Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats Subpoena White House for Ukraine Documents; Demonstrators Defy Hong Kong Emergency Ban on Masks; At Least 41 Deaths in Iraqi Demonstrations; Republicans Respond to Trump's Comments on Ukraine; Bernie Sanders Leaves Hospital after Heart Attack; Security Concern as "Joker" Opens in U.S. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired October 5, 2019 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The investigation deepens: the White House is now under subpoena as House Democrats widen their probe in the impeachment inquiry.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Defiant protesters, demonstrators in Hong Kong rally in the street over a new rule outlawing face masks.

HOWELL (voice-over): And later this hour, a new Joker film sparks fears of real-life violence. We look into the criticism surrounding that movie.

ALLEN (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. We start with the impeachment investigation into the U.S. president. Momentum is building with the second report now of a whistleblower. "The New York Times" reporting a U.S. intelligence officer with first-hand knowledge of the president's actions on Ukraine may file a formal complaint.

ALLEN: Meantime, the White House has been subpoenaed for documents after ignoring a request to produce documents voluntarily. Vice President Mike Pence is being asked to turn over information about his meeting in Poland with Ukraine's new leader. CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more about these developments from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we're seeing is House Democrats escalate this impeachment fight with the White House by sending out these subpoenas. These subpoenas that they had signaled were coming in essentially what

was a warning shot to the White House a few days ago but were finally issued late on Friday, these are subpoenas that essentially call for all kinds of documents related to what is at the heart of what they say is this impeachment inquiry into President Trump right now.

And of course that is his phone call that he had over the summer with Ukrainian President Zelensky. But of course the question will be whether or not the White House is going to comply with the subpoena. If you've been paying attention, it doesn't appear that they are.

The White House knew these were coming because of that warning shot that Democrats sent a few days ago. But based on what our sources have told us, they are expecting the White House to put out a letter in a few days that would essentially dare house Democrats to bring forward a formal vote to the House floor to move forward with an impeachment inquiry, something the White House says they need before they're going to cooperate with any of these requests.

So far, Democrats say that is not something they need to do. The question is whether or not they come to a middle ground, hold that vote just so they can get some of these documents as they're pursuing this investigation. But based on what we're hearing, that's still something to be determined -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


ALLEN: It has been less than two weeks since the U.S. House formally launched its impeachment investigation and the White House response has been all over the map. Each day it has attempted to refocus the crisis in one way or another without much apparent success.

HOWELL: The president now says it's not about politics. He says it's about fighting corruption. Let's listen.


TRUMP: We are looking for corruption. When you look at what Biden and his son did, and when you look at other people, what they've done. And I believe there was tremendous corruption with Biden, but I think that was beyond.

I mean, beyond corruption, having to do with the 2016 campaign and what these low-lifes did to so many people, to hurt so many people in the Trump campaign, which was successful, despite all of them fighting us. I mean, despite all of the unfairness.

So we are looking at corruption. We're not looking at politics; we're looking at corruption.


HOWELL: Lofty words from the U.S. president, focusing, he says, on corruption as opposed to politics. It is hard, though, to square the circle there, with the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. Very stark testimony from Kurt Volker. Volker spent more than nine hours talking about what he knows about the scandal.

ALLEN: He also provided text messages showing how the Trump administration tied U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the country's willingness to dig up political dirt to benefit President Trump. CNN's Sara Murray has that part of the story.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has obtained former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker's opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee, revealing how Rudy Giuliani tainted President Trump's thinking on Ukraine.


MURRAY (voice-over): Volker claims Giuliani peddled dubious information as President Trump remained convinced Ukraine was full of "terrible people," who "tried to take me down," a reference to the unproven allegations that Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election.

Volker described diplomats struggling to manage the fallout and convinced Trump that the new Ukrainian leadership could be trusted.

Hours before Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Zelensky by phone on July 25th, Volker was working behind the scenes to try to ensure a smooth conversation between the two world leaders.

"Heard from White House. Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate/' get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington," Volker said via text to an adviser to the Ukrainian president Andriy Yermak.

On the call, Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate the Biden family and Trump's unfounded belief that it was the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who meddled in the 2016 election.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: When you read these texts, is it basically -- substitutes every aspect of the whistleblower complaint that the president of the United States coerced a foreign power to help himself politically.

MURRAY (voice-over): Days earlier, Giuliani had breakfast with Volker. Volker testified that he told Giuliani, "It is not credible to me that former vice president Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as vice president."

