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Trump Defends Decision To Pull Trumps From N. Syria; U.S. Ambassador To E.U. To Testify About Ukraine Texts; Most Republicans Will Not Criticize Trump; Lam: Too Early to say if Anti-Mask Law is Ineffective; NBA Team Exec Tweets Support for HK, Angering China; Subway Singer Rides to Stardom. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 01:00   ET




WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Will Ripley live in Hong Kong and this is CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, President Donald Trump defending his surprise decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria. There has been a chorus of dissent from high ranking members of his own party.

He's a millionaire, a hotel owner, and he is set to testify in front of U.S. House lawmakers. We'll tell you how this Republican mega- donor landed in the center of the Ukraine scandal. And the NBA trying to rebound from a tweet, a tweet that ran afoul of the Chinese government. Was it an airball or did the NBA lock the shop?

We began with U.S. President Donald Trump facing a flood of criticism over his decision to pull troops for Northern Syria. These are people that have been helping to protect Kurdish fighters along the Turkish Syrian border. The Kurds who have long been reliable partners in America's fight against ISIS, Turkey considers them terrorists.

Without U.S. protection, Turkey essentially has the go-ahead to attack the Kurds, the green light to push them away from the border so the Turkey can resettle refugees there. Still, President Trump denies that he is abandoning a long-time American ally.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not siding with anybody. We've been in Syria for many years. You know, Syria was supposed to be a short term hit, just a very short term hit. We were supposed to be in and out. That was many, many years ago.


RIPLEY: Even the President's staunchest Republican allies are urging him to reconsider, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says a withdrawal of U.S. forces would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham agrees. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This impulsive decision by the President has undone all the gains we've made, thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And if I'm an ISIS fighter, I've got a second lease on life. So to those who think ISIS has been defeated, you will soon see.

I hope I'm making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is, in my view.


RIPLEY: Another Trump ally, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeting out her criticism, saying that leaving the Kurds to die is a big mistake. She added the hashtag Turkey is not our friend. Meanwhile, Turkey says it is preparing to invade and they said those preparations are complete.

But with the U.S. withdraw only just beginning, right now it's not clear when any offensive against the Kurds might actually get underway. CNN Nick Paton Walsh is following developments in Istanbul.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: An extraordinary 24 hours in the foreign policy of President Donald Trump and one that has really shaken this already extraordinary volatile and long-winded fight against ISIS and in the Civil War inside of Syria.

It's clear, nobody really knows what comes next. We have seen it seems possibly over 20 U.S. troops pull back from some of the positions near the border between Syria and Turkey. That's according to U.S. officials. But at the same time too, the Americans appeared still be controlling much of the airspace over Northeastern Syria providing protection for their own troops.

So the way has hardly really been cleared for a full-on Turkish operation to invade that northern part of Syria as the late Sunday statement from the White House seems to suggest. Remarkable really that in that statement the President Trump would seem to give almost blank check to his Turkish counterpart to launch what he said was a long plans operation while at the same time too criticizing key us allies the U.K., France, and Germany, for in fact, not taking back their own ISIS national prisoners currently being held by Syrian Kurds in northern Syria.

But on top of that, too, we've seen a series of unintended consequences sprawl out from that one announcement. The Republicans who are normally supportive of Donald Trump have very strikingly come forward and suggested if Turkey did launch an operation against the Syrian Kurds, they might face a very strong bipartisan sanctions bills in the House.

We've had the U.S. Defense Secretary speaking for the first time since the invasion of Crimea to his Russian counterpart, possibly to try and defuse the situation in northern Syria and deep concerns about what may possibly lie ahead.

The Syrian Kurds have basically absorbed 10,000 or so casualties in the fight against ISIS with us airpower, and firepower backing them up. But now they're being asked to accept really humiliating intervention by NATO equipped Turkish military. It's unclear if when that will start but President Erdogan of Turkey has long been saying this is something he wants to achieve.

Well, the signal from Donald Trump's White House that he can get on with it, and then the latest one suggesting that if Turkey somehow steps outside of the realms of what Donald Trump thinks is appropriate, and what he referred to, as is great and unmatched wisdom, they'll then potentially be sanctioned.

Will that lesson anchors desire to get on with this operation? We simply don't know. But it's been a dark day for the US's allies, certainly in this region, one where I think U.S. traditional adversaries like Russia, and the Syrian regime may take some hearts that the U.S. is clearly not in this for the long run and what I think which has resulted in very little more of the extraordinary confusion about U.S. leadership in this region. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN Istanbul.


