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President Trump Admits to Discussing Joe Biden with Ukrainian President; Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi Move Closer to Impeaching Trump; Elizabeth Warren Surges in New Iowa Polls. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 05:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: With the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that call now the center of a whistleblower complaint as questions grow about whether the president leaned on an ally to target a political rival.

CNN has reported the president pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden, as U.S. military aid to Ukraine was hanging in the balance.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Remember, last week, the Intelligence Inspector General told the House Intel Committee, the whistleblower was concerned about multiple actions by Mr. Trump. So, it's unclear whether this conversation is just a tip of the iceberg. The issue now has two top Democrats going further than they ever have before on impeachment. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has the latest.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the president on Sunday acknowledging for the first time that he did indeed bring up the former Vice President Joe Biden during that call with the Ukrainian president.

Which is of course now at the center of this whistleblower complaints, alleging among other things that the president pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. Here's the president on Sunday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We -- the conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place. Was largely the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.


DIAMOND: This issue is not going anywhere, we will see the acting director of National Intelligence on Capitol Hill later this week. He's expected to brief Senate Intelligence Committee, lawmakers on this whistleblower complaint.

How much we will learn about this complaint remains to be seen. However, what we do know is that Democrats are certainly ramping up their rhetoric as it relates to this, including the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said in a letter just yesterday on Sunday, "if the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation." Dave and Christine, back to you.

BRIGGS: Grave new chapter of lawlessness. All right, Jeremy, thank you. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intel Chairman Adam Schiff spent the weekend closely coordinating the Democratic response. Schiff, like Pelosi, has been reluctant to move on impeachment. That could be changing.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that conduct represents.


ROMANS: Joe Biden is speaking out about the whistleblower complaint here, the whistleblower report. The former Vice President says inquiries into his son's role at a Ukrainian gas company is a smear campaign by the president.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power. To get on the phone with a foreign leader who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me and imply things if that's what happened.


ROMANS: In a fight between the president and Congress coming at a precarious time for Ukraine, it risks fracturing the bipartisan consensus in the U.S. since 2014 in favor of backing Ukraine against Russia. Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance live in Ukraine's capital with more. Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. That's right. The Ukrainian feel that they're very much caught between a rock and a hard place, and they desperately want to preserve a good, strategic alliance with the United States.

The U.S. is crucial for Ukraine because it provides not just diplomatic sports and economic aid, but important military aid as well. And its battle against Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country, it doesn't want to see that aid jeopardized.

And that's why it's so reluctant to get drawn into this latest American political scandal, it's very well aware of the fact that even though it needs to preserve a good relationship with President Trump; the incumbent president of the United States, it also has to keep an eye on the elections in 2020, and knows very well that a Democrat could be elected to replace President Trump, it could even be Joe Biden, who knows?

And so, they're walking a very narrow, diplomatic line, a tight rope as it were. And that's why Ukrainian officials have so far been very tight-lipped about the situation, about the reaction. There has been a word come to us from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister.

He spoke to a local Ukrainian news channel, basically saying, look, it was a friendly conversation, that telephone call on July, the 25th, there was no pressure involved, basically trying to play it down. They want this situation to go away, particularly because on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, there's going to be an important face-to-face meeting, at least it's planned between President Trump and President Zelensky; the novice president here in the Ukraine.

They want that conversation to be about strategic issues, about economic aid, about support against the aggression of Russia. In the east of the country, they do not want it to be overshadowed by this scandal, but unfortunately, it is not going away at this stage. Christine?


ROMANS: The former reality TV show host and the former comedian meeting Wednesday to discuss really important future of these two countries. Thank you so much for that, Matthew Chance for that from Kiev.

BRIGGS: It's great context, Romans. More than 90 heads of state are in New York City for the start of the UN General Assembly. President Trump speaks tomorrow, chairing a meeting on religious persecution, same man who famously said this.


TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.


BRIGGS: The president is not attending today's Climate Action Summit where the UN Secretary-General is calling on all world leaders to deliver a plan to combat the climate crisis. The focus will be on rising sea levels and record-hot temperatures over the last four years. On Friday, millions of people worldwide joined marches and strikes to call for climate justice.

ROMANS: Also on the agenda at the UN, Iran, tensions rising between Iran, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia after Saudi oil facilities came under attack. Iran now marking its annual sacred defense week with military parades across the country. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Tehran. Hi there, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good -- hi there, Christine, good morning. Yes, some military parades across the country and also some military tough talk coming from the Iranians as well. The head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps coming out and saying that any country that wants to start a conflict with Iran can quote, "go ahead".

A not so thinly veiled threat of course aimed at the United States, possibly at Saudi Arabia as well. The Iranians saying that any country that attacks Iran, as they put it, would themselves become the main battlefield. This of course coming only a few days after the Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif told CNN that if there was a retaliatory strike by the United States, that this would lead to all out war.