In the weeks after Trump's call with Zelensky, Ukraine was still trying to get a face-to-face meeting with Trump. Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., texted Volker to say, "I think POTUS really wants the deliverable."

They set out a statement from Ukraine that might sooth Trump's demands. That statement was never issued. Volker testified that he wasn't aware of efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. And he differentiated investigations into Biden with the probe into Burisma, the Ukrainian company Biden's son served on the board of.

He said that as unfounded accusations against the Bidens came out publicly, he urged Ukrainians not to interfere in U.S. politics. Volker also testified he didn't see a link between the push to investigate 2016 and the freeze in military aid in Ukraine but other diplomats were suspicious.

Bill Taylor, a senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, repeatedly raised concerns about withholding aid.

"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," he told Sondland in September.

"Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear. No quid pro quos of any kind," Sondland replied.

Still, the revelations unsettled lawmakers, including at least one member of the GOP.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): I think some of these things are indeed damning. It's a confirmation of some veracity of the whistleblower's report.

MURRAY: Other than Congressman Hurd, there have been very few Republicans who are willing to go out there and publicly criticize the president. One of the other few expectations is Senator Mitt Romney, who described the president's behavior as "appalling."

But aside from that, very, very few members of the president's own party willing to be critical of him -- Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Sara, thank you.

Now perspective with Natasha Lindstaedt. Natasha a professor of government at the University of Essex in England, joining live this hour.

Good to have you with us.


Let's start by breaking this down into that left-right binary. Democrats say there's plenty of evidence that it's abuse of power. But critics on the Right demanding, what is the issue here?

LINDSTAEDT: I think this is the result of the fact that the country is so polarized. The Republicans aren't willing to see that a quid pro quo took place and what they're saying is corruption is so bad in Ukraine that Trump has the right to ask countries to investigate it.

But what we're also seeing, as was already revealed in the report, is that Republicans are mostly staying quiet on this. And there's been such a jump in the support for this impeachment inquiry by the public. So a 10 percent jump is important just on its own.

But if we were to actually look at it, comparatively speaking, the Nixon inquiry didn't lead to that type of jump so early on. So the Republicans should be worried that, as more information is revealed and if the Democrats are able to provide a very clear narrative for what took place -- and I do think that the narrative is much clearer with this Ukraine scandal than with the Mueller probe because Mueller involved a lot of different people.

And it was not clear how much Trump was involved and whether he was involved at all. With the Ukraine scandal, this seems to be directed by Trump himself.


LINDSTAEDT: I think the Democrats may shift public opinion upwards of 60 percent that could be in favor of the inquiry.

HOWELL: So again, Republican saying where is the crime here?

Democrats saying there's plenty of evidence.

Let's look at text messages that Volker provided to Congress, like this one between a top U.S. diplomat, Bill Taylor, and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., where Taylor said, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

Sondland then replied, "Call me."

Reading between the lines there, what do you take from that?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, we have to also note Taylor is the most neutral person in this scenario. He has been a career diplomat and doesn't really have any reason to be leaning one way or the other.

But Sondland is a Trump supporter, a big Trump donor. The first text was sort of a question, is there a withholding of military aid to get them to investigate a political opponent?

And Sondland doesn't respond no. Instead, he responds, "Call me."

And with the other text, that Taylor is shocked and upset, it's crazy, he said, to withhold military aid in order to get the Ukrainians to investigate a political opponent, there is a lag time from when Sondland responds -- may have been due to the time changes.

But then he comes back with what looks to be something that was sort of written or shaped by Trump himself, that there is no quid pro quo going on and, from now on, you're going to need to call me. We're not going to be texting anymore.

So it looks damning. It doesn't look good for the president. It does look that Sondland was aware that this looked particularly shady and he was trying to ensure that communications moved away from texts where they could be seen. HOWELL: You'll remember candidate Trump famously asked Russia to look for Hillary Clinton's emails.

Now the U.S. president, in an unprecedented move, urging other nations, Ukraine and China, to investigate Joe Biden and his son. And now the new Ukraine chief prosecutor plans to audit cases overseen by his predecessors.

There is no evidence at present to suggest that the Bidens broke any laws or were a part of any probes. Biden has spoken out about this and he didn't pull any punches. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Focus on this man, what he's doing, that no president has ever done. No president.


HOWELL: The question here to you, Natasha, does this help or hurt Joe Biden by muddying the water for him?

Or does it raise his profile even further as the Democratic front- runner?

