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Gordon Sondland to Testify in Impeachment Probe; Dems Claim Trump Melted Down at White House Meeting; VP Pence and Secretary Pompeo Lead U.S. Delegation to Turkey. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: His text messages are at the heart of the impeachment probe. The ambassador to the E.U. testifying behind closed doors today.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It was a meltdown, sad to say.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He called her a third-rate politician.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Tensions boil over at the White House. Democrats walk out after the president unleashes his fury.

BRIGGS: "Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool." An incredible letter from the president to his Turkish counterpart who didn't seem to care so much.

ROMANS: A remarkable rescue. A car stuck on the tracks. An officer jumps in with literally no time to spare.

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

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs, Thursday, October 17th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

Just hours from now, the ambassador at the center of the impeachment inquiry will be testifying under subpoena on Capitol Hill. Gordon Sondland, who you see there, was supposed to show up last week but he was blocked by the State Department. Now remember it was Sondland who texted a special envoy to Ukraine that President Trump, quote, "really wants the deliverable," that suggested a link if Ukraine investigates Joe Biden and his son the White House will set up a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian president.

ROMANS: Sondland also texted the acting ambassador to Ukraine that he didn't think there was a quid pro quo being demanded for the president to release security aid to Ukraine. "The Washington Post" has reported that the gist of that text was given to Sondland by the president, himself. The "Post" says Sondland plans to tell lawmakers he has no knowledge whether the president was telling the truth.

BRIGGS: Now a source telling CNN Sondland claims he did not understand at the time the president wanted an investigation into the Bidens and the source says Sondland is pushing back on the idea White House National Security advisers were alarmed about a possible quid pro quo.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with more.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine. Now, a key moment will come later today in this impeachment inquiry when Gordon Sondland, the current ambassador to the European Union for the United States, does come and testify. His role and all of the matter involving that phone call with President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, where President Trump urged the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.

His role in all of this has come to light in various testimony and text messages and the like, and concerns that some people have raised about the role that he played in essentially trying to facilitate in the view of some folks this effort to investigate the Bidens, start to work with the president, work with Rudy Giuliani.

Now he's not the only person who is facing a lot of questions. One person, Michael McKinley, came behind closed doors yesterday. He's a former top State Department adviser. Now I am told, according to his testimony in the room, that he raised some serious concerns with Mike Pompeo, the current secretary of State, because Pompeo did not defend, did not offer any support for the ousted ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch of course had been targeted by Giuliani and associates. Also by the president himself. Democrats are concerned that she was removed from that post because she was not onboard with the push to investigate the Bidens. Now after today's testimony, when Sondland testifies, expect some other key witnesses to come forward, including Bill Taylor, who is the current top diplomat in Ukraine. Someone, according to text messages, had raised concerns about whether there was any quid pro quo about withholding military for Ukraine.

All of this should come to light, as Democrats weigh how hard to go on impeachment and whether to wrap this up in the coming weeks -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Manu Raju. Thank you for that.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell previewed how he would conduct an impeachment trial in a closed-door lunch yesterday. McConnell answered Republican Senators' questions about rules governing the proceedings. And he speculated that if Democrats impeach by Thanksgiving the Senate will vote on whether to convict and remove the president by Christmas. BRIGGS: The impeachment inquiry, clearly on the president's mind as

Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the White House. Their meeting was supposed to be about Syria and Turkey. According to a senior Democratic aide, the president called former Defense secretary James Mattis, quote, "the world's most overrated general." He claimed fewer than 100 ISIS prisoners, the last dangerous ones that escaped in northern Syria.

During the meeting, Speaker Pelosi went after the president for pulling out of northern Syria, telling him, quote, "All roads with you lead to Putin."


That made the president angry. He called Pelosi a name and the Democrats were done.


PELOSI: What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say.

SCHUMER: He called her a third-rate politician. This was not a dialogue. It was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.


ROMANS: The White House press secretary characterized Mr. Trump as measured, factual and decisive at that meeting. The measured, factual and decisive president later said Nancy Pelosi needs help fast. "There's either something wrong with her upstairs or she just plain doesn't like our great country. Pray for her. She is a very sick person."


ROMANS: The president also tweeted this photo from the meeting with what he called Pelosi's unhinged meltdown. The speaker doesn't seem to mind. It's now the header on her Twitter page. It looks like, from her perspective, she's standing up to this president.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was, asked for his take, he replied, "I didn't make any observations in the meeting. I don't have any to make now."

BRIGGS: Is that right?

ROMANS: Crickets.

BRIGGS: That's an extraordinary observation in and of itself.

One of the most extraordinary things you'll ever see with a presidential seal, folks. President Trump penning this letter to Turkey's President Recep Erdogan. The White House confirms it was written last week by the president. The same day Turkey began its military offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. The president warns Erdogan, quote, "You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people. And I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy. And I will." He adds, quote, "History will look at you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool."

ROMANS: Remember, it was President Trump who said he would not stand in Erdogan's way.

Secretary of State Pompeo asked about the Syria strategy and provided some insight into the White House decision-making.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: My experience with the president is that, he makