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Rapid Fire Series of Impeachment Developments; Trump, Ukraine's Zelensky Meet at the U.N.; Benjamin Netanyahu Has Six Weeks to Form Government. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, damaging details from a whistleblower complaint about the president. Capitol Hill gearing up for the acting spy chief to testify.




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president defiant, despite asking Ukraine for a favor, investigate Joe Biden. And he offered to get the attorney general involved.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning to all of you, I'm Dave Briggs. Thursday, September 26th, 4:00 a.m. here in New York and in the nation's capital.

That's where we start this morning, a dizzying series of events leading up to one of the most highly anticipated days in memory on Capitol Hill. The whistleblower report on President Trump's call to the Ukrainian president has been declassified. It will be released as early as this morning. One lawmaker who saw the complaint calls it alarming. The source says it contains more dimensions than first reported. And the pressure put on President Volodymyr Zelensky will likely lead to calls for Trump aides to testify.

The "Washington Post" reported new details of the complaint. It says officials moved records of some of the president's talks with foreign officials including the Zelensky call on to a separate computer network. CNN has learned the anonymous whistleblower has tentatively agreed to testify, provided his lawyers get security clearance to attend.

ROMANS: Before any of that happen, the White House released the transcript of Mr. Trump's call with Zelensky. Trump repeatedly urged the Ukrainian president to investigate his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden. And Mr. Trump said he would enlist the attorney general of the United States in that effort.

In just hours, the acting director of National Intelligence, thrust into the spotlight by this controversy goes before lawmakers. The "Washington Post" reports Joseph Maguire threatened to resign if the White House tries to restrict his testimony. Maguire denies that.

A lot going on on Capitol Hill. That's where CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is for us this morning.


This is potentially a monumental moment up here on Capitol Hill. Acting DNI Joseph Maguire set to testify in just a few hours before the House Intelligence Committee. And this follows the release, the White House rough transcript of the phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president. They released that on Wednesday afternoon up here on Capitol Hill, as well as the classified whistleblower complaint.

That was released last night to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. And lawmakers after reading that classified document in a secured setting, they couldn't discuss much of the substance of what was in the report. But more broadly speaking, Democrats emerged saying that they are more concerned than they were before they read that complaint.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I found the allegations deeply disturbing. I also found them very credible.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): I'll just say the complaint itself is a five-alarm concern.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): There are other witnesses here who need to be talked to and who need to, quite frankly, be interviewed or brought before our committee to understand the full extent of the misconduct here.


SERFATY: And one notable comment from a Republican who read that classified report, Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican. He repeatedly called the complaint troubling after reading it.

Now, meantime, later today, Maguire and the intelligence community I.G., Michael Atkinson, they are both scheduled to go behind closed doors this time in front of the Senate Intel Committee -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Sunlen, thanks.

As for the White House transcript, it does not contain a specific quid pro quo related to U.S. military aid but Mr. Trump does suggestively point out the help the U.S. provides Ukraine before asking for a, quote, "favor, though." The president tells his Ukrainian counterpart, "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that. So, whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.

ROMANS: President Trump mentions Biden in the call three times and Attorney General Bill Barr five times. That raises serious questions about what Barr knew and when. Remember, the Justice Department advised against sending the whistleblower complaint to Congress and it refused to open a formal investigation, even though the inspector general for the intelligence community asked DOJ to look into the matter.

That is reigniting concerns that Barr's Justice Department is serving as a shield for the president. One official briefed on the matter claims Barr had minimal involvement and career prosecutors from DOJ made the final decision.

BRIGGS: A defiant President Trump with diplomacy as the background at the U.N. painted himself as a victim of the vicious Democrats.



TRUMP: No push, no pressure, no nothing. It's all a hoax, folks. It's all a big hoax. When they look at the information, it's a joke. Impeachment for that?


BRIGGS: And he has some support there. A "Wall Street Journal" op-ed by 19 Republican House members, including the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, they say, in part, "This partisan attack on the president could have far-reaching implications for foreign policy and permanently damage world leaders' confidence in their ability to speak freely and candidly with any U.S. president."