LINDSTAEDT: I think it's mixed for Biden. On the one hand, yes, it does raise his profile, it sends a clear message that Trump believes that Biden is so dangerous that he has to involve other countries in investigating Biden.

So from that standpoint, we get a look into Trump's psyche and who he's worried about.

On the other hand, it's probably not great for Biden. It's slightly negative and the optics don't look great. But I think Biden's correct, that this is a diversionary tactic. This is Trump's effort -- and I do think Trump was caught off guard by all this. There doesn't seem to be much planning involved.

It seems to be a very ad hoc response, doesn't seem to be the same type of war room that you had with the Clinton impeachment inquiry. Everybody seems to be responding off the cuff.

And Trump felt, if he started involving other countries in investigating corruption, then that would distract us from the fact that he asked Ukraine to investigate his opponent and withheld military aid to induce them to do so.

HOWELL: It's interesting, we're in a situation where there is a central, you know, set of information of facts and depending on what side of the aisle you're on, people seem to see it differently. But the information is the same. Natasha, thanks.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me. ALLEN: Next, other stories we're covering for you. Hong Kong's chief executive says the ban on face coverings should help curb the violent protests. But so far, it's only caused more outrage. More about it ahead here.

HOWELL: Plus, violence breaks out in Iraq as the government starts to ease restrictions on demonstrators. CNN is live in Baghdad with reporting there. Stay with us.






ALLEN: Protesters in Hong Kong just finished a march there. Many wearing masks, defying the government's new ban on face coverings. Demonstrators are angry about that restriction.

HOWELL: But the city's chief executive says the ban is justified because of the violent protests. And we saw some of that violence Friday night.

ALLEN: Paula Hancocks was in the middle of this protest just a short time ago and she joins us with the latest on how it went.

Paula, hello.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Natalie. At this point, there seems to be more press that protesters in this area, essentially.

But just a couple of hours ago, there were several hundred, potentially a thousand protesters wearing masks because this march through the streets was to make sure the government knew that they were not happy with this anti-mask law.

This is part of the emergency law that was brought in by the chief executive, Carrie Lam, on Friday. This is a colonial-era emergency law that hasn't been enacted for more than half a century. But she is defending this Saturday her decision to do that.


HANCOCKS: She's saying it proves it was necessary because you look at what happened on Friday night, what she calls very scary riots. And we did see a fair bit of destruction.

Certain subway stations were targeted and were burned. All of the subway has been shut down this Saturday. They said it was so they could try and repair some of the subway stations. But they haven't reopened. That is 161 stations across the territory. Some of the shops have shut down, some of the big department stores

are shut, usually a very busy shopping day, because there was a rumor that protesters might try to occupy some of these department stores.

So much of the city appears to have shut down. There has been some anger with some people not being able to get home. They can't use the subway and some of the roads were shut for the march. But at this point, you can see things have ended for the time being. The march, though, was peaceful.

ALLEN: This is not a Hong Kong that people around the world are accustomed to seeing.

Are people there still coming to grips with what has happened to Hong Kong since these protests began?

HANCOCKS: Unfortunately, this appears to be the new norm for Hong Kong. This is the 18th weekend we have seen these protests. In recent weeks they have become more and more violent.

Friday night was no exception. There was a protester shot by an undercover policeman, as we understand. He was in plain clothes, dragged out of a car, beaten by protesters and then the police say he discharged his weapon. They say it was necessary.

Carrie Lam also defending that but that does play into the arguments of the protesters. They believe that the police have acted with excessive force. They believe the police should not be using these tactics on the streets of Hong Kong.

But the police aside, they say, if the protesters don't use force, then they don't use force. But Friday night marks the second time live fire has been used by police. At that time it was a 14-year-old boy that was hit in the left thigh. He is now out of the hospital and in stable condition.

ALLEN: That's some good news but where this goes from here, we just don't know. But it's not looking good as far as safety in the streets. Paula, thank you so much.

HOWELL: Also following the situation in Iraq, violent protests that have been taking place there, so far, 73 people have died. More than 3,200 others have been injured.

ALLEN: Meanwhile, the prime minister has lifted a curfew in Baghdad which was imposed after the demonstrations broke out. He's also creating a new committee to address the grievances.

HOWELL: On the story, our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, live in Baghdad.

Arwa, the government easing some of the previously imposed restrictions.

Is it making a difference with the frustration we've seen clearly vented on these streets? ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage, as you were mentioning there, all they've really done is remove the curfew. But Internet throughout the better part of the country Internet is still shut down.

