listen in.


CUOMO: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: No. Actually, I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton for which there were already is a --

CUOMO: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden and his role in the --

GIULIANI: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko who was appointed.

CUOMO: Right.

GIULIANI: Dismissed the case against anti --

CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: Of course I did.

CUOMO: You just said you didn't.


BRIGGS: Extraordinary. The phone call between Trump and Zelensky already under investigation by House Democrats. The complaint remains shrouded in secrecy. Sources now say the White House, not the Justice Department, told the acting director of National Intelligence that the complaint is not covered by whistleblower laws. Thursday the Intelligence inspector-general briefed the House Intel Committee and told lawmakers the complaint covers multiple events.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If the Department of Justice decides that an employee of the intelligence community who comes forward, follows the law, follows the process, is nonetheless outside the process, they're not protected, which not only means that this whistleblower is not protected, it means no whistleblower is protected. That is the danger of the DOJ's misinterpretation of the law.


BRIGGS: In a letter to the House Intel Committee, the inspector -- Intelligence inspector general writes, quote, "The complaint's disclosure not only falls within the DNI's jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI's responsibilities to the American people."

CHATTERLEY: Now the acting DNI is set to testify next week to the House and Senate Intel Committees. An official briefed on the matter tells CNN the whistleblower did not have direct knowledge of the communications that prompted the complaint. The official says that is one reason why the administration says the complaint does not have to be reported to Congress. But a source close to the whistleblower pushes back, saying it seems like the beginning of a smear to discredit the whistleblower.

BRIGGS: All right. To the weather now and deadly flooding in the Houston area from remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda. More than 40 inches of rain have fallen in some locations. The city of Houston is warning residents to stay off the roads. Police say a man died in Harris County when he tried to drive through a flooded intersection and drowned in eight feet of water.

And in Jefferson County, a 19-year-old was electrocuted trying to move his horse in a lightning storm. There've already been hundreds of water rescues in Harris County and in Beaumont, Texas.


Houston Police report recovering more than 200 abandoned vehicles on local streets and highways. Over eight million people under flash flood watches through the morning hours.

CHATTERLEY: All right. Let's move on. President Trump showing new determination to get his border wall built by the election. The White House, now talking about diverting more money from the Pentagon budget. So far this year, the administration has moved $3.6 billion in military funds to border wall construction. The "Washington Post" reporting the White House is considering redirecting billions more. The president has been touting new construction but most of the work on the wall so far has been replacing existing barriers.

BRIGGS: Frontrunners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren taking some incoming from the rest of the 2020 Democratic field. Bernie Sanders calling out Biden at a rally in North Carolina for attending three big-money fundraisers in Chicago.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The overwhelming -- overwhelming majority of our contributions comes from the working people of this country, and I'm very proud of that. I would contrast that with how my good friend, Vice President Biden, is raising money today.


BRIGGS: A billionaire real estate and casino developer who hosted one of the Biden fundraisers told the crowd Sanders and Warren don't represent the Democratic Party he supports. There is no indication whether Biden reacted to that comment.

CHATTERLEY: In the meantime, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are taunting (PH) Senator Warren on health care and some of her more aggressive plans.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question. And we've seen that repeatedly. I think that if you are proud of your plan and it's the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a lot of great people running. But some of these ideas are better left in the college faculty lounge than right here at this port.


CHATTERLEY: And a shifting campaign strategy for Kamala Harris. She is all-in for Iowa and plans to make weekly visits to the state, with a goal of finishing in the top three in the caucus.

BRIGGS: Iran's foreign minister warning there will be an all-out war if the U.S. or Saudi military launch a strike against his country. Javad Zarif spoke exclusively to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh who joins us live from Tehran this morning.

Nick, good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Javad Zarif arriving it seems in the hours ahead in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly. Clear on Twitter that he is not giving up on the focus of the Iranian response to this. They deny being behind the Saudi attacks and they're focusing this all about Yemen, where they say the attacks originated from. Unable during our interview to provide convincing proof to that effect but saying really if the Yemenis are suffering with 20 million people malnourished to hundred thousand dead -- I'm quoting Zarif's tweet here -- then the response of taking out the oil fields they believe is proportionate.

As I say, U.S. and Saudi Arabia hold Iran responsible. But I asked whether or not the lack of a military response from the U.S. yet it's just that Donald Trump was gun shy. And here's what Javad Zarif had to say.


PATON WALSH: Do you believe Donald Trump is gun shy?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: ZARIF: No. I believe that he has been the subject of an attempt many times to drag the United States into a war. And he has refused. And in spite of the fact that I disagree with many of his policies, I think this is a prudent decision. But it doesn't mean that somebody is gun shy in order to avoid starting a war based on a lie.


PATON WALSH: Now really this is the basic thrust of the Iranian message. Don't mess with us. It will be lengthy, bloody and messy. All-out war was what Javad Zarif said yesterday. But also at the same time, we don't want a conflict and we believe Donald Trump, that you're wise enough to avoid being dragged into one over deceitful claims. Essentially deceitful claims made by Donald Trump's own staff.

Does Donald Trump buy it? We simply don't know. No signs of military action yet. They're moving towards sanctions and diplomacy. That's the last thing we seemed to hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But now, you have Javad Zarif coming to the U.N. General Assembly in New York saying there will be no diplomacy with the United States directly. Being joined by his president, we think, on Monday, according to state media here and the possibility we'll hear more of these messages from Iran in the weeks and days ahead. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Contentious couple of days ahead. Great interview there. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Tehran this morning. Thanks.

CHATTERLEY: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau apologizing again for wearing blackface. There are now three known incidents, including this video of Trudeau in racist makeup. He says he doesn't know how many times he did it. At a town hall Thursday, Trudeau said he, quote, "lacked respect for marginalized people" and that privilege gave him a massive blind spot.



JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: What I did was inexcusable and wrong, and hurt a lot of people who considered me to be an ally. And that is wrong. And I am deeply, deeply sorry. There's no way to sugarcoat it. It was something that I did wrong.


CHATTERLEY: Trudeau is trying to contain the furor over the images with his bid for reelection just a month away now on October 21st.

BRIGGS: Wow. Extraordinary. You can't help but wonder did he know these pictures were out there.

CHATTERLEY: And why now? I mean, these are dating back several years.

BRIGGS: Through his opponents.

CHATTERLEY: Exactly. But he's been in power for a long time now.

BRIGGS: Somebody sat on those photos, it would appear.

CHATTERLEY: Strategic.



BRIGGS: Ahead, thousands of events and more than 100 countries today, calling for action on the climate crisis.



CHATTERLEY: Welcome back to EARLY START. Millions of people are going on strike today to pressure policymakers to take action on climate change. The protest is set to take place in thousands of cities worldwide. Already over 100,000 people are on the streets in Australia.

Expected among the protesters in the U.S. are 1,000 Amazon workers. The CEO Jeff Bezos announced yesterday a plan to make the company carbon-neutral by 2040. That's 10 years before the Paris Climate Agreement requires. The plan includes purchasing 100,000 electric vans from the company Rivian. Amazon invested $700 million in the company earlier this year. Still, the company's workers said it's not enough. The group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said they want the company to become carbon neutral even earlier.

Amazon isn't the only one affected by the strike. Workers at Microsoft, Patagonia and many others have pledged to take part in the action.

BRIGGS: There is now an eighth death from vaping nationwide. Now 530 cases reported in 38 states and one territory. That's up 150 cases from the week before. The latest death is in Missouri, the first case in the state. Health officials say the patient had normal lung function before he started vaping in May. The Food and Drug Administration is launching a criminal investigation into the spike in vaping-related illnesses. The director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products say they are, quote, "in desperate need of facts."

CHATTERLEY: A New Jersey man has been indicted accused of terrorist activities on behalf of Hezbollah. Prosecutors say 42-year-old Alexei Saab conducted surveillance and photographed locations in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. They say sometime around 2003, Saab was instructed by a handler in Lebanon to prepare a detailed report on New York. The criminal complaint says the report included a U.N. headquarters, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and the city's three major airports. Saab was arrested on July 9th but the case was only recently unsealed.

BRIGGS: A victory in court for President Trump. A federal judge temporarily blocking a California law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns if they want a spot on the state's primary ballot. In his temporary injunction Thursday Judge Morrison England Jr. said that California cannot force candidates to disclose their taxes as outlined in the law. His power ruling will come before October 1st. The law was enacted to specifically target the president. He sued the state last month to challenge it.

CHATTERLEY: Gunmaker Colt is getting out of the consumer rifle business. The company manufactures AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and says there are already too many on the market to justify making more. Colt will still produce pistols and revolvers for consumers and plans to expand its network of dealers. Several other gun manufacturers make AR-15 style rifles. The gunman in the Aurora, Las Vegas and Dayton mass shootings all used AR-15 style weapons.

BRIGGS: And unfortunately, again, they say the market is saturated. That what might be the most --

CHATTERLEY: Which tells you something.



BRIGGS: An awful lot.

Ahead, it could take weeks before Israel knows its next leader. But both candidates are acting like they have the job.

CNN is live in Jerusalem.



BRIGGS: Both candidates in Israel's election looking for an advantage in a contest that remains deadlocked. Benny Gantz is even claiming victory moments after Benjamin Netanyahu's call for a power sharing coalition. In reality, the vote is too close to call. But Netanyahu's offer to share power is a sign he has no clear path to leadership.

CNN's Sam Kiley live for us in Jerusalem with the latest.

Sam, good morning.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave, a very, very rocky road indeed for Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps mildly less rocky for Benny Gantz. The official projections coming out at the moment, almost all the votes have been counted. There are just a few to be rounded off as it were showing the Blue and White Party of Benny Gantz very slightly in the lead in terms of Knesset seats with about 3 over Netanyahu's 32 or 31. So, what that means is that neither side can put a bloc together

that's sufficient to get the 61 seats that they need to govern. And what that will mean, therefore, is that Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, starting on Sunday, will canvas opinion throughout members of the Knesset and then invite in all probability, and indeed he said this earlier on today, President Rivlin will then invite the person most likely to succeed in putting a government together.


And so that may or may not be one of the two leading candidates, Benny Gantz or Benjamin Netanyahu. What this means for Netanyahu, though, is that he has moved very kind of rapidly. He's tried to get a signed document from his right-wing block that they will only operate as a bloc, that none of them will agree to be entertained or join a coalition involving Mr. Gantz. Mr. Gantz, meanwhile, has hit back saying, I want a government of national unity, I just won't work with Benjamin Netanyahu because he's got these court cases hanging over him.

And that, for Mr. Netanyahu, really is the potential danger. He could end up in court while still negotiating coalition politics -- Dave.

BRIGGS: A long and ugly road ahead there. Sam Kiley, best of luck to you, my friend.

CHATTERLEY: Yes. A possibility of a third election here, perhaps?

BRIGGS: Yes. And look, you do wonder just about the deal Netanyahu will attempt to make to avoid prosecution, let alone stay in power. Boy. A lot to get to there.

CHATTERLEY: Yes. All right. We're going to take a quick break here on EARLY START. But coming up, did the president lean on a foreign ally to help his reelection efforts? Some tantalizing new details about a whistleblower's claim.

Stay here. We're back after this.