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EARLY START

U.S. Diplomat in Ukraine Scandal to Testify; Trump Bipartisan Criticism Over Syria Decision; Chinese Businesses Cut Ties with Houston Rockets. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:19]

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: In just hours, a key figure in the impeachment inquiry heads to Capitol Hill. Lawmakers want to know, did the White House want political dirt in exchange for military aid?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not siding with anybody. We've been in Syria for many years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump defending his decision to let Turkey invade northern Syria. He's facing bipartisan anger at home.

BRIGGS: More fallout for the Houston Rockets and their general manager. Chinese businesses suspending ties over the GM's supportive tweet for Hong Kong's protesters. Oh, the perils of social media.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: It is Tuesday, October 8th. It's 4:00 a.m. in New York, 4:00 p.m. in Beijing, 11:00 a.m. in Lithuania and also in Turkey.

But a big day ahead in the House. Democrats impeachment inquiry prompted by whistleblower's accusation that president Trump pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden family in exchange for military aid.

BRIGGS: In just a few hours, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, will testify behind closed doors to three House committees, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight. Sondland was mentioned in the whistleblower's complaint and gained even more attention for his role in texts released by House Democrats.

ROMANS: In those texts, Sondland asked Ambassador Bill Taylor to persuade Ukraine's government to announce investigations into the Bidens and election conspiracy theories. Sondland suggested that would lead to a meeting between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. But Sondland rejected Taylor's characterization of that arrangement as a quid pro quo.

Senior congressional reporter Manu Raju has more for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Dave and Christine. Today, yet another key witness in the Ukraine scandal coming to Capitol Hill, Gordon Sondland, someone who was involved in the conversations after President Trump discussed with the president of Ukraine, the president's desire to have the Ukrainian government investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Now, we seen from text messages that were released last week by Democrats pushing on the impeachment inquiry that many that he wrote about the aftermath about the push to investigate the Bidens. There will be questions about whether or not he felt it was right, whether or not that he believed the president was seeking a quid pro quo, withholding military aid in order to push for that investigation.

We'll see ultimately what he says behind closed doors. Now, this comes as the Democratic-led effort is ramping up. There were subpoenas that were issued yesterday, both to the White House Office of Management and Budget and to the Pentagon to get more records and documents related to why the Ukrainian aid which was approved by Congress was withheld for some time.

Now, at the same time there are threats about subpoenaing Rudy Giuliani's business associates because they have not turned over the documents or agreed to testify as Democrats have demand. Also, there's outstanding subpoenas for Rudy Giuliani to turn over documents by next week, also for the State Department to turn over records as well. Also questions about how they can pursue this in the days ahead, whether they can get that whistleblower, him or herself to come before the House Intelligence Committee. I'm told they're considering a range of measures, extreme measures to protect the identity of the whistleblower if that individual does agree to ultimately come and testify.

So, a lot of moving parts in this rapidly-moving investigation, but a key witness today, we'll see what Republicans and Democrats who will be sitting in on this day-long hearing ultimately learn.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: All right. Manu, thanks.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaking out in his role in arranging the call between -President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. That is at the heart of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. Perry says his focus was on energy issues, not Bidens.

Nina Dos Santos live in Lithuania where Perry made those remarks.

Nina, good morning.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Dave.

Well, he had these meetings over the last couple of days, the U.S. energy secretary here in Lithuania. He seems set to depart for another Baltic country. The backdrop to all of this is energy security in Ukraine. It's a country that Rick Perry dealt for many years largely because it's so sensitive the amount of Russian gas it exports and some of that gas can actually be replaced with U.S. natural gas. That he says is the backdrop as the reason why he urged President Trump to call President Zelensky in a telephone conversation that, of course, is now the heart of this impeachment inquiry. This is exactly what he had to say in Lithuania yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY: Absolutely, I asked the president multiple times, Mr. President, we think it is in the United States and in Ukraine's best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[04:05:14]

DOS SANTOS: Well, Rick Perry is -- Rick Perry's central to all of this, Dave, obviously, because he is the member of the Trump administration who was sent by the Trump administration to the inauguration of the then newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky back in the spring of this year. He says in that press conference that he's been back and forth with Ukraine for many, many years because before taking up the helm at the Energy Department was the governor of the energy rich state, Texas.

So he's had many years of dealings with the Ukrainians. He also says that he was not on the telephone conversation in question back in July between Presidents Trump and Zelensky and he says contrary to speculation in the media, he is not planning on stepping down.

Back to you.

BRIGGS: OK, Nina Dos Santos live for us in Lithuania this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: A surprising prediction in the White House over the outcome of a possible impeachment. A source tells us Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in a senior staff meeting last week that President Trump would win 45 states in 2020 if he were impeached by the House.

Basic electoral math shows such a win would be a huge stretch at best. CNN has previously reported the president was frustrated by efforts involving Mulvaney to strategize or build a team to respond to impeachment. Sources say the president argues such efforts make him look weak.