And one has to recognize that these demonstrators have heard these types of promises from the government before, that their grievances will be addressed, and they have yet to see any sort of action.

These demonstrations that we have been seeing over the last four days are leaderless and they are countrywide. And they have -- the level of anger expressed within them has to a certain degree taken the government and the security forces by surprise.

As we consistently see in these types of demonstrations, the more violence that is used, the more determined people become and the angrier they become. The protesters here are demanding an end to corruption, that they want to see an effort being made to resolve the country's widespread unemployment, especially among the youth.

People are higher education, university degrees, are unable to get adequate jobs and they also want to see basic services improve. This is a population that is only too aware of the fact that their country sits on the world's largest oil reserves and yet, for decades, they have not been able to see the benefits of that.

The government is holding a parliamentary session that is meant to be focusing on the protesters' demand. There is meant to be the establishment of that independent committee. But until these protesters see those promises turn into action one can only assume the anger is going to continue.


DAMON: Also now have the voice of anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has a bloc that is fairly powerful, as is his voice, saying the government should be dissolved and early elections should be held.

He has yet to call on his people to take to the streets. That is something many observers are very concerned about, should he take that step. So it's still a very unresolved and tense situation at this point.

HOWELL: Arwa Damon, thank you for the report.

ALLEN: Up next here, we're back to the scandal rocking the Trump White House. We will take you live to both Beijing and Kiev to get reaction there to how this is playing out in Washington.

HOWELL: Plus, U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released from the hospital and doctors reveal he had a heart attack. Stay with us.



Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

And I'm George Howell.


ALLEN: The Trump White House has been subpoenaed in the Ukraine scandal after failing to turn over records and documents voluntarily. Even the vice president has been caught up in it. Democrats have asked Mike Pence to turn over details of his trip to Poland, where he met with Ukraine's new leader.

HOWELL: All of this follows explosive testimony from the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. Kurt Volker spoke to lawmakers for more than nine hours about the behind-the-scenes activities leading up to the July 25th phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Sam Kiley is live in Kiev, Ukraine, and Dave Culver is following the story in Beijing.

Sam, we now know that Ukraine's new chief prosecutor is planning to audit cases overseen by his predecessors. Some see that as a bow to U.S. pressure by Ukraine.

What is the view in that country?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, George, that the view from the prosecutor general is very much that this is not Ukraine bowing to American pressure; notwithstanding the fact, of course, that Donald Trump publicly reiterated his demand just a couple of days ago, that Ukraine should investigate, in his word, the Bidens.

Now what the prosecutor general announced was a widespread cleaning of the stables, if you like, a review of previous prosecutors' general's activities, two of them, the last two, highly controversial figures, both of whom are actually part of the dossier -- contributed to the dossier that Rudy Giuliani wrote up and fed into the State Department, making a wide range of allegations against the Bidens and others.

But the new prosecutor general under a new regime is saying they're sweeping all of this aside, they're going to review all previous corruption cases and, as part of that process, it is possible that the activities of Hunter Biden, who was a board member of the Burisma gas company might come into focus.

It's a very distant effort they're saying they're putting in. This is consistent with the texts that were exchanged between Mr. Volker and the president's office here in Kiev during what would appear to have been a bargaining process, in which the U.S. side, under pressure from the White House, was asking for the Bidens to be named as targets in an investigation. And the Ukrainians were pushing back, saying they were only going to

be part of a wider investigation into corruption in general. That now is the official position of the prosecutor general.

HOWELL: They pointed out those were not the keywords they would focus on but again, it would be a broader audit. Sam, thank you.

Let's turn to Dave Culver in Beijing.

Here is the thing. China now finds itself thrust into the vortex of questions with President Trump suggesting without prompting that China should launch an investigation into the Bidens.

What has been the reaction so far?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You have to think about Beijing responding very differently than Washington. This is not a country that simply reacts to a news story.

Beijing does not operate that way. Their message is calculated, it's controlled and it's released when they want it released, especially when it's something this sensitive involving the president.

Now there also is some confusion here.

What exactly are they going to be responding to if they're answering these questions?

And is the president serious?


CULVER: It becomes even further confused when you look at what, say, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said publicly last night with regard to the request from the president to investigate the Bidens. This is Rubio's take on it.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I don't think it's a real -- I think, again, I think he did it to gig you guys. I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it. Like I said, I mean, he plays it like a violin and everyone falls right into it. That's not a real request.


CULVER: Rubio saying he's playing the press. But President Trump retweeted that video comment.

Is it a legitimate request or is it just playing off the press here?

