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NBA Commissioner Speaks Out On China Controversy; President Trump Defends Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Syria; House Committees Will Question Ambassador to European Union. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 05:30   ET



ADAM SILVER, COMMISSIONER, NBA: We will have to live with those consequences.

It's my hope that for our Chinese fans and our partners in China they will see those remarks in the context of now a three-decade, if not longer, relationship.

And that we've done in partnership with the Chinese Basketball Association, the Department of Education, and many different businesses in China, I feel an enormous amount, to build the support, to work in communities, to focus on healthy lifestyles, and that's where we find ourselves. But that as a league, we are not willing to compromise those values.

And, again, I'm sympathetic to our interests here and to our partners who are upset. And I don't think it's inconsistent, on the one hand, to be sympathetic to them and at the same time, stand by our principles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. Can we stay second row on the right?


And just to follow-up on the China situation. So there's some news that the state broadcaster will not be airing some exhibition games and Tencent has said it will temporarily not broadcast Houston Rockets games.

What is the league doing to deal with that situation?

SILVER: The -- part of the reason I issued the statement I did is because this afternoon, CCTV announced that because of my remarks supporting Daryl Morey's freedom of expression -- not the substance of his statement, but his freedom of expression -- they were no longer going to air the Lakers-Nets preseason games that are scheduled for later this week.

Again, it's not something we expected to happen. I think it's unfortunate. But if that's -- those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it's critically important we adhere to those values.

My plan all along has been to travel to Shanghai tomorrow and I plan to attend the Lakers-Nets game Thursday night. It's my hope that when I'm in Shanghai I can meet with the appropriate officials and discuss where we stand and, again, put those remarks from Daryl Morey and my remarks in an appropriate context of many decades-long relationship and see if we can find mutual respect for each other's political systems and beliefs. But I'm a realist as well and I recognize that this is -- this issue may not die down so quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The girl on the left.

TIM NOONAN, SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST: Commissioner, Tim Noonan from "South China Morning Post" in Hong Kong.

As you know, your regional office has been there almost 30 years and you have 60 employees. And the current culture of companies, like Cafe Pacific, where Beijing has insisted --

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: NBA commissioner Adam Silvers speaking in Tokyo about the controversy between the NBA and China, saying, in a sense, they are not willing to compromise their values. They support freedom of expression of Daryl Morey. His freedom of speech has consequences that they are willing to accept. And, Silvers saying it may not die down quickly, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: There are those who call this an authoritarian straddle. You've got one foot in the United States and American democratic values in another in a big lucrative market.

Look, China's coveted consumer market comes with some big moral concessions --


ROMANS: -- for American companies. And if history is a guide, companies make those concessions.

The airline industry changed its dropdown menu so that the Taiwan flag or that Taiwan was not its own country because that angered the Chinese. Even a Taiwan emoji on a keyboard -- people -- tech companies are careful not to use those because they don't want to anger the Chinese.

BRIGGS: Hollywood also making concessions here.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: But look, LeBron James will be in China today. He will have to walk that very thin line that Adam Silver is, not really taking on the substance of the now-deleted tweet from Daryl Morey, but again, suggesting that they support all their organization's freedom speech and freedom of expression. It is a very thin line walk.

More people watch the NBA finals decisive game in China than here in the United States. This is a massive market -- a $1.5 billion T.V. deal. That's just one of many business consequences.

ROMANS: It ties into another business story today with -- the Commerce Department put 28 different Chinese companies on a blacklist. Companies that were buying American surveillance technologies to surveil on Muslim minorities.


You know, the U.S. government stepping in and saying hey, wait, we're not going to let you use American business to move.

Let's listen. He's commenting again -- Adam Silver is commenting again on the tweet.

BRIGGS: On the deleted tweet.

ROMANS: Let's listen.

SILVER: -- for differing society's approaches, tolerance for differing points of view, and the ability to listen.

And certainly, I don't come here sort of -- either as the commissioner of the NBA as an American, certainly to tell others how they should run their government. I think at the end of the day, though, I am an American and there are these values that are deeply rooted in the DNA of the NBA, and that includes freedom of expression for our employees.

