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Impeachment Inquiry "Push on All Fronts"; Trump Bipartisan Criticism Over Syria Decision; Chinese Businesses Cut Ties with Houston Rockets; NBA Commissioner Speaks Out on China Controversy. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, 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?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump defending his decision to let Turkey invade northern Syria.

We're looking at Daryl Morey there. The Houston Rockets GM. We'll talk about that story as well.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: A really big deal between the NBA future growth, two countries, the second-biggest economy in the world, massive.

ROMANS: Yes, China businesses suspending ties with the Houston Rockets over that supportive tweet for Hong Kong protesters.


ROMANS: Do you want to -- new markets are profit? Or do you want American values?

BRIGGS: Not just profit, billions of dollars. LeBron James the face of the NBA in China today.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Tuesday, October 8th, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start in the nation's capital. The big day ahead in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry prompted by a whistleblower's accusation that President Trump pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Biden family in exchange for military aid.

ROMANS: 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 whistle-blower whistle-blower's complaint and gained even more attention for his role in text messages released by the House Democrats.

BRIGGS: In the 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.



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.


ROMANS: All right. Manu, thank you so much for that.

President Trump's tax returns are a step closer to landing in front of a New York grand jury. A federal judge dismissing the president's lawsuit seeking to block a subpoena filed by the Manhattan district attorney. The judge rejected Mr. Trump's effort to keep his returns under wraps saying he was making a, quote, categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity. A federal appeals court immediately granted a temporary stay until he completes an expedited review.

Even if the president's taxes are handed over in the end, they will be covered by grand jury secrecy rules. They would likely only become public if they were used as evidence at a trial.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, President Trump saying he's not siding with dictators by removing American troops from Syria. Members of his own party are saying he's leaving allies high and dry. We're live in the Middle East, next.



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

But the president standing by his decision.


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.


ROMANS: Dozens of other Republicans have spoken out against withdrawal from Syria, including those who are usually the president's strongest defenders or are silent on other matters.

Here's Senator Lindsey Graham calling into the president's favorite Fox show.


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. [05:10:06]

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.


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


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


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.


BRIGGS: All right. Kaitlan, thanks.

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.

Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Istanbul.

Nick, are you seeing any movement at this hour?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Crucially, the only movement that's been publicly made clear is the probably two dozen U.S. troops moved back from border positions, 50 to 100 troops affected by the decision. Obviously, if all U.S. troops pulled out, we could be talking up to 1,000. There's no sign of that yet. Small border movements at this stage.

Crucially, the Turkish military have not moved into northern Syria, although the Kurdish-held parts at this point, and more importantly, the U.S. controls air space over it. So, it's potentially days off. Hard to tell what President Erdogan divined from his late Sunday phone call with President Donald Trump.

Clearly, in the hours after that, even though U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on the phone call at that time, Donald Trump felt the overwhelming criticism around him meant he had to issue that tweet saying if President Erdogan violated the invisible lines he'd drawn in his head and he deemed, quote, in his great and unmatched wisdom that some transgression had occurred, then they would obliterate Turkey economically.

So, I'm sure Ankara a little confused but most likely emboldened by that phone call essentially saying, we're OK with you moving in and we're going to get our guys out of the way. That's the core of the White House message.

How fast Turkey moves, unclear. If you're the Syrian Kurds, you've lost 10,000 of your sons and daughters fighting ISIS in the past years. You probably knew the Americans weren't going to stay forever. And you even saw Donald Trump late last year try and pull this off and get told by a security cabinet it was a bad idea.

But you are aware that the Syrian regime and its Moscow backers are nearby. You are allies with them in the past, you might be reaching out to them, unclear at this stage.

But a very volatile 24 hours, and U.S. leadership really taking a belly punch here -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Istanbul where the president has two Trump Towers. Thanks, Nick.

ROMANS: All right. Just days before trade talks resume in Washington, 28 Chinese companies added to a U.S. blacklist over their alleged role in human rights violations in camps in a remote northwest region of China. These are camps where the Chinese are accused of using U.S. technology to round up and mistreat the Muslim Uyghur minority.


Now on the list are two of the world's largest manufacturers of video surveillance products and leading digital forensics firm. They are essentially barred from buying U.S. products or importing American technology. "The New York Times" reports a Commerce Department spokesman said the move was not related to trade talks.

Chinese authorities did not respond to the announcement but Chinese officials have defended the crackdown as tackling extremism.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, we'll talk sports, New York Yankees and the postseason, continues to be an absolute nightmare for the Minnesota Twins. The Bronx bombers continue the sweep and move on to the ALCS.

Andy Scholes with that story in "The Bleacher Report."



ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: -- Toronto Raptors for making the trip here to Tokyo. Their entire organizations have come, have had the opportunity to spend about four days in the market already, and overall, they'll have been here for close to a week.

And I know we're often asked about preseason versus regular season games. But one thing I love about coming here in the preseason is that it gives our teams an opportunity to experience the community, in addition to playing two games, having a fan night, and also getting a taste of the town. They have many of their family members with them, so they really get to experience Japan.

I'd also like to thank Mickey Mikitani and Rakuten for being our hosts and their tremendous coverage of the NBA. One quick story about Mickey Mikitani. I met him a few years ago and he told me that he had grown up as a huge basketball fan here in Japan and wondered why there had been such a gap since we had had NBA games here in market. And I said, well, all we needed was a great partner like Rakuten --

BRIGGS: OK. We're going to continue to monitor Commissioner Silver there in Tokyo. At some point, we assume he will address the situation regarding Daryl Morey's deleted tweet and their support for China. Expect the commissioner to somehow suggest they support free speech, support democracy, but also support the NBA's growth in China, walking a very thin line.

We'll have his remarks as they come in.

But we move on to some baseball now. The Yankees had the brooms out last night, sweeping the Twins to advance to the American League Championship Series.

Andy Scholes here with "The Bleacher Report."

Good morning, my friend.


The Yankees' dominance of the Twins, it continued last night. They've now beaten Minnesota in 13 straight postseason games. The poor Twins, they have lost a record 16 in a row in the playoffs. The Minnesota fans, they were just hoping to finally see a win last night.

But the optimism dwindled quickly. The Yankees Gleyber Torres going deep in the second inning to give New York the lead, and they never give it up. Aroldis Chapman strikes out Nelson Cruz to end the game. Yankees win 5-1 and the celebration was on in the clubhouse. Yankees back in the ALCS after a one-year absence. They await the winner between the Astros and Rays. Tampa forcing a game four of that series tonight.

Braves and Cardinals meanwhile played another thriller in their series. Yadier Molina coming through with a single to right that would tie the game. Molina, one of two players left in that Cardinals championship game in 2011, and he's just got that postseason clutch game. Molina coming through again in the tenth with a Wolkoff sacrifice fly.

St. Louis would beat the Braves in this one 5-4 to force a winner take all game five tomorrow. You can see that on TBS starting at 5:00 Eastern. Dodgers/Nationals will follow that one. They also play a winner take all game five.

Ryan Zimmerman hitting a big three-run home run in the fifth last night for Washington. The Nationals able to stay alive in that series with the 6-1 win over the Dodgers.

The 49ers looking to stay undefeated hosting the Browns on Monday Night Football. Richard Sherman telling's Mike Silver, angry, a little pumped up before the game, because Baker Mayfield wouldn't shake hands before the coin flip. First play of offense for the Niners, Matt Breida takes it 83 yards for the score. Watch him wave good-bye to the Browns defenders on his way in.

Baker Mayfield, he had another night to forget. He gets sacked by Nick Bosa. Bosa with the planting of the five celebration, a little revenge for when he was on Ohio State's team and Baker did that in Columbus after winning the game for the Sooners.

And Baker, eight passes he completed in this one. He had a quarterback rating of just 13. Really bad night for him. San Francisco 4-0 with the 31-3 win. All right. The NBA's new number one attraction making his preseason

debut last night in Atlanta, Zion Williamson making a little girl so happy she was in tears, so cool to see. Zion a fan favorite.

I'll tell you what, e was as advertised, throwing down some high- flying dunks in this one.


If you're only going to go to a few NBA games this season, circle the Pelicans on the calendar, because, man, Zion is one impressive guy to watch.

BRIGGS: Yes, man. That's going to be a stimulus package everywhere he goes, they're going to be selling out arenas.

Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Romans, what's coming up?

ROMANS: All right. Dave, U.S. ambassador heading to Capitol Hill in a few hours, he'll testify behind closed doors. Lawmakers set to grill him in the impeachment inquiry. What questions will he face? That's next.


BRIGGS: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressing the controversy between Daryl Morey and a tweet supporting the Hong Kong protests in their biggest market in China.

SILVER: Because I thought there was a lot of misunderstanding out there about our position. I thought we had been somewhat straightforward, but I can understand, given translations and given interpretations in different parts of the world, why there might have been some confusion.

And essentially what I've said in that statement is the long-held values of the NBA are to support freedom of expression and certainly freedom of expression by members of the NBA community. And in this case, Daryl Morey as general manager of the Houston rockets enjoys that right as one of our employees.

What I also try to suggest is I understand that there are consequences from that exercise of, in essence, his freedom of speech. And, you know, we will have to live with those consequences.

It's my hope that for our Chinese fans and our partners in China --