RIPLEY: Joining me now is CNN Global Affairs Analysts, David Rhode. And David, you mentioned that to President Trump, this move is essentially keeping a campaign promise, and yet to everyone else with actual knowledge on the ground in this region, it's something much different.

DAVID RHODE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYSTS: Yes. I mean, it's -- I think it's another very unrealistic campaign promise that Donald Trump made that United States could sort of withdraw from the world, and everyone else would take care of it and, you know, it's not that simple.

There's dangerous groups out there, the Islamic State is one of them. And small deployments of force, you know, as forces exist in Syria, you know, can help protect the United States.

RIPLEY: The Turks consider these Kurds in northern Syria to be terrorists and that's nothing new. They have wanted to invade and attack this group for years. Now by President Trump essentially green-lighting this and we don't know when it's going to happen, is he green lighting a massacre?

RHODE: He is in short. And this is a terrible message to American allies all over the world. Most importantly, it's a terrible message to you know, moderates in the Middle East, you know, moderate Muslims who have fought the Islamic State, who are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, right now, who fought al-Qaeda, you know. And it says the United States will abandon you.

So I think that's why there was such a strong reaction against this. It's essentially saying, you know, fight side by side with us, eliminate at least the geographic caliphate, you know, recapture all that territory, and then we will abandon you. And that's a -- that's a terrible message. This is a -- this is a tremendous mistake long term in terms of countering, I think, extremism in the Middle East.

RIPLEY: How does America ever regain trust? Does it ever regain trust with groups like the Kurds after this?

RHODE: Well, I think the reaction in Congress and frankly, from Republicans, you know, should reassure Kurds that this is not the uniform view of the United States. I have never, you know, since the President took office seen such a wide array of Republicans so vocally criticize him. Mitch McConnell almost never criticizes the president. Lindsey Graham, again, who's, you know, facing reelection stays very close to the President. And then more moderate senators, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley across the board calling this a disastrous decision. It's unprecedented to see this kind of reaction.

And I think that should show the world that Donald Trump does not represent, you know, all the United States.

RIPLEY: What about the destabilizing effect, the act of moving U.S. troops out of northern Syria?

RHODE: It is destabilizing. You know, people talk with their feet, and this, you know, the Kurds see this happening. And it fits a narrative, again, a very broad narrative, and you know, the Islamic State uses this narrative, and Russia, and China and other rivals that the United States, you know, uses people. They buy people, when it's in our strategic or commercial interests. You know, we make alliances, and then when, you know, we decide we don't want them anymore, we walk away.

And so that's why this is so damaging. It's just, you know, why trust the Americans? Look what you know, Donald Trump did to the Kurds after the Kurds, and it was overwhelmingly Kurdish forces defeated ISIS, it was not American ground troops, it was Kurdish ground troops fighting and died.

RIPLEY: Aside from the fact that America is breaking its promise to protect the Kurds who have been such loyal allies, you also have to wonder what is going to be next for all of the ISIS captives that they're holding? I mean, there's some like 60,000 militants in a camp, it's farther to the south. But what happens if that region is destabilized?

RHODE: That's, you know, that's an excellent question. That's the point. The Kurds are essentially holding all these ISIS prisoners captive. And there'll be no one to do that, you know, if this American withdrawal happens and the Kurds lose control of this once safe haven they have.

So again, I don't -- I just don't understand. Look, this is a bad decision. It's a bad decision on every level. You would have ISIS fighters free and potentially radicalized, you're alienating allies across the Middle East and around the world, and you're, you know, it's immoral. You're potentially allowing a massacre. So this is again, a short term of promise. We're going to pull all

American troops out of every country around the world, and everything's going to be fine. And, you know, I'll solve all of our problems by just you know, turning away. And it's -- it never was realistic, and now it's showing to not be realistic now that President Trump is trying to actually do this in office.


RIPLEY: And you've got loyal American allies now in serious potential danger. David Rhode, our Global Affairs Analyst, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

RHODE: Thanks for having me on.

RIPLEY: Well, from one controversy to another facing President Trump, Ukraine. There are now growing calls to protect the whistleblower at the heart of the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry. We're learning that pretty extreme measures are being considered right now to safeguard the whistleblower's identity. Those could include potential disguises for if or when they plan to speak to lawmakers.