And I'm hoping that together, Yao Ming and I can find an accommodation. But he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, I think we have a question -- sorry -- yes, on the third row on the right.

(INAUDIBLE): Do you have any additional plans to cancel or change any events related to China or in China?

SILVER: We have no plans to cancel any other events, but one of our NBA Cares events that was scheduled in Shanghai has been canceled.

Incidentally, we are still going to go forward with the community outreach. And in this community center, we made a commitment for new computers and new facilities. So we, of course, will still provide them.

What has been canceled is more of a ceremonial event, but -- and again, I accept that. But, so far, no other events have been canceled and it's our hope that no other events will be canceled.

And as I said, that we can work with our longtime partners and find an accommodation recognizing we have two differences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the back -- the last row in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

BRIGGS: Commissioner Adam Silver, again, in Tokyo, says he does not come here to tell government how to run themselves.

Addressing that Yao Ming, the Hall of Famer who played for the Houston Rockets, is massively popular there. He is the reason the Rockets are the second-most popular NBA team in China behind the Golden State Warriors. He says Yao Ming is hot. They are going to try and find common ground on this.

I'm not sure there is that, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. You know, the flashpoint more recently has been Taiwan. China considers that a part of Mainland China. The Taiwanese consider their self independent.

And big companies who consider putting a Taiwanese flag, for example -- they could lose business deals in China. And usually, China wins out when it's business -- international business versus China.

BRIGGS: And the trouble with this one now-deleted tweet from Daryl Morey expressing support for the Hong Kong protesters is now everyone has to weigh in on the subject, from the commissioner to LeBron James to every popular player in the NBA who sells shoes and jerseys in that country.

This story far from over, folks.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, 38 minutes past the hour.

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 everywhere, 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 like Senators McConnell and Lindsey Graham, who are usually the president's strongest defenders.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Istanbul with the latest on how U.S. actions and reactions are being perceived. And there are those who say that over the course of the 15 years or so of America's interactions in the Middle East, the most -- the most loyal partners have been the Kurds.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, in the last four years or so when that key fight against ISIS in Northeastern Syria, absolutely. And, of course, they've lost 10,000 or so sons and daughters in that fight.


I think it's fair to say, though, Donald Trump, the man who said he would never telegraph his foreign policy moves, has extensively telegraphed the fact that he wanted U.S. troops out. He tried to do it in December last year. He found his sort of security cabal around him convinced him out of it.

Now, he appears to have had a late-night Sunday phone call with his Turkish counterpart, President Erdogan, in which he seems to have given not quite carte blanche but a pretty substantial amount of leeway and then pulled it back, roughly, in the next 24 hours or so, making that comment that if in his great and unmatched wisdom the Turkish did something that wasn't to his liking, he would obliterate their economy.

And it's startling that we say these words with such casual intonation, so part of the normal rhetoric here of geopolitics.

But what has it meant, practically? Well, Donald Trump pains to say that there are 50 or so potential troops affected by this. His officials saying maybe two dozen have pulled back from their border posts between Syria and Turkey.

But still, the airspace above the Syrian Kurdish area that is potentially the Turkish target there is controlled by the U.S. It would be difficult to imagine the Turkish military moving in with a not necessarily consenting air force above them in Northern Syria.

On top of that, the Turkish military have said that all preparations are complete for an operation but we haven't seen them move into Syrian Kurdish areas just yet. Is this a slow process? Has Donald Trump's rhetoric -- yes, they -- an extraordinary wave of criticism of that decision, in fact, changed his mind? Have there been backchannel signals to Turkish to perhaps slow down what they're planning here?

Make no mistake, the Turkish have wanted this for a long time. They appear to have gotten the biggest kind of green light they could have expected from the highest levels yesterday.

The Syrian Kurds have probably known this was coming. They're most likely picking up the phone to their erstwhile allies before ISIS fight began in Damascus that Moscow is backing.

We're in a very volatile moment here with turbulent weeks and months ahead. Back to you.