ROMANS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats in a private meeting she wants to focus their impeachment inquiry on President Trump's conversations with Ukraine. It could be an uphill battle. A new Quinnipiac poll reveals only 37 percent of voters believe the president should be impeached and removed from office, 57 percent say he should not. There's a clear partisan divide, 4 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats supporting impeachment. Important to note, the poll was conducted last week and just as this whistleblower story was gaining traction.

BRIGGS: Amid the impeachment frenzy, President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky face-to-face for the first time on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Kiev with what went on between the two. Matthew, good morning.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. Good morning to you, Dave. That's right. This was the sort of pinnacle of this hysteria, really, that's been surrounding the situation with President Trump and his phone call on July 25th with President Zelensky. They met face-to-face, according to the Ukrainian read-out of their meeting, talked about national security. They talked about Ukraine getting its territory back and the diplomatic and military support. That's the United States have been giving the Ukraine in terms of those various issues.

But President Zelensky said that in that phone call on July 25th, he didn't feel that there was any pressure placed on him by the U.S. leader. Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I -- so I think when you read it that nobody pushed it. Pushed me. Yes.

TRUMP: There was no pressure.


CHANCE: But he said nobody pushed him, he said there's no quid pro quo, but, you know, Ukraine sees this whole political scandal as a disaster for its national security strategy because it depends on the United States, well, many other countries, for diplomatic and military support in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. That U.S. support is based on a sort of bipartisan relationship and support for Ukraine. And the concern in Ukraine right now is that bipartisan support by the Republicans and Democrats supporting Ukraine, may have been shattered because of this scandal -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. The Ukraine trying to prepare for both a Trump presidency and perhaps a Biden presidency as well. A tough spot they are in.

Matthew Chance, live, in Ukraine this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: And then this, a copy of the White House talking points on the Ukraine scandal was accidentally e-mailed to Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats. The White House talking points were e-mailed to Democrats. Then the White House tried to recall the e-mail. The memo urged Republican allies to argue there was no quit prod pro and what the president talked about with Ukraine's leader was entirely proper.

BRIGGS: Former vice president Joe Biden spoke about all of this overnight with Jimmy Kimmel.


JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE-NIGHT HOST: How does this rank as far as on the outlandish scale for you the last 48 hours, watching this transpire?


KIMMEL: Mm-hmm.


BIDEN: It's awful hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility. But look, that's -- I am confident in the ability of the House and Senate to deal with this. My job is just to go out and flag beat him.


BIDEN: And so, what I can't let happen, I can't let this distract me in a way that takes me away from the issues that really are the reason why I'm running.


BRIGGS: You know, he also said in that interview with Jimmy, when they asked him, if it weren't President Trump, were you run? And he said, in all honesty, I probably would not be if it weren't for --

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: I mean, it's a pretty strong admission.

ROMANS: Yes. Interesting.

All right, nine minutes past the hour. A shocker in the Israeli elections. Benjamin Netanyahu will get another chance to form a government. CNN live in Jerusalem, next.



ROMANS: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been given the first chance to try to form a new government after attempts to negotiate with this main rival Benny Gantz failed. But the road to building a unity coalition and avoiding another election will be difficult if not impossible to navigate.

Oren Liebermann joins us live from Jerusalem this morning -- Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, there is no doubt Israel still faces what appears to be certain political uncertainty as this process moves forward. But it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has been given the first chance to try to form a government. A task he failed in following April's elections.

So why is it that Netanyahu got that first chance when he doesn't have the biggest party after he elections?

[04:15:01] Well, Israel's president who decides who gets that first chance looked at Netanyahu and said he has the most support, 55 seats, not the required amount to form a government but closer than his rival, Benny Gantz, despite Gantz having the bigger party. Rivlin, that is Israel's president Reuven Rivlin, had tried to get these two to work together and form a unity government but after a couple of meetings, that seemed all but impossible. So Netanyahu gets the first crack here. But his chances don't seem all that great. And one has to wonder where this whole process is heading.

