Return to Transcripts main page


Rapid Fire Series of Impeachment Developments; Acting National Intelligence Chief to Testify; Dems Express Concern Over Whistleblower Complaint; White House E-Mailed Ukraine "Talking Points" to Pelosi; Prince Harry in Botswana; Vaping-Related Deaths in U.S. Climb to 11. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:01] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:29 Eastern Time on a Thursday. We start in the nation's capital.

It's a dizzy series of events leading up to one of the most highly anticipated days in memory on Capitol Hill. The whistleblower's 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. And says the pressure put on by President Volodymyr Zelensky will likely lead two calls for prompt Trump aides to testify.

Overnight, 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 onto a separate computer network. CNN has learned the anonymous whistleblower has tentatively agreed to testify as long as his lawyers get clearance to attend.

ROMANS: Before any of that happened, 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 in that effort and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

In just hours, the acting director of national intelligence thrust before 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.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Dave and Christine. 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 Senate and House committees.

The lawmakers after reading that classified document in a secure 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 the 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 IG Michael Atkinson, they are both scheduled to be -- go behind closed doors, this time, in front of the Senate Intel Committee.

Dave and Christine?

BRIGGS: Sunlen Serfaty there, 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. 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 nor his son.

ROMANS: President Trump mentions Biden in the call three times and Attorney General Bill Barr five times. That's raising 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 the investigation even though the inspector general for the intelligence community asked DOJ to look into the matter. That is re-igniting concerns that Barr's Justice Department is serving as a shield for the president.

One briefed on the matter claims Barr had minimal involvement and career prosecutors from the DOJ made the final decision.

BRIGGS: A defiant President Trump at the U.N. painting himself as a victim of the vicious Democrats. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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


BRIGGS: And he may have some support. 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.

[05:35:00] A new Quinnipiac Poll reveals only 37 percent of the voters believe the president should be impeached and removed from office. Fifty-seven percent say he should not. There's a clear partisan divide with a four percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats supporting impeachment.

Important to note, the poll was conducted last weekend just as the whistleblower story was gaining traction.

BRIGGS: Amid the impeachment frenzy, President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky met face-to-face for the first time in the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. CNN's Matthew Chance live in Kyiv with exchange between the two including Zelensky pointing out that he stayed at a Trump Tower on a recent trip to New York.

Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you as well, Dave. That's right. I mean, President Zelensky went to New York. He'd been trying to get this face-to-face meeting with President Trump for some time since he was elected back in April because he wanted to discuss national security issues for Ukraine, ongoing U.S. military and diplomatic and economic support of this country. But the whole thing has been overshadowed of course by this controversy in the White House and the transcript -- the White House transcript of that infamous telephone call on July 25th.

And the suggestion -- the allegation that President Trump unduly placed pressure in a quid pro quo way on President Zelensky in order for him to open investigations into Joe Biden, the Democratic Party challenger for presidency potentially in exchange for more military aid. But, you know, President Zelensky saying look, no such pressure because his concern was felt during that call.

Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think and you all read that nobody pushed it -- pushed me. Yes.

TRUMP: In other words, no pressure.


CHANCE: Right then, President Zelensky there saying that nobody pushed him during that call. But -- I mean, from conversations we've been having with senior lawmakers here in this country, we are being told that investigations into a number of corruption cases from the past are being reopened including the one involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden who worked for a prominent Ukrainian gas company. The Ukrainian says that's not a result of pressure, it's just because they want to make sure Ukrainian law has been fully complied with.

BRIGGS: One would hope that's the case but who knows. Matthew Chance live for us in Kyiv. Hard to know what to believe when he clearly was pressured.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Washington Post Congressional Reporter Karoun Demirjian, she is a CNN political analyst. Good morning. You know, yesterday, as the president was speaking at the U.S. mission to the U.N., fascinating. The same moment behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, people were poring over this whistleblower report. What do we expect to hear from the director of national intelligence today?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're all waiting to see if we get to look publicly at the contents of that whistleblower complaint before Maguire takes the stand at 9 a.m. Because if we have seen it already, if the public has seen it and the lawmakers are able to talk about this declassified version that exists freely, we're going to get a lot of the details of what so alarmed this whistleblower and the inspector general for the intelligence community about this phone call and the way that it was handled.

I think you're also probably going to see lawmakers pressuring Maguire to give them a view of what was going on behind the curtain. And I'm talking about within the administration. This was not just a decision that took place at DNI. There were contacts with the Justice Department. There is a lot of scrutiny of the Justice Department and Attorney General Bill Barr.

And people are going to want to know, what conversations were had in those weeks where they're battle -- going back and forth, deciding not to release this to Congress for a number of weeks until they were under such pressure that they did.

BRIGGS: Yes, this memo here is just fascinating including the president referencing Rudy and the attorney general making them sound as if they're both --

ROMANS: Equal almost.