ROMANS: I will say. And the president says he was elected by saying he was going to get out of foreign adventures and that's exactly what he's doing. But the men and women who advise him say this is breaking promises and that sends a terrible message to America's allies.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that in Istanbul.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead here, lawmakers will hear from a key figure at the center of the Ukraine scandal in just hours. What will they ask and how will it play into the Democrats' impeachment inquiry? That's next.



ROMANS: All right.

Later today, a key figure in the Ukraine scandal set to testify behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. The deposition by Ambassador Gordon Sondland is only the latest move from House Democrats who are expanding the impeachment probe with new requests for the Trump administration.

Let's bring in CNN POLITICS reporter Jeremy Herb. Nice to see you this morning.

What are we expecting --


ROMANS: -- today from Ambassador Sondland? You know, in that whistleblower complaint, he is named like this. "Ambassadors Volker" -- that's Kurt Volker -- "and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to navigate the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky."

What are we expecting to hear?

HERB: Yes, this is going to be one of the potentially more interesting witnesses that House Democrats bring in as part of this impeachment investigation.

As you said, Ambassador Sondland was part of some of these key conversations surrounding the July 25th phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, where President Trump urged the Ukrainians to take up this investigation, potentially, into the Bidens.

Now, Sondland is on these text messages talking with Mr. Volker about drafting a statement for the Ukrainians to announce an investigation that's linked to the Ukrainian's desire to have a one-on-one meeting between the president -- the two presidents.

He's also shown discussing whether the investigation was tied to security aid, which is another one of the Democrats' interests in trying to figure out exactly what went on -- what we saw yesterday, as you mentioned. New subpoenas tied to what exactly was going on behind the scenes at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget tied to this security aid. BRIGGS: Republican criticism of the Ukraine call or even publicly asking for China's help has been -- let's just call it muted. But there have been a few -- Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins.


BRIGGS: And here's what Rob Portman of Ohio said. "The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It's not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government with an investigation of a political opponent."

Is that the tightrope that Republicans will walk moving forward? Yes, it was wrong but no, it is not impeachable.

HERB: Yes. You know, I think senators like Rob Portman -- you know, they're some of the more moderate senators.


HERB: And if the House does impeach the president it will be these senators that hear this as a trial in the Senate.

And, yes, I think we've heard from some members. Congressman Mike Turner, also of Ohio on the Intelligence Committee -- he's a Republican who said that this was wrong but it wasn't necessarily an impeachable offense.

A lot of other senators -- you know, CNN has reached to dozens of Republicans and we haven't heard back. Congress comes back next week so it will be interesting to see what these guys say when they are in Washington and having to face these questions.

I will note we heard a much stronger criticism from Republicans when it came to the president's decision on Syria yesterday --


HERB: -- than we've heard on Ukraine.

ROMANS: Yes, it's been crickets on Ukraine or in asking China to investigate the Bidens.

But you did hear from -- for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is a friend and supporter of the president. This is what he did. He called into "FOX & FRIENDS," one of the president's favorite echo chambers, and this is what he said.


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.


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



ROMANS: Well, that is as clear as a direct message to the president as I think he could give.

HERB: Yes, and obviously, this is one of the president's biggest defenders on Russia, on Ukraine. But clearly, Sen. Graham feels that this is a wrong decision and he's -- it's a -- it really is a bipartisan feeling up on Capitol Hill that he president is making a mistake here.

And again, this is one of those cases where the president's foreign policy does not align with his Republican allies who are more hawkish. You know, the president campaigned on getting out of these wars.

And we'll see whether Sen. Graham can persuade the president to maybe have a change of heart -- something we've seen in the past. At the moment, though, it doesn't seem like that's likely.

BRIGGS: Yes. Not insignificant, though, that Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and the person some view as the future of the party, said leaving them -- the Kurds to die is a big mistake. So those were some strong words from Nikki Haley.

Jeremy Herb, good to see you, sir. Thank you.

HERB: Yes.