Either way, China is not yet responding publicly. We are seeing some response in how they're allowing or preventing our coverage from being on the air here on the mainland. We've seen that with Hong Kong protests. But in trade war discussions and in, say, pork price discussions, they've allowed it to air. They're censoring this because it's sensitive and they're trying to figure out, George, how to respond.

HOWELL: It is interesting to draw on your experience. Yes, D.C. responds very quickly to news but, in China, they block the news and respond deliberately over time. David Culver in Beijing and Sam Kiley in Kiev, gentlemen, thank you for the reporting.

ALLEN: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says he hopes to be back on the campaign trail soon.

HOWELL: This is despite doctors confirming that he did have a heart attack earlier this week. Our Ryan Nobles reports.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vermont senator Bernie Sanders left a Las Vegas hospital on Friday afternoon after spending 2.5 days there being treated for a heart attack.

Sanders, with his wife by his side, waved to the people outside the Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center. Sanders was at that hospital after experiencing chest pains on Tuesday night during an event in Las Vegas.

Two of the doctors that treated him put out a statement that described his hospital stay as uneventful. They say he had, quote, "good expected progress." They confirmed that he had two stents placed in an artery to combat a blockage and they also said that he was diagnosed with a myocardial infarction, which is the clinical term for a heart attack.

Sanders will travel to his home in Burlington, Vermont, and is going to take some time off the campaign trail but he has promised that he will return in time for the CNN debate which takes place on October 15th.

Inside the campaign, I was told there was no real deliberation as to whether or not he'd continue his run for president. Sanders, who felt immediately better after the stent procedure, said that he was ready to get back out on the trail.

But while Sanders feels better and doctors have said his prognosis is good, this will no doubt be an issue for him going forward. His age, he just turned 78, has long been a knock on his campaign and now with the specter of a recent heart attack added to the mix, it's going to make the argument that he's up to the job that much more difficult.

Still, Sanders has remarkable endurance and he's been very healthy for most of his life. At this point, after a short break, he seems prepared to pick up right where he left off -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Still ahead, a new movie about an iconic Batman villain is stirring up real security concerns as it opens in theaters. Why the FBI is issuing a warning about "Joker."





HOWELL: It is the latest comic book movie blockbuster that is raising security concerns across the United States on its opening weekend.

ALLEN: We're talking about "Joker." CNN's Lucy Kafanov takes a look at why the FBI is issuing warnings about this film.



JOAQUIN PHOENIX, ACTOR, "JOKER": When you bring me out, can you introduce me as "Joker"?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be a dark Hollywood fantasy. But the new "Joker" film opening nationwide is sparking fears of real-life violence. Police departments across the country beefing up security from New York to Los Angeles.

KAFANOV: How concerned is the LAPD?

JADER CHAVEZ, L.A. POLICE DEPARTMENT: The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of the public concern and historical significance behind the premiere of the "Joker." While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, we do encourage the public to know that the police department will be out there in high visibility.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The FBI and Homeland Security warning law enforcement about nonspecific online chatter that they fear could lead to lone offender violence.

Seven years ago, a gunman killed 12 and injured dozens when he opened fire during a Batman film screening in Aurora, Colorado. Grieving parents called "Joker" a haunting reminder.

SANDY PHILLIPS, MOTHER OF AURORA VICTIM: How are other survivors of not just Aurora but of gun violence going to react to being triggered again?

KAFANOV (voice-over): But some fans aren't afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it doesn't really bother me. I was planning to see the movie, anyway.

KAFANOV: This is the kind of movie that diehard fans would normally dress up for but security concerns have prompted some major chains to ban costumes. KAFANOV (voice-over): "Joker" reveals the backstory of the iconic "Batman" villain, portrayed as a disturbed man who finds relief in violence.

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN SENIOR WRITER, MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT: On a certain level, I found it objectionable.

KAFANOV (voice-over): CNN's film critic Brian Lowry says among the parallels with real-life attacks, the Joker faces female rejection, a similar sentiment that the UC Santa Barbara shooter in 2014.

LOWRY: I don't think the movie is endorsing the character but it is taking a character who traditionally is the antagonist and making him the protagonist. It's taking the Joker and putting him front and center.

KAFANOV (voice-over): "Joker" star Joaquin Phoenix says the movie is meant to provoke.

PHOENIX: A movie is really good when movies make us uncomfortable or challenge us or make us think differently.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Warner Brothers, which is owned by CNN's parent company, Warner Media, said in their statement, it is not their intention to hold this character up as a hero.