BRIGGS: Yes, yes. His lawyers, is the way that sounded. A lot of new reporting overnight from your paper including White House officials may have moved around some communications with foreign leaders including Zelensky. What would be an innocent explanation of that? And what really beyond that one phone call do you expect today to focus on because there's clearly more than this transcript that sounded alarm bells?

DEMIRJIAN: Right. We know that the inspector general told House lawmakers last week that this complaint was not based on just one event. And so in that sense that we're looking at this phone call in a greater context. I mean, I suppose the most innocuous explanation you could give from moving something around within the White House is that they're trying to prevent certain people from leaking it to the public. But there's a whole lot of not-so-innocuous assumptions that you could draw from that too. And that I think what alarmed the inspector general and made him say, wait a second, what's going on here. I think it's also alarmed members of Congress, especially on the Democratic side.

And so, you're going to be looking at this event, the handling of what happened with this phone call especially after the whistleblower's complaint but just generally speaking, why these things were moved internally. Why -- what the purpose was behind that?

[05:40:02] And then also looking at that in the greater context of what was going on. We've -- there's been plenty of public reporting about the moves that the president and Rudy Giuliani were taking vis- a-vis Ukraine, I think a lot of these is going to depend on lining up the timeline of all those things in trying to see if the dots connect. Because as we've seen even in the transcript of that call, there isn't a moment where the president says, if you want this aid, you are going to have to do this for me with the Bidens. But the timeline of how he says it and the proximity of when the Ukrainian president brings up the aid issue that the president brings up the investigations right afterward that people think imply what the intent is here.


BRIGGS: Yes. Right after Zelensky is bringing up defense is I would like you to do a favor, though. And that word "though" certainly stood out a little bit.

DEMIRJIAN: That does, yes.

ROMANS: But the Wall Street Journal in its editorial board says this is a fizzle. The Ukraine transcript fizzle. It says that this is largely routine diplomacy and that's what this shows. And this is good luck persuading Americans this is an impeachable offense.

The very same moment, we've got polling showing that Americans don't really have a big appetite for impeachment, only 37 percent say yes, they support Trump's impeachment and renewal -- and removal. Fifty- seven percent say no. Do Democrats have a big road here to walk to convince the American people that this is a good idea?

DEMIRJIAN: They don't have a lot of wiggle room but they are hoping that because the focus has shifted from Russia to Ukraine, of course, you can't really completely disassociate Russia from Ukraine, but in this sense, were scrutinizing the president's contacts with Russian officials. Now, they seem focused primarily or solely on the president's contacts with the Ukrainian leader. That because this is a new issue because they think that this is a more egregious display of an abusive power of the president reaching out and trying to get foreign interference they say to help in the U.S. election to help his chances that if they refocus around this with the entire party behind it that they will have a new runway basically to try to take off on this impeachment thing.

We will see if it works. It's going to depend on what the polls in the next few days show base on what people having been through this whole episode of this very long and very intense week. But yes, I think that the other half of what we were talking about with the GOP members coming and rallying around the president on this one. I mean, you're going to see that happen too. There are members of the Republican Party who have said that this is very troubling. That the Mitt Romneys of this world, the Ben Sasse was quoted also as saying similar things as he emerged from having read that whistleblower report.

But there are going to be people that rally around the president saying nothing to see here. This is standard diplomacy. Countries talk to each other all the time about how to help each other out. But is this standard diplomacy or is this the president using his diplomatic role as president for personal gain that had nothing to do with U.S. national security and diplomacy? And that is really the crux of the issue and where you'll see those partisan divides.

ROMANS: But asking a foreign government to investigate an American citizen who is your political rival, I mean, that -- is that standard?

BRIGGS: Not a lot routine about that. Now we saw the White House talking points on full display because they e-mailed them to Democrats including Nancy Pelosi. Central in their argument is there was no quid pro quo here that's before the testimony today. But at least in the phone call, how important is that argument? Do they even need that to move forward?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think that the quid pro quo if they can show that it existed in a way that is obvious to everyone or a way that is absolutely incontrovertible, that that is a far more serious issue than the president asking for this but not trying to leverage anything for it. And I think that they are trying to build the most damning case that they can against the president since they're going for something that really hasn't been -- look, you know, they are going for something that really hasn't been done before. That the impeachment process is going to be very procedurally testy. It's going to be very politically risky. And they want to make sure that they have the absolute best, we had no other choice but to do this.

This was a high crime, not just a, you know-- there are -- there has been plenty of reporting that this would seem to run afoul of campaign finance law but that's not the easiest argument to make to the public when you're running against -- running in the 2020 election. So, the more they can show that this was serious as opposed to a level truly impeachable offenses, if they're able to do that, that emboldens their case.

ROMANS: Karoun Demirjian, the Washington Post congressional reporter, on a scale of one to 10, how bonkers has the last 48 hours been in the halls of Congress?

DEMIRJIAN: I'm losing track of the ability to tell time. And I slept for three hours and I feel lucky for doing that.

BRIGGS: Three, well, to quote Joe Biden, 18 on a scale of one to 10.

ROMANS: All right, thanks so much, Karoun Demirjian.