ROMANS: To say nothing of the ISIS fighters who are -- 10,000 of them in --

BRIGGS: Ten thousand-plus who could be set free.

ROMANS: -- barely -- right. That's a -- that's a problem. All right.

One week from tomorrow, what could be a make or break moment in the 2020 race. The fourth Democratic presidential debate live on CNN from the battleground state of Ohio. Will one candidate break away? Find out on the CNN and "New York Times" Democratic presidential debate, Tuesday, October 15th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll be right back.


BRIGGS: NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaking in length about Chinese businesses cutting ties with the Houston Rockets, the result of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong." Here is the commissioner.


SILVER: We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression. I regret, again, having communicated directly with many friends in China, that so many people are upset, including millions and millions of our fans. I mean, it --


BRIGGS: CNN's David Culver live in Beijing with what this all means. David, good morning.


Hundreds of millions of fans if we are to add up on what NBA commissioner Adam Silver was saying there. That press conference still underway in our region. It's happening in Tokyo.

And the bigger part of this is his standing by freedom of expression throughout that press conference. And he says they don't endorse what Daryl Morey put out in that tweet but they certainly respect his right to have tweeted that.

The fallout has been huge and, of course, you can look at the economic fallout. But really, the underlying tone here is a geopolitical one -- one that pins freedom of speech right up against profit. That's what we're seeing play out.

There's been a firestorm that started with that tweet that came here in Mainland China and it has spread after the NBA's initial apology on Monday that spread in the U.S. with lawmakers on both sides saying the NBA should not be apologizing, calling it shameful.

What the NBA is now saying through Adam Silver this morning is that they are not endorsing what was said but the permission to express yourself. They said that's part of the tenets that the NBA has always stood by.

Now, they also acknowledge there are consequences to this and they're trying to clean it up because it's a mess right now.

CCTV, the large broadcaster here in China, has said not only are they going to stop broadcasting the Rockets games, but just a short time ago they announced they're going to stop broadcasting all preseason NBA games -- the exhibition games.

Tencent, the livestreaming tech company that does all the live broadcasts via the Internet, they're going to halt all preseason NBA games as well.

You're seeing retailers -- online retailers -- Tombow, Think of your Amazons. That's the equivalent here. They have pulled of Rockets' merchandise from their Website. You search it and nothing comes up right now.

So they're admitting -- the NBA is that this is going to take time. Adam Silver saying this is not going to be repaired quickly. It's a healing process.

To add to that healing process or at least perhaps enhance it a bit, he's coming to Shanghai tomorrow ahead of Thursday's game, and he wants to be here. He wants to meet with Chinese officials to see if they can find some sort of common ground.

BRIGGS: This is a huge story and as Adam Silver said this morning, it will not go away anytime soon.

David, thank you.

The owner of the Brooklyn Nets, also the co-founder of Chinese e- commerce giant Alibaba, he also said that one tweet will take a long time to repair. And he is right smack-dab in the middle of this thing.

ROMANS: This is -- this is not just a basketball story.


ROMANS: This is a story about --

BRIGGS: Politics, business, foreign policy.

ROMANS: -- a culture clash for business, absolutely. I mean, look, airlines have already dealt with this. Usually, the flashpoint if Taiwan. Airlines had to change their dropdown menu so that Taiwan wasn't separate because that angered the Chinese -- Central Committee.

And even Apple recently. Apple took the Taiwan emoji of its keyboard, if you are in Hong Kong or Macau, to keep the Chinese happy. So, American business, if history is a guide, is very quick to leave democracy behind and make the changes it needs to keep the censors happy.

BRIGGS: Quick note, Rick Scott and other Republicans very critical of the NBA. The President of the United States has not spoken out in support of the Hong Kong protesters.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: Context matters.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Here's "NEW DAY."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, is testifying to Congress. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He was heavily involved in the run-up of this call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he's doing here is he's carrying the president's brief here.

GRAHAM: There is no quid pro quo here.

TRUMP: But we've been in Syria for a long time. We have to bring our people back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now to say this is an endless war, I just have to vehemently disagree.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's fair to say troops on the ground -