MATTHEW BELLONI, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": The creative community's position on this is no one should sensor themselves because they don't feel like the message of the movie is for the masses. If that were the case, you wouldn't have any art.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But movie goers may have the final say at the box office -- Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: Joining us now to talk more about this is CNN media critic Brian Lowry.

Brian, good to see you. Thanks for coming on.

LOWRY: Thank you.

ALLEN: First up, the "Joker" movie hit theaters this week despite a wave of criticism that it glorifies a killer and could encourage copycat attacks.

What is it about this character in particular that is disturbing and has people fearing violence?


LOWRY: Well, I think there's a fair amount of baggage attached to the character in large part because of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting in 2012 in connection with "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the earlier Batman sequels. And then the added part of this contextually is it is a movie about

the bad guy. When you think about the Joker, you think about him as a foil or an antagonist for Batman. In this, it is the Joker's origin story and he is front and center and the center of the movie in a way that forces you to, if not identify with him, at least to empathize with him a bit.

ALLEN: And one understands the concern about a character that goes on a shooting rampage, something that happens daily in the U.S. You mentioned what happened in Aurora. We all remember that. And that caused some of the families to issue an expression of concern.

Has there been reaction from the filmmakers?

And do you think creating this film that they showed insensitivity or any recklessness and -- in making this and should Hollywood have that burden?

LOWRY: Well, Todd Philips, the director of the movie, has been quite outspoken about this. He's said a number of things, including the fact that art is not necessarily designed to make you comfortable and that by being unflinchingly violent, by being explicitly violent, that it is not whitewashing violence.

There's something to be said for that. But I don't think the studio or the filmmakers can entirely ignore the context in which the movie's being released. They knew going into this or should have known going into this that doing a hard R version of Joker, who is a sadistic, psychotic loner character, would have some parallels to real world events that might make people uncomfortable with it.

So I think the initial studio reaction was a little flat-footed, frankly, and I don't think a lot of what they've said since has particularly helped.

ALLEN: And to wit, there have been online threats of violence surrounding the movie and one credible threat shut down a California theater Thursday.

Do you think this film will be hurt at the box office because of the fear or helped with all the hype?

LOWRY: It's hard to tell. It opened extremely well on Thursday night. It grossed over $13 million in its opening night, which is a record for the month of October. It's very hard to prove negatives; box office isn't an exact science.

So I'm sure some people were drawn to it because of the coverage, because of the controversy and some people probably thought, given all the baggage and the hoopla surrounding it and some of the threats, that it was probably better to stay home.

I think barring anything terrible happening over the weekend -- and certainly let's hope nothing does -- I think the movie will do very well. Whether it might have done a little better if it hadn't arrived amid all this controversy, it's difficult to say. ALLEN: What kind of reviews has it received?

LOWRY: Initially, it won the award at the Venice Film Festival, which is quite a prize. And the early reviews were almost rhapsodic. Since then, a number of latter reviews that have come out have been more skeptical, including my own, basically what this movie doesn't really answer, the question is why.

Why do we want to spend two hours with this character?

What is it about him?

It's really a movie that wallows in darkness and this kind of sense of gloom without really making a case for what it is building to, other than how the Joker became the Joker.

ALLEN: And you mentioned the filmmakers may have been caught flatfooted considering the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. And it seems the person playing the character, Joaquin Phoenix, he walked out of an interview when asked about this. But he did come back to finish the interview, saying he wasn't expecting that question.

Did that surprise you when he wasn't?

LOWRY: Usually when stars are on a media tour, they're prepped pretty carefully. It's hard to believe that he wouldn't have been prepped that some might raise the violence issue and some real-life concerns that have been expressed.

His performance is positively electric. And to the extent the movie works, that is it's at least compelling and watchable, that's what is going to bring people to the theater. Whether that's enough to make it feel like more than, you know, sort of root canal surgery, which is I think the way one critic described it, it might be another matter.


ALLEN: Absolutely. Well, it is opening this weekend. We appreciate your insights, Brian Lowry. Thank you.

LOWRY: Thank you.

HOWELL: Some deny global warming but they are all sweating it out with the rest of us. A heat wave across the United States. Dozens of U.S. cities in the grips of that heat wave. Derek Van Dam brings you the latest.





ALLEN: Well, it has been in the mid '90s here in Atlanta since we can't remember, it's been so long.


ALLEN: We're back to our top stories in just a moment, including the latest on the impeachment investigation.

HOWELL: Stay with us.