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


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": 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.

[05:45:06] But look, that's -- I am confident in the ability of the House and the Senate to deal with this. My job is just to get out and beat him. 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: Do you think others will take advantage of that? Him saying it's basically Trump that caused me to get in here.

ROMANS: I mean, I think that what he means is that this was a calling for him because of the current state of affairs. And it was important enough for him to do this. So -- I mean, I think you could play that both ways.

All right, two more deaths from vaping. Now, another state will ban flavored e-cigarettes.


[05:50:03] BRIGGS: Next stop on the royal tour of Africa, Botswana. Prince Harry is there to focus on conservation efforts, an issue that's close to the prince's heart. Let's bring in David McKenzie live in Botswana. Let me get right to the most important question that Romans has for you, is Baby Archie there or not?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, no. He's not. And Dave, good morning. Prince Harry came here and left Baby Archie and Meghan Markle back home. Harry back in South Africa which in this area he feels like it's his second home. Pretty great images here of Prince Harry with young Botswana kids planting trees, trying to reforest this part of the Chobe River that's behind me. Even struggling with a 30-feet large Baobab tree with some local scouts putting that tree up. He said -- he thinks he is the person or the royal to plant the largest tree in their family's history.

But this is very close to his heart. He's come back to this region many times, and I asked him, you know, why he get so stuck in on conservation issues?


MCKENZIE: You've been so hands-on for years with conservation. Why do you want to be in the middle of it?

PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: I think we're all in the middle of it. There's an emergency that we are -- it's a race against time and one in which we are losing. Everyone knows it. There's no excuse for not knowing that. And I think the most troubling part of it is that I don't believe that there's anyone in this world that can deny science, undeniable science and facts. Science and facts has been around for the last 30, maybe 40 years and it's only getting stronger and stronger.


MCKENZIE: Well, Prince Harry talking about the climate crisis here. It's really something he's wanting to highlight here that people need to take action now. He's pointing out to me that, you know, these hundreds of thousands of kids that seems across the world striking he says that is a great cause. And people like him just need to help give them that platform to affect change.


BRIGGS: Very important cause. Nice to see that. David McKenzie live for us in Botswana, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 51 minutes past the hour. Abortion has been decriminalized in almost all of Australia. The change overturns a 119-year-old law. Lawmakers in Sydney passing a bill that makes the procedure available to women less than 22 weeks pregnant. After 22 weeks, they will need to choose a specialist or medical practitioners to sign off. Unlawful terminations previously carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. And abortion ban in the state of South Australia is currently under review.

We'll be right back.


[05:56:57] It's 5:56 Eastern Time.

In the first reported vaping deaths in Florida and Georgia bring 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, now the latest state to ban the sale of flavored vaping products. It comes a day after Massachusetts temporarily banned all vape sales. Embattled e-cigarette maker Juul has suspended all U.S. advertising and removed its CEO. He is being replaced by the chief growth officer of tobacco company Altria, a major investor in Juul.

ROMANS: Let's take a look at global markets here. Asian markets closed mostly higher after the president signed a trade deal with Japan and suggested a deal with China could be close.

On Wall Street, futures right now are moving just a little bit higher. Stocks finished higher Wednesday for their best day in a couple of weeks. The DOW closed up 163 points. The S&P and the NASDAQ also higher. Today, investors will be watching the third revision of second-quarter GDP to see just how strong the economy was in the spring.

There was good news in the housing market, new home sales rose to stunning 7.1 percent. This is way hotter than economists thought. The commerce department said 713,000 new homes were sold. The market has been struggling lately, it looks like it got a boost from lower mortgage rates.

Soon, Amazon's Alexa will be in every corner of your house. Amazon unveiled its new Echo lineup. The new Echo smart clock displays the outside temp. Echo frames feature very discreet directional microphones only users can hear. And a smart oven allows users to scan items from the Alexa app to program the oven to cook them properly.

Technology will make me a better cook. If you're tired of Alexa's voice, you'll have this option.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm always ready.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A day in Los Angeles, it's 85 degrees. Say my name. Woohoo!


ROMANS: Samuel L. Jackson can be the voice in your speaker for 99 cents later this year. And did you say there's an explicit version?

BRIGGS: That's right. Beware of your little sneaky kids. There's a clean and an explicit version.

ROMANS: All right, that sounds like fun. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Can you imagine James Earl Jones would be awesome in that regard?

ROMANS: This is CNN.

BRIGGS: NEW DAY starts right now speaking of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 26th, 6:00 here in New York.

We begin with a fire hose of breaking news for you this morning. The whistleblower complaint was declassified overnight and it could be released at any moment. We're also just hours away from America's intel chief, the DNI testifying on Capitol Hill about that whistleblower complaint at the heart of this new impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

So this morning, we have new details about what is inside that report. The Washington Post reports that, quote, the complaint alleges a pattern of on obfuscation at the White House in which officials moved the records of some of Trump's communications with foreign officials onto a separate network from where they are normally stored", the Post says. This include records of that --