How could all of this play out? Well, according to the law, Netanyahu now has up to six weeks to try to form a government here and get this country out of the political mess it faces. If he doesn't succeed, Gantz could then get four weeks. And if neither of them succeeds, well, then there's three more weeks where they'll have a chance to come up with somebody else.

And if that doesn't work, Christine and Dave, new elections are automatically triggered, which means this country could be heading to elections in late February, perhaps early march, if this process plays out with no successful government. And that is looking more and more likely by the day.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann for us this morning in Jerusalem, thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Wow. Can you imagine?

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Yet another election is possible.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Ahead, two more deaths from vaping. Another state will now ban flavored e-cigarettes. We'll tell you which one.



ROMANS: Health care a top issue heading into the 2020 election and a new study finds employer health benefits have become too expensive for low-income workers. Employer-based plans cover about 153 million Americans. The Kaiser Family Foundation found only 1 in 3 employees at low wage firms are covered compared to 63 percent of workers at other companies. The issue here, costs are rising faster than wages. Over the past decade, family premiums are up 54 percent. Worker contributions up 71 percent and wages only up 26 percent.

Democratic candidates for president to put the spotlight on employer- based plans, former vice president Joe Biden wants people to be able to keep their plans through their jobs while Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to move to a national government-run system.

BRIGGS: The first reported vaping deaths in Florida and Georgia, bringing the nationwide total to 11. The CDC as of last week reported at least 530 illnesses related to the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products. Health officials will update those numbers today.

Rhode Island is now the latest state to ban the sale of flavored vaping products. It comes a day after Massachusetts temporarily banned all vape sales. CNN has also learned the U.S. Military plans to remove e-cigarette and vaping products from base exchange stores by the end of the month. As the vaping crisis grows, embattled e- cigarette maker Juul has suspended all U.S. advertising and removed its CEO. He is being replaced by the chief growth officer at the tobacco company Altria. The move rejected by several health organizations who say hiring a tobacco executive shows Juul prioritizes profits over health.

ROMANS: A heartbreaking post-script to Hurricane Dorian in North Carolina. 28 of the Outer Banks' famed Wild Horses more than half of the herd were killed in that storm. The horses' bodies have been washing up on the beaches on Cedar Island. They were swept to their deaths by a storm surge off of North Carolina's Outer Banks. Some of the surviving horses managed to swim to safety on nearby islands. The other missing horses are presumed dead.

BRIGGS: Negotiators for GM and the UAW are making progress in talks to end an 11-day-old strike. CNN has learned some issues involving individual GM plants are resolved or close to a resolution but the so- called national issues involving pay and benefits for nearly 50,000 hourly employees are not. 31 GM factories and 21 other facilities in nine states have been idle since September 16th. Over 3200 workers are now furloughed including 500 here in the U.S. The strike is costing the automaker about $2 million a day.

ROMANS: While you were sleeping, late-night took on President Trump's reaction to the impeachment inquiry.


SETH MEYERS, LATE-NIGHT HOST: Trump tweeted this morning that there is, quote, "no president in the history of our country who has been treated so badly as I have." Even more amazing he tweeted it from the Abraham Lincoln Room in the John F. Kennedy Library.

TREVOR NOAH, LATE-NIGHT SHOW: Trump is the only person who'll do something so bad right out in the open that it makes you question whether it's actually bad. All right? It's just like a powerful thing. It's the same that Kanye can walk around basically in rags but because he does it so confidently, we're just like I guess that's a style now?

STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE-NIGHT SHOW: I would like you to do us a favor, though. Ladies and gentlemen, our contestant has said today the secret words, the phrase that pays. The Ukrainian in exchange for political favors. Tell the president what he's won. It's protracted impeachment inquiries.


BRIGGS: It was for some that word though that stood out.


BRIGGS: As though an exchange for something.

Ahead, the acting spy chief just hours from critical testimony.


And overnight, new details about the whistleblower complaint against the president. That complaint could go public today.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight, damaging details from a whistleblower complaint about the president. Capitol Hill gearing up for the acting spy chief to testify.


TRUMP: No push. No pressure. No nothing.


BRIGGS: The president defiant despite asking Ukraine for a favor. Investigate Joe --