Now, Zarif is now actually in New York already at the UN General Assembly, getting ready for that, and he said in an interview that he is not confident at this point that there won't be a war between the U.S. and Iran. Let's listen to what he had to say.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAN: No, I'm not confident that we can avoid a war. Me, I'm confident that we will not start one. But I'm confident that whoever starts one will not be the one who finishes it.


PLEITGEN: The Iranians also ruling out speaking to President Trump or members of the Trump administration on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. But there's also a bit of a diplomatic initiative that they're announcing as well. They say the President Hassan Rouhani is going to announce what he calls an initiative for peace for Hormuz.

So, obviously looking to maybe de-escalate things. And one of the things by the way that we just found out a couple of minutes ago, the Iranians are saying that the British flagged tanker that they had taken under control has now completed all the paperwork they say to be released as soon as possible. So, if that tanker gets going, definitely get you guys informed as fast as possible, Christine --

ROMANS: Of course, all right, thanks, Fred Pleitgen for us in Tehran, thanks, Fred. And to U.S. politics now, Elizabeth Warren is surging in Iowa, a new CNN "Des Moines Register" poll of likely caucus goers has the Massachusetts senator leading Joe Biden for the first time by 2 points. It's essentially a dead heat, it's within the margin of error despite catching up to the former Vice President, Warren says she is taking nothing for granted.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I know, too close, we're still months away from the Iowa caucuses and primary elections.


BRIGGS: If you dig a little deeper inside the numbers, the poll shows Warren's pulling votes from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters from 2016. With Biden struggling to find any support on the far-left, a key issue for Iowans is healthcare, 41 percent say they want Medicare for all. And those voters clearly lean Warren, 24 percent say they don't want Medicare for all, they lean Biden, 28 percent like the idea but fear it will hurt Democrats' chances in 2020.

Coming up, it lasted 178 years. But now, a global tour operator abruptly shuts down, stranding hundreds of thousands. Brexit may be to blame.



ROMANS: Breaking overnight. Hundreds of thousands of travelers around the world stranded after British tour operator Thomas Cook shuts down. The demise of the iconic company, forcing the largest peace time repatriation effort in U.K. history. The government now flying 150,000 stranded Brits home. Let's go live to London to bring in John Defterios. You know, it's hard to -- hard to overstate just how iconic --


ROMANS: This company is, Thomas Cook.

DEFTERIOS: Yes, indeed, Christine, you know, I've been living here since the mid 1990s off and on, and Thomas Cook is synonymous with the holiday package, 178 years old. It predates air flight itself, and now, they're putting in an operation called "operation matterhorn". This is a big test for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is on his way to the UN General Assembly.

Who said they're scrambling now to bring passengers home, as you're suggesting. And a real test around the chaos regarding Brexit itself because this is almost a perfect storm, much more intense competition coming into the holiday package market, of course.

They brought in the CEO five years ago to come up with a new business man. And then, lo and behold, you have all this uncertainty about whether they stay in the European Union or not. The biggest impact of that by the way is the currency, the pound has been dropping, so the revenues in the U.K. at least have been going down and their costs abroad of course go up.

It's pretty simple math when it comes to business news. Peter Fankhauser basically put-up CEO, the white flag of surrender saying I apologize to our customers, our employees, some 21,000 and our suppliers. Now, the government was suggesting that Thomas Cook was looking for about $300 million in terms of a bailout.

They estimated that it was better than $1 billion because it's not a surprise they lost about $2 billion in the front half of the year. And they've been in talks for months trying to find a solution, and they couldn't find one. And the government said, look, we can't really go into the business of travel bailouts.


But now they're in the business of repatriation. It's the largest repatriation and peace-time history for the U.K., and an indication of what life could be at if they leave the European Union because of the shortage of pharmaceutical supplies and food and the rest. Now, the test is right here in the travel market.

ROMANS: All right, thanks so much for that, John Defterios in London.


BRIGGS: A mysterious and tragic ending to a deeply romantic gesture. A Louisiana man has drowned after proposing to his girlfriend under water. Steven Weber and Kenesha Antoine were vacationing in Tanzania in a cabin that featured a bedroom submerged in the ocean. Weber proposed last Thursday by swimming under water and holding a note against the bedroom window while presenting a ring.

But according to a Facebook post by Kenesha, he didn't make it back to the surface alive. She says she will try to take solace in the fact that she and Weber enjoyed the most amazing experiences in their final moments together. Local authorities are investigating, Steven Weber's sister will be on "NEW DAY" later this morning.

ROMANS: So sad. All right, a new era begins for one of the oldest NFL franchises, it didn't take long for Giants fans to forget all about their Super Bowl winning quarterback. Andy Scholes has this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT" next.