We also know that there's a second whistleblower now who's come forward supposedly with first-hand knowledge backing the claims made by the initial one. And Democrats, they are expanding their probe. They're issuing subpoenas to the Pentagon and to the Office of Management and Budget.

Lawmakers also want to hear from President Trump's ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. He is set to testify in the coming hours. And CNN's Alex Marquardt reports he will likely face some pretty tough questions about his text messages related to Ukraine.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A wealthy donor given a large but uncontroversial role in the Trump administration has been thrust into one of the biggest scandals to grip the White House. Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to the European Union is testifying to Congress on Tuesday, now a key player in the impeachment inquiry because of his high-level dealings with Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, concerning your title, you're the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., but you've been spending a great deal of time in Kiev. Why is that?

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO E.U.: Well, President Trump has not only honored me with the job of being the U.S. ambassador of the E.U., but he's also given me other special assignments, including Ukraine.

MARQUARDT: Overseeing that relationship meant carrying Trump's message to the Ukrainian president.

SONDLAND: I had a wonderful hour-long meeting with President Zelensky that followed on the heels of his telephone call yesterday with President Trump.

MARQUARDT: Text messages released by the House Intelligence Committee show that Sondland was well aware that for the President, the U.S.- Ukraine relationship was deeply intertwined with the President's desire for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

The group messages Sondland is on are full of references to Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer assigned to pushing a Biden conspiracy theory that has zero supporting evidence. On September 1st, the ambassador to Ukraine asks Sondland if hundreds of millions of dollars and military assistance were conditioned on investigations.

Sondland responded, call me. A week later, the ambassador told Sondland I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. Sondland denied it was saying President Trump has been crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms.

Sondland has ended up in the hot seat in Washington after a career in business, like President Trump building hotels across the country making a lot of money.


MARQUARDT: In the 2016 campaign, the longtime Republican donor first supported Jeb Bush. He slammed Trump for going after the gold star Khan family who lost a son in Iraq. But his tune soon changed. Once the election was over, Sondland donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration and secured E.U. ambassadorship.

Once there, he linked up with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and now former Special Envoy Kurt Volker in managing the Ukraine relationship, calling themselves the three amigos.

SONDLAND: And we've been tasked with sort of overseeing the Ukraine us relationship between our contacts at the highest levels of the U.S. government and now the highest levels of the Ukrainian government.

MARQUARDT: There's one more part of that trove of text messages that we need to highlight, a message in which Sondland says that he thinks that President Trump really wants what he calls the deliverable. That deliverable we understand from the other messages is a public statement from the Ukrainian president that Joe Biden and his son will be investigated. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.



RIPLEY: So as the world focuses on that, and the U.S. Impeachment Inquiry continues to unfold, one group, noticeably silent. Republican lawmakers, who is speaking out, what are they saying, and what is President Trump's response? Some sharp language, for sure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) RIPLEY: Earlier, we told you how some high ranking U.S. Republicans

are criticizing President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Northern Syria, which is why it's so extraordinary that they're staying silent on this investigation and this impeachment inquiry. And of course, President Trump's calling on China and Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son. Some believe that that is not really an impeachable offense. Others are waiting to see if more allegations surface before defending President Trump. Dana Bash has more on the GOP in a political pickle.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Most Republicans are so unsure about how to play this, they're in virtual hiding. And the few who are speaking out, well, listen to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You watched what the President said, he's not saying China's investigating.


BASH: Actually, he did. Listen.

TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

BASH: Some Republicans tried to explain that away with a different tactic, deflect, claiming Trump was just kidding.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): Well, I doubt it. The China comment was serious. To tell you the truth.

BASH: CNN contacted more than 80 GOP congressional offices about the President inviting China to investigate his political rival, barely a handful responded. Most notably Mitt Romney, who said, "the President's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling."

In response, the President went after Romney calling him pompous and a fool. Clearly intended as a warning to other Republicans weighing whether to speak out. It didn't stop main Susan Collins, who did criticize the President, which plays well with Democrats she needs to win reelection in her blue state. She said, "The President made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent." But she also echoed Trump's loyalists, pummeling the House democrat leading the impeachment probe.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee misrepresented and misled people about what was in the transcript.

