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White House Declares War on Impeachment Probe; Turkey Deploys Tank Convoy to Syrian Border; NBA Commissioner Heads to China; California Gas Prices Hit Five-Year High. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 9, 2019 - 04:30   ET




DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House won't cooperate with House Democrats, calling their impeachment inquiry unconstitutional.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Turkey says it will launch a military operation in northern Syria shortly. America's allies, the Kurds, are asking now for international help.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.


BRIGGS: The NBA commissioner is on his way to shanghai. Adam Silver in the middle of America's free speech and Chinese economic power.

ROMANS: The judge presided over the trial of a Dallas cop convicted of murdering her neighbor speaking out about the hug that went viral which was not the video you just saw. Sorry about that. A little bit of a snafu.

But here we are. Half past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, 4:34 Eastern Time.

We start in the nation's capital. The White House declaring war against the House impeachment inquiry. White House counsel Pat Cipollone sending House Democrats a lengthy letter slamming them for not taking a formal vote to open impeachment proceedings. Cipollone says that is unfair because it denies the president and House Republicans investigative powers.

He writes, quote: President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.

ROMANS: The letter explains the White House decision to block Tuesday's highly anticipated closed-door testimony by ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland.


That order came literally an hour before Sondland, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal was set to speak on Capitol Hill.

And it's all part of the west wing's emerging strategy to handle the threat of impeachment.

More now from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is on a collision course with House Democrats over the impeachment inquiry.

The president's legal team has fired off a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refusing to cooperate with the investigation. The president is stoking those tensions, declaring he won't cooperate with what Republicans are calling a kangaroo court.

CNN has also confirmed the whistleblower at the center of inquiry wrote a memo describing a White House official who listened in on Mr. Trump's conversation with the Ukrainian president and characterizes that conversation as, quote, "crazy and frightening." The official was left, quote, "shaken" by what Mr. Trump was saying on the call.

And that is why House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff says they must get to the bottom of their investigation. Here's what he had to say.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.

ACOSTA: And senior administration officials held a conference call with reporters about the letter to the House speaker. Officials were asked on the call what Democrats would have to do in order to secure the cooperation of the White House in the impeachment inquiry. One administration official said the White House did not want to get into hypotheticals at this point, an indication the president is digging in his heels -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Jim Acosta there at the White House.

Nancy Pelosi is threatening the administration with consequences for obstructing the impeachment inquiry. The House speaker releasing a statement that reads: The White House should be warned the continued efforts to hide the truth of the president's abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. And now, House Democrats have issued a formal subpoena compelling Ambassador Sondland to turn over documents, and that has Democrats trying to toe a difficult line.

Manu Raju has more.



The Democrats have been arguing all along they don't need a vote to formalize an impeachment inquiry. Nancy Pelosi said she's not going to be pressured by the president to hold a vote. She also has some practical and political realities to deal with the situation.

Practically, it could take up a lot of time. It's difficult to draft resolution like this. It would require a lot of consensus. It could be distraction. It could give the Republicans an opening to argue that they should have subpoena power. That's something past impeachment inquiries, the minority party has been allowed to have subpoena power. They say they should be able to do that, something the Democrats, of course, would almost certainly not allow.

It would also, politically, put Democrats in a difficult position back home, particularly ones who represent districts that Trump carried back in 2016. Now, this all comes amid this push to bring in more witnesses in front of these House committees.

There are questions about whether more witnesses will be blocked from attending after Ambassador Sondland did not appear yesterday. Will others not appear as well? Democrats warning they will essentially roll all of that into an article of impeachment against this president for obstructing Congress and abusing power if he does not comply.

So, we'll see where this ends up. At the moment, Democrats will not get the evidence they're looking for. Even some Democrats say they already have all the evidence they need -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Manu, thanks.

Gordon Sondland is emerging as a key figure on two fronts. He's referred to in the whistle-blower report and his aid regarding the military. There's one where concern is expressed about with holding aid in exchange for political help. You may recall it was nearly five hours before Sondland replied. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind.

ROMANS: So, CNN has now learned why it took Sondland so long to reply. It's because he personally called President Trump to find out what was going on and according to a source with knowledge, the president empathically told him, no quid pro quo.

BRIGGS: Facebook is denying a request from a Biden campaign to take down an ad from the Trump campaign, accusing the former vice president of corruption. The company says the decision is grounded in Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.