Just days before high-level trade talks resume in Washington, the U.S. added 28 companies to a U.S. blacklist over their alleged role in human rights violations in Xinjiang camps. Among the companies placed on the list are two largest manufacturers of video surveillance products and a leading digital forensics firm. Their addition to the entity list essentially bars them from buying U.S. products or importing American technology.

"The New York Times" reports a Commerce Department spokesmen said the move was not related to trade talks. Chinese authorities did not immediately respond to the announcement. Officials have defended the crackdown in Xinjiang as necessary to tackle extremism.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, President Trump saying he's not choosing sides by removing American troops from Syria, but the president facing rare and harsh criticism from members of his own party. We're live in the Middle East, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:12:05]

BRIGGS: President Trump defending his decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria ahead of an impending invasion by Turkey. Sharp criticism of the move coming from all quarters, including top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But the president is standing by his decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

I've told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane, they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Dozens of other Republicans have spoken out against withdrawal from Syria, including those like Senators McConnell and Lindsey Graham who are usually the president's strongest defenders.

Kaitlan Collins starts our coverage by explaining Republicans' unusual criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, what you're seeing here, this reaction to the decision by President Trump to withdraw those forces from Syria is something you have rarely seen since he took office. And that's a widespread rebuke from his own party. Just over the last few weeks, as we've seen the scandal unfold over

the president's call with Ukraine, you've seen how members of his own party have been hesitant to criticize the president. But that did not stop them after the White House made this announcement late Sunday night continuing with the president defending it in a series of tweets into Monday morning.

And you can tell that the White House is hearing this criticism, because it's coming from people like even the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about what a grave mistake this would be for the president to follow through with this announcement. You can see that the president has heard that, even though he dismissed criticism at the White House yesterday saying that this is something he promised on the campaign trail, something he talked about last December when, of course, you'll remember the Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over the idea of doing something like this.

But you saw the president kind of pivot yesterday because after the White House issued that statement on Sunday night, the president then pivoted and said that, yes, he would restrain Turkey if it came to it, though he didn't detail exactly what that restraint would look like. What's going to be interesting and what people are watching here in Washington, certainly, members of the party, aides who work in the White House is all of this is unfolding as the president, he is very likely facing impeachment, people say. And, of course, what's going to save him from that are those Senate Republicans. If he does get impeached by the House, it's going to move to that trial in the Senate.

So it will be interesting to watch how they separate their criticism here, the criticism over Syria and what they have to say about all the details unfolding about his calls with Ukraine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that. A senior administration official declining to say if the president directly warned Turkish President Erdogan not to move ahead with the incursion into Syria, a move that would threaten American-backed Kurdish forces. In any case, the senior official says withdrawal of U.S. troops should not be considered, quote, a green light for massacre.

[04:15:07]

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in Istanbul with the latest on how U.S. actions and reactions are being perceived.

And, you know, from the halls of the Pentagon to the halls of Capitol Hill, there is alarm about the president's decision here to give what appears to be a green light, frankly, to the Turks.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, all the voices around President Donald Trump yesterday, they were all saying this is a bad idea. The two that count, really, are it seems President Erdogan of Turkey and President Trump himself on that late Sunday phone call.

Now, quite what level of latitude Donald Trump gave for potential operation here is unclear. He was very quick in a matter of hours to start suggesting that if Turkey crossed any invisible lines potentially in Trump's head, that that could result in their economy being obliterated, but it's really hard to tell what from that Turkish military and Turkish president have actually deduced.

Now, practically on the ground as Donald Trump kept saying, we've seen a handful, really dozens of U.S. soldiers pull back from their border positions, some of the massive sea change in the posture in northern Syria and at the same time, too, there have been reports of Turkish troops movement and that's not abnormal in a heavily fortified area.

The key point is the U.S. still controls the airspace over much of this area, and I have to stay, it would be tough to manage a major Turkish operation being conducted with less than agreeing entirely air force in the skies above them. The border issue though is a symbolism, an absolute death charge, frankly, to anyone's notion of American leadership here. The Syrian Kurds, well, they probably knew this was coming because Donald Trump tried to do it last year as well and was convinced down from it and they maybe getting close to a Syrian regime as a result, a potential ally for them there.

But no doubt here at all, I think anyone looking to see the U.S. as a stabilizing force here going forward in a very volatile post-civil war climb down area, that's out of the water. Volatile days if not weeks and months ahead.

Back to you.

ROMANS: And, Nick, correct me if I'm wrong, the Kurds, aren't they guarding ISIS prisoners in camps?

WALSH: Yes, this is the really important bit. ISIS has not been conclusively and finally defeated. There are tens of thousands of their supporters in a guard displacement camp and there are thousands of them in not so well-guarded facilities. The Syrian Kurds have been struggling to keep that under wraps and deal with an insurgent -- a resurgent ISIS, kind of fighters out in the sprawling desert.