BASH: Mitch McConnell also on the ballot in 2020, is raising money for his Kentucky race with a promise to protect the President.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Oh, you know your constitution. The way that impeachment stops is when a Senate majority with me as Majority Leader. BASH: McConnell's campaign aides argue that impeachment is galvanizing the GOP base as much as the 2018 Kavanaugh nomination fight, which contributed to several democratic Senate defeats. Then, there's Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, who takes it to a full deep state level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not trust the FBI. You don't trust the CIA.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): No, no, I don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just very confused here. You don't trust any of those agencies?

JOHNSON: Absolutely not. And (INAUDIBLE) Lisa Page --


JOHNSON: -- after James Comey --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe the FBI and the CIA, these government agencies?

JOHNSON: John Brennan? No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration.

(CROSSTALK) know? Here apps you don't trust?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't trust them now. Do you trust them now?

JOHNSON: No, I didn't trust them back then.

BASH: Colin Powell, never a Trump fan, all but called Republicans cowardly.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They need to get a grip. And when they see things that are not right, they need to say something about it.

Some Republicans like Rob Portman of Ohio are starting to follow up. Yes, but roadmap laid out in an op-ed by Fox's Tucker Carlson port mental the Columbus Dispatch, "The President should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period." But added, "I don't view it as an impeachable offense."

One GOP lawmaker told me that just like Rob Portman, he thinks the President's call to the Ukraine leader and what he said about China is, quote, totally inappropriate. But this lawmaker also told me he's not ready to say that publicly because in his words, quote, he doesn't know if there's another jack in the box out there. So, he's reluctant to come out. And he says a lot of his Republican colleagues tell him they feel the same way. Danna bash, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) RIPLEY: I want to bring in Lanhee Chen who's in Mountain View,

California. Former Public Policy Director for Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans who has been outspoken in criticizing President Trump on this issue. And what happens? He gets branded a pompous ass.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR FOR MITT ROMNEY: Well, you know, this is why more Republicans have been concerned, frankly, about speaking out against President Trump and identifying some of the things he said about, for example, having China investigators being problematic because they don't want to encounter the same kind of incoming tweeting and attack from the President. And they also believe it's going to be difficult to have that incoming attack from the President in the context of the politics of where they are, which is desperately needing that Republican base to support them for reelection. So it's a very tricky dynamic as Danna pointed out in that package?

RIPLEY: If President Trump goes on the attack, how damaging would it be for some of these Republicans who are staying silent?

CHEN: Potentially, it could be quite problematic. I mean, if you think about a state, there's a -- there's a couple different dynamics one needs to be worried about. One is demotivating Republicans would come out to vote potentially, in a general election. But the other issue is, you've got candidates who could face primary challenges if the president decides, you know, I don't particularly like this member of Congress very much anymore, I might get behind his or her primary opponent, and that would raise another political concern. So, on multiple levels, Republicans are concerned about potential reprisals from the President.

RIPLEY: So is it just politics, or do a lot of Republicans genuinely feel that the President's behavior has crossed this line, but they just -- they don't want to say it out of -- out of fear of reprisal?


CHEN: Well, politics is a big part of it. You know, I suppose there are some who are personally loyal to the President, but it all does, in my mind, come back to the question of the politics of this situation, because I actually don't have any doubt that if, for example, Republican voters were to change opinions about President Trump expressed concerns about President Trump, if their support for impeachment were to rise, I think a lot of members of Congress would suddenly begin to discover reasons to criticize the president. So, I do think a lot of this is rooted in the politics of our time here in the United States, and the challenges that come from intense polarization.

RIPLEY: It really does speak to the division inside this country, and certainly in Washington, that you can lay out a set of facts, and they can be interpreted in completely different ways to the point that people refuse to accept anything the other side is even saying.

CHEN: Yes, I think you're seeing that both amongst Democrats and Republicans, by the way. I think you've got a lot of Democrats who made the decision very early on that Donald Trump had to be impeached. And they're proceeding with that point of view, regardless of where the evidence might lead. In a similar way, you've got Republicans who are saying, look, we're going to defend President Trump at all costs, even when damaging text messages come out about interactions relating to the President's actions on Ukraine. So, it is a very polarized political environment that we're going into as we approach the 2020 election here in the United States.

RIPLEY: How much does this matter to voters in, you know, as we call Trump country, whether it be the Midwest or the Deep South, or areas that have gone for Trump in huge numbers?