Facebook says it does not send political ads to third party fact checkers. The Biden campaign says the decision is acceptable and calls the ad objectively false.


We should note, CNN has refused the air that ad.

ROMANS: Another social media is apologizing for mishandling users information, this time it is Twitter. Twitter said it inadvertently used phone numbers and email addresses its users provided for account security to target ads. In a blog post, the company said, we cannot say with certainty how many people were impacted by this but in an effort to be transparent, we want to make everyone aware.

This is the most recent instance of social media using phone numbers for advertising. In July, the Federal Trade Commission said Facebook broke the law when it engaged in a similar practice and later fined it $5 billion. Twitter said no personal data was shared externally.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, the NBA commissioner is headed to China as China cuts ties with the Houston Rockets over that deleted tweet about the Hong Kong protesters. The latest, next.



BRIGGS: Four-fifteen Eastern Time.

As Turkey threatens a planned military incursion into northeastern Syria, Kurdish-led forces say ISIS sleeper cells are attacking Kurdish positions in Raqqa. The Kurds are calling on the U.S.-led coalition and the international community to implement a no- fly zone over northern Syria.

As violence rages, President Trump tweeted that, in no way have we abandoned the Kurds who are special people and wonderful fighters.

Nick Paton Walsh live for us at the Turkish Syrian border.

Nick, any movement here?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have seen intermittently the military moving around here, some unmarked SUVs driving along the border here, in fact, military moved back a few meters away from the wall.

Look, there's clearly something slowly being prepared here. The broader question is how extensive it is and how quickly will it begin, and whether or not they the at times threatening signals from Washington, D.C. have changed the calculus of Turkish President Erdogan, and he very clearly I'm sure with green light during that Sunday night phone call with the White House. The White House released a statement seeming to offer a blank check.

The Kurds were called great fighters by President Trump and said they weren't being threatened. Turkey has been threatened with obliteration by the United States if they did not keep within the sort of invisible lines Donald Trump has set for this potential forthcoming Turkish operation.

But the broader question I think, is it going to happen? And if it does, how extensive will it be.

Behind me is Tal Abyad, one of the towns that the U.S. forces withdrew from recently and expected to be one of the target towns for a target operation. It looks exceptionally quiet from where we are standing apart interest the sort of hubbub growing on this side of the border. The last time I was here, ISIS held it. Now it's held by the Syrian Kurds.

Is the Turkish ambition at this point limited to taking some border populated areas, a small area, to make a point, to sort of harvest the symbolism of the conversation with the White House on Sunday? Do they intend to go all the way in? About 18 kilometers as suggested by Erdogan? It's unclear, but something appears to be brewing in the days ahead.

Back to you.

BRIGGS: Yes, how far will they go? How far will the president allow them?

Nick Paton Walsh, live for us at the border there, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is headed to China after defending Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Friday night. Morey tweeted, then deleted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chinese state TV responded to the tweet by canceling broadcasts of two preseason games. Chinese businesses, state-owned businesses started cutting ties to the Rockets.

Silver clarified the NBA's position yesterday.


SILVER: 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. We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.


ROMANS: The rockets had practice in Tokyo today.

CNN's Alex Thomas is there live with the latest developments

He said, they'll have to live with those consequences. Alex, most companies, they just cave. They don't want to live with the consequences. They see a huge Chinese market and they do whatever they tell them. Adam Silver is an outlier here.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: He didn't want to tread the middle ground. He tried that and failed. He was getting as much criticism from the United States as he was from China, saying, look, freedom of expression is an essential to everything it means to be an American.

And he admitted here in Japan, when speaking yesterday, they are an American league, even though the NBA has a huge global presence especially in China where it's getting rather chaotic. In the last hour, we heard that the scheduled media available for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets who are due to play two preseason games there on Thursday night and on Saturday night was canceled minutes before it's due to start, no explanation from the media officials, and the press has been left bemused over it all.

You talk about Chinese businesses suspending dealings with the Houston Rockets. It was the general manager Daryl Morey who posted the tweet now deleted last week. We have posters from the games starting to be taken down.


Probably a real question mark as to whether these preseason games in China are going to go ahead at all even though Adam Silver is now in China trying to placate, smooth over the whole row. And it's caused all around the Hong Kong protests. Beijing officials see the protesters there separatists, trying to get Hong Kong to break away from mainland China. Whereas, actually, the protesters have many faceless leaders with different aims, none of it is independence. It's not going away any time soon.