ROMANS: So many fans were met on the final season. But "Game of Thrones" went out on top at the Emmys.


MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: And the Emmy goes to "Game of Thrones".



ROMANS: "HBO's" fantasy "Juggernaut" won best drama, its fourth outstanding drama series on the comedy side. A big side for Amazon, the British series, "Fleabag" upset the final season of "Veep" and the "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" for best comedy.

Also "Fleabag" star creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge beat perennial winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus and "Maisel's" Rachel Brosnahan for best comedy actress honors. Actor Billy Porter made Emmy history by becoming the first openly gay black man to win best actor in a drama honors for the "FX" series "Pose".

There was no host this year, but commentator Thomas Lennon tried to have some fun at Felicity Huffman's expense.


THOMAS LENNON, COMEDIAN: The producers have asked me to give a special shout-out to any of our previous lead actress winners who are watching tonight from prison. Hopefully, those two weeks are going to fly right by. Keep your chin up.


ROMANS: Huffman reports to prison next month in connection with the college admissions scandal.

BRIGGS: Keep your chin up. Star wide-receiver Antonio Brown says he is done with the National Football League in a Twitter tirade. Andy Scholes has more in the "BLEACHER REPORT" this morning. It's kind of who broke up with whom story. Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Yes, good morning, David. In a series of tweets, Antonio Brown says he's not going to play in the NFL anymore. And he also called out Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his former team mate, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and one tweet, Brown posted a "CBS" story from 2010 about Roethlisberger being investigated for sexual assault.

Roethlisberger was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy that year. The quarterback denied a sexual assault took place. The incident was investigated, but no charges were filed. Now, Brown has since deleted that tweet.

In another tweet, Brown said, "will not be playing in the NFL anymore. These owners can cancel deals, do whatever they want at any time, we'll see if the NFL's Player Association holds them accountable."

Now, Brown's former trainer Britney Taylor has accused him of sexual assault twice in 2017 and rape in 2018. Brown has denied those accusations, he was cut by the Patriots on Friday. In the meantime, the NFL says their investigation is ongoing.

All right, Sunday night football, Rams hosting the Browns, down by 7, Cleveland gets first in goal from the four with under a minute to go. But then Baker Mayfield just not able to punch it in. He threw three- straight in completions, and then his last pass attempt, he had to scramble and he was picked off.

Disappointing finish for the Browns as the Rams hold off for the 20-13 win to improve to 3-0. All right, Daniel Jones making his much- anticipated first start for Giants taking over for Eli Manning. What a start it was, the Bucs were up 28-10 at the half, but Jones leading a huge comeback, threw for 3 in 36 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two touchdowns including a game-winner with under a minute and a half to go.

Check out this start, Jones at 1-0 when trailing by 18 or more, Eli Manning, 0-44 in those games in his career. All right, finally, in baseball, for the third-straight year, Houston Astros clinching the American League West Division. And just amazing how far these Astros have come. They started the decade with three-straight years, losing 100 games or more.

Now, they've won more than 103-straight, first team ever to do that. And Dave, you know, the awards might just keep piling in for the Astros, they very well may win the MVP, Cy Young and rookie of the year, when all things are said and done, but I'm sure that they want the World Series --

BRIGGS: Yes --

SCHOLES: Trophy over all of those.

BRIGGS: And probably the favorite for that as well, it's going to be a fun post-season. Andy Scholes, thank you my friend, Romans --

SCHOLES: All right --

BRIGGS: What's coming up?

ROMANS: All right, with the House speaker promising a new stage of investigation, if the White House keeps a whistleblower complaint secret. The president now admitting he spoke to Ukraine's president about Joe Biden.



ROMANS: A grave, new chapter. The house speaker's blunt warning about what comes next if the White House keeps a whistleblower complaint under wraps.

BRIGGS: The UN General Assembly kicks off today with Iran at the top of the agenda. Is there a diplomatic path forward?

ROMANS: Is there a new Democratic frontrunner. A new CNN poll shows Elizabeth Warren surging in Iowa.

BRIGGS: And "Game of Thrones" goes out on top at the prime time Emmy Awards, but which comedy dethroned the favorites? CNN has reports this morning from Kiev, Tehran, Jerusalem and South Africa. Welcome back to EARLY START everybody on a Monday, I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Happy Monday, nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Happy Monday --

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans, it is 29 minutes past the hour. Let's begin with the president acknowledging Sunday that he did discuss Democratic rival Joe Biden in a July call with the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. That call now at the center of a whistleblower complaint.

His questions grow about whether the president leaned on an ally to target a political rival. CNN has reported the president pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden as U.S. military aid to Ukraine was hanging in the balance.

BRIGGS: Now, remember last week, the Inspector General of the Intelligence told the House Intel Committee the whistleblower was concerned about multiple actions by Mr. Trump, so it's unclear whether this conversation is --