CHEN: I think in some parts of the country where President Trump remains very popular, it's all seen as background noise. I think they view it as part of the media bias they've identified. They view it as the Democrats on the attack. It's not going to change their impression of the President. Now, what is interesting is the President did well in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, in these places, it's possible we could see some sort of say, Well, I don't know so much about voting for President Trump again.

But we're really not going to know how people are thinking or what they're doing until we get closer to the election, because you're weighing some of what the President's done that people perceive as being problematic against the reality that the U.S. economy remains quite strong, given global headwinds, given what you're seeing in other parts of the world. And so, people have to weigh their pocketbooks against what they might believe is a character flaw or a character challenge in the President.

RIPLEY: All right, Lanhee Chen, we appreciate your perspective. Thanks for joining us from Mountain View.

CHEN: Thank you.

RIPLEY: And next on CNN NEWSROOM, why the National Basketball Association is facing its own growing backlash from both U.S. and Chinese leaders over the same tweet.



WILL RIPLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Here in Hong Kong, the city's embattled chief executive Carrie Lam says it's still too early to say whether her new anti-mask law is a failure. It certainly failed to stop the violence over the weekend and yesterday. Just days ago, Lam invoked a draconian law, a law that is supposed to be used in emergency situations to give the chief executive unlimited power, and to use that law to ban face masks at public gatherings.

People protect their identity with the face mask. That's how they avoid the police. But still, we saw some of the most intense protests in Hong Kong since the -- intense violence I should say since the protests erupted in July. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout was at a press conference with Carrie Lam. And she joins me now live with what Carrie Lam had to say when you asked her whether she is getting her instructions basically from Beijing, and whether she thinks that more steps need to be taken to restore law and order -- Kristie?


just a few hours ago Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, gave a first press conference in that building behind me. Her first one since the introduction of that controversial ban on face masks. And despite scenes of chaos that played out over the weekend, she insists that the emergency measure is not a failure, that it just needs more time to be effective.

Over the weekend, we saw not just thousands but tens of thousands of hardline protesters turn out in defiance of this ban on face masks. The barricaded roads, blocking roads of Hong Kong, they attack subway stations -- at one point the entire mass traffic transit system of Hong Kong was shut down.

This is a subway system that supports up to five million commuters a day. We also saw shops, businesses, restaurants, even entire shopping centers forced to close down or closed down early.

Now, given these scenes of ongoing unrest, I posed the question to the chief executive, what is it going to take? You know, how bad is it going to get before she feels compelled to ask Beijing to step in and to help restore order. Here's how she responded.


CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE: At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions also. That is also the position of the central government that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own. Ok.

But if the situation becomes so bad then no options could be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least -- to have another chance. But at this moment, I and my team, we are still very committed to making sure that we can use our own instruments -- legal instruments, political instruments like continuing dialog, policy instruments like addressing some of the deep-seated problems on the livelihood and the economy side to try to restore calm and order in Hong Kong.


STOUT: Invoking emergency laws to pass a ban on face masks here in a territory was a dramatic escalation by the government of the chief executive Carrie Lam. But the government says they need to do so to deter and to discourage protesters, namely young protesters and especially students from turning out on to the streets.

They believe that this is a way that can bring stability back to the city after four months of massive and highly-disruptive protests as this measure has yet to be (INAUDIBLE). Will -- back to you.

RIPLEY: Kristie Lu Stout, live here in Hong Kong where they are calling for protests once again tonight and every night this week.

We appreciate it -- Kristie.

We turn now to the NBA's Houston Rockets who are set to face off against the Toronto Raptors in Japan in the coming hours. But the game itself has been overshadowed right now because of the fallout over that tweet from the Rockets general manager -- a tweet that backed pro-democracy administrations here in Hong Kong and predictably angered Beijing.


THOMAS: But the response is what has a lot of people talking here. The NBA, of course, makes billions of dollars in the Chinese markets. And it's siding with Beijing. It's calling Daryl Morey's tweet regrettable. And Morey has since apologized.

The NBA commissioner will be holding a news conference ahead of the game and he is expected to address this controversy which raises a lot of questions about profits versus freedom of expression especially for the NBA -- Alex Thomas, which as you know encourages usually its coaches and players to have an opinion about issues that are important to them. Apparently not when it comes to authoritarian China.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Yes. Well, were expecting a super typhoon in Japan this weekend. But this sporting, political storm is going just as strong over the days since Daryl Morey put out that tweet last Friday. It steamrolled, its gone out of control as far as the NBA is concerned. And they're certainly in a no-win situation now it seems.