ROMANS: No, it's not. All right. Alex, thank you so much for that.

You know, whether it's airlines, or retailers, or hotel companies, they have all caved, caved, caved for this big market. So watching Adam Silver very closely to see how basketball --

BRIGGS: A $4 billion relationship with the NBA.

ROMANS: All right. Drivers in California paying way more at the pump than most of the country. What's happening in California? CNN Business has the details why the prices have spiked. That's next.



BRIGGS: Dallas police have arrested two of the three suspects in the death of Joshua Brown. Brown was a witness in the trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger who was convicted of murdering her upstairs neighbors.

Police say Jacaris Mitchell (ph) and Michael Mitchell are both in custody. A third suspect, Thaddeus Green (ph), is still at large. Officials claim Brown's death stemmed from a drug deal gone wrong, contrary to unfounded accusations.


ASST. CHIEF AVERY MOORE, DALLAS POLICE: There has been speculation and rumors that have been shared by community leaders, claiming that Mr. Brown's death was related to the Amber Guyger trial and somehow the Dallas police department was responsible. I assure you, that is simply not true.


BRIGGS: Joshua brown's statement releasing a statement urging Dallas police to turn the murder investigation over to another department or agency because of those rumors.

ROMANS: The judge who presided over the trial has come under some criticism for hugging Guyger and giving her a Bible. Our Ed Lavandera was able to talk to the judge about that moment.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we sat down with Judge Tammy Kemp, who presided over the Amber Guyger trial for a wide- ranging conversation about the dramatic moments that unfolded in the courtroom at the end of that trial that so many people have been talking about. The hugs kind of felt around the world, if you will.

And we talked about Botham Jean's younger brother, Brandt who forgave and expressed love for Amber Guyger, the woman who had just been convicted of killing his older brother and talked about the compassion there and how it was a moment that almost didn't happen.

Judge Kemp told us that she wasn't necessarily inclined to allow that to happen. There are rules in place to keep victims' family members from having any kind of contact with defendants, but, it was the tone in the young man's voice that told her that he needed this moment.

JUDGE TAMMY KEMP, DALLAS COUNTY DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: I couldn't look at him, I couldn't say "no." And so I said "yes".

LAVANDERA: Knowing that that's something that's not allowed? Typically not allowed.

KEMP: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I thought Mr. Jean needed that. And when Ms. Guyger ran to him, I understood that she needed it, too.

LAVANDERA: And, of course, Judge Kemp has come under a great deal of fire and criticism for then after she had hugged Botham Jean's family, for also extending that hug and compassion to Amber Guyger. Many critics say it was a situation that was not called for inside this courtroom. The judge gave Amber Guyger a bible.

And she talked about that criticism. And we asked her, what does she say to those people who criticizer?

KEMP: There's a couple of things I would say. First of all, you saw Amber Guyger from behind. All you ever saw was a petite woman come into a courtroom and sitting stoically and very still throughout a horrific trial.

And you heard about horrific acts that she had committed. But I watched her from the front and I saw the change in her during the course of trial.

LAVANDERA: Judge Kemp told us she's been overwhelmed by the reaction and is really just now started to process what everyone has been saying. Her desk is stacked with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and letters. People have been mailing her Bibles. So she says she's just now starting to get to the point where she can process the dramatic moments that unfolded in her courtroom -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: Ed Lavandera, thank you for that.

Let's get a check on CNN business this Wednesday morning, and take a look at markets around the world. European shares have opened higher, but Asian markets either flat or down.

On Wall Street, looking at a little bit of a bounce back here today, because stocks were down yesterday on trade tensions between the U.S. and China. The Dow closed 314 points lower, more than 1 percent. The S&P 500 fell 1.6 percent. The Nasdaq even worse.

Investors are also paying attention to moves from the Federal Reserve during a press conference Tuesday. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said policy makers will return to short-term lending problems facing markets.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: My colleagues and I will soon announce measures to add to the supply of reserves over time.


ROMANS: So what does that mean? He didn't go into specifics about the plans, but it means buying back short-term treasury bills to make sure the short-term lending market doesn't ease up as it has in the past few weeks.

Pain at the pump for drivers in California. Gas prices almost double what Americans elsewhere are paying to fill up. AAA reports the average price of regular in California now $4.18 a gallon, the highest price since May 2014.