The whole idea of them having to take their Syrian/Kurdish fighters and hold back the Turkish army absolutely jeopardizes the security of those prisoners and that's the big question. The White House statement suggested magically Turkey would somehow take control of all those prisoners. Very hard to see how they would do that given the prisons where they're being held as so far inside Syrian Kurdish territory, a really messy situation.

ROMANS: Sure is.

Nick Paton Walsh, so glad you're there in Istanbul, to help walk us through it. Thanks, Nick.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile new developments in the case of an American diplomats' wife who fled the U.K. after a wrong-way crash killed 19- year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging the U.S.'s decision to grant her diplomatic immunity. Johnson says he will ask President Trump personally to intervene if necessary. Boris Johnson identified the American driver as Anne Sacoolas.

Dunn's family says they are --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I do not think that it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose. And I hope that Anne Sacoolas will come back and will engage properly with the processes of laws that are carried out in this country.

(END VIDEO CLI)

BRIGGS: Dunn's family says they are delighted that the prime minister is committed to helping them. They say they will not rest until Sacoolas returns to the U.K. and faces justice.

Programming note, Harry Dunn's family will appear on "NEW DAY" in the 6:00 hour.

ROMANS: All right. A question about China's economic power versus free speech. More fallout over a deleted tweet from the Houston Rockets general manager. We're live from Beijing with the latest on the fallout just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:24:12]

BRIGGS: New fallout over a tweet by the Houston Rockets' general manager in support of the Hong Kong pro- democracy protests. Several Chinese businesses are cutting ties with the NBA team after Daryl Morey tweeted: Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.

Tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China have been fueled for months by political unrest.

David Culver is live for us in Beijing with the latest.

David, good morning. Very complicated relationship, the multibillion dollars deal for the NBA in China.

Good morning.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave, good morning to you.

This goes far beyond sports, far beyond the money. This is really hitting the geopolitical landscape and there are some strong undertones that we've got to get to. In fact, just in the past hour, some new developments I want to bring you up to speed on. The NBA commissioner Adam Silver in Japan a short time ago holding a press conference, essentially supporting Daryl Morey's right to free speech.

[04:25:07]

He's the Houston Rockets' GM, but not endorsing that tweet that he sent out.

I'm going to recap a little bit because a lot of moving parts over the weekend. That first tweet, it went out on Friday from Daryl Morey. And it posted an image that said: Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.

He started to feel the backlash, deleted that tweet, but the backlash continued here on mainland China. We saw CCTV, one of the largest broadcasters here, pull its subscription with them, decide not to air the games. We saw the Chinese Basketball Association sever its ties. That was fold by Tencent, one of the big tech companies saying they would no longer live stream the games.

And then we saw an apology come forward from the NBA. That apology was followed by an apology from Morey himself. He tweeted that out, too, and then backlash in the U.S.

U.S. lawmakers on both sides, we should point out, Dave, Republicans and Democrats, coming forward to say that the NBA sold out the Hong Kong people in exchange for profit. What have we seen in the past hour or so, well, after Silver made those comments saying that they endorse Morey's right to free speech but not the essence of his tweet, CCTV, again that Chinese broadcaster, said not other they going to airing the Rockets' games, but they're going to halt airing all preseason NBA games here in China, which is huge. That's a significant market.

And ultimately, this comes down to whether they're compromising and manipulating free speech and threatening profit in exchange, Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, that TV deal alone is worth a billion and a half dollars. That's not getting into the merchandising and other agreements. And LeBron James plays in China, he will have to weigh in. That will carry a lot of weight.

David, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker trolling China and at NBA after the latest episode of the show was banned by the Chinese government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARACTER: I can't even think with the Chinese government censoring everything I write.

CHARACTER: So there's not going to be a biopic movie for us?

CHARACTER: It's so wrong, you know? I mean, we live in a time where the only movies that us American kids go see are ones that are approved by China. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The "South Park" episode titled "Banned in China" was heavily critical of the growing influence that China has had over Hollywood and other American businesses.

Stone and Parker issued a tongue and cheek apology on Twitter saying: Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. We good now, China?

China has done this before in 2017 censors banned released the film of Christopher Robin after memes like Xi Jinping to Winnie the Poo became a way for Chinese people to mock their leader.

It really is literally a culture clash between a democracy and a capitalist system.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: And a communist-run, censored, state-controlled economy. They're very different. And the United States, these companies want to good there and make money, but --

BRIGGS: Not just money.

ROMANS: To go there and make money and to gain that audience --

BRIGGS: Billions.

ROMANS: -- you have to completely -- you have to completely give up your ideals, your democratic ideals.

BRIGGS: But this is an essential market. It's not like a small market that they're trying to make a few million dollars. This is an essential market for the growth of the NBA, billions of dollars at stake.

All right. We could talk about this for three hours, we will not.

A U.S. ambassador heading to Capitol Hill in just a few hours. He'll testify behind closed doors. Lawmakers set to grill him in the impeachment inquiry. What questions will he face? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END