When really, playing a game here in Japan should have been an easy win for the NBA. They're back here after 16 years. They used to play regular season games here in Japan. The first one they ever took regular season games outside of the United States.

Now back after a new sponsorship deal in the country a couple of years ago. They're back with two massive teams in the Houston Rockets and the reigning NBA champs, the Toronto Raptors playing two preseason games, one later on Tuesday in the stadium behind me and then another on Thursday.

And I wouldn't say this row has dominated the buildup because on the sporting (INAUDIBLE) was still keen to see how Russell Westbrook's since his move from the OKC Thunder and James Harden are going to team up. The pair in fact put in front of the media including our CNN crew on Monday after practice.

And of course, The question about this China row came up and this is what James Harden had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS GUARD: Yes, we apologized, you know. You know, we love China, we love playing here. and I know for both of us individually we go there, you know, once or twice a year. They show us the most support and love so we appreciate them as a fan base and we love everything, you know, there about.


THOMAS: Not just Harden saying sorry, of course, but the man who started this all, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Although he deleted the original tweet it didn't stop the damage and he went back to social media to say this was his personal view, not that of the team or the NBA itself.

He said, "I was merely voicing one thought based on one interpretation of one complicated event. I've had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives."

The NBA also trying to distance themselves and they said, "We have respect for the history and culture of China and hope the sports and NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together."

But you're quite right -- Will, to say that the NBA have been caught between their huge business interest in China and they've been criticize for putting that ahead of freedom of expression, which as you say is rife in the league. We know the Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, for example, has been very vocal against the current U.S. government. And we known in other professional U.S. sports that it's the norm really for athletes and coaches to speak their mind when they want to whether around the game or just on their own social media accounts.

But this has not gone down well at all. And as you say, we're going to hear from the NBA commissioner Adam Silver on the buildup to the game in the hours ahead hear in Saitama, on the edge -- on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Back to you.

RIPLEY: CNN World Sport anchor Alex Thomas, live for us here in Saitama, Japan. And more coming up on World Sport in just a minutes from now. Thanks -- Alex.

Homeless for years, she said that her velvet voice was all she had left.

Now this viral video taken by a police officer is getting the attention of opera fans and Hollywood.



RIPLEY: A series of setbacks left a train musician with a velvet voice homeless for years. But life has its way of turning, sometimes kind of quickly. A Los Angeles police officer filmed her singing on the subway. The video went viral and well, now she is on CNN, in fact, all over the world maybe.

CNN's Nick Watt spoke with the singer about her sudden fame.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She's been singing in L.A.'s subway for years.

EMILY ZAMOURKA, SUBWAY SINGER: This is the only one thing I got left.

WATT: A chance meeting just changed her life.

ZAMOURKA: I see this police officer walking towards me from a distance and I kind of hesitated because you know how they are. They don't really want you to make any noise there anywhere. And opera is loud.

WATT: He loved it, filmed it. The Department posted it, more than a million people saw it and a little more than a week later, Emily Zamourka got her first gig.

ZAMOURKA: They're going to pay me and pay me very well for me performing. Who am I? Who am I?

WATT: On Saturday she sang in San Pedro's Little Italy, earned 700 bucks.

ZAMOURKA: I wish I can give hugs to each and everyone.

WATT: Zamourka, a trained violinist, came here from Russia in her twenties. Illness, medical bills, the theft of her beloved violin all led to a life on the streets.

A homeless charity has now reached out to help and $60,000 and counting donated on GoFundMe. She just met, hugged and thanked that LAPD officer who filmed her.

ZAMOURKA: I can't believe this is happening.

WATT: And a Grammy-winning producer now wants to work with her.

ZAMOURKA; The biggest ever -- what's the opposite word for tragedy? I wanted to bring that word correctly.

WATT: We have some people saying the story is too good to be true. You look too clean.

ZAMOURKA: This is for real. And just because you're homeless, you do not have to go around stinky and dirty. I will just put it this way, it's my dignity.

WATT: What do you want? I mean you want somewhere to live?

ZAMOURKA: Yes I do. I do. I wish that I could just have this kind of place that it will be for a long time and my own.

WATT: That voice all she had left might now make that wish come true.

Nick Watt, CNN -- Los Angeles.


RIPLEY: Nice that we can end on a story like that.

That is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Hong Kong. I'm Will Ripley.

Stay with us "WORLD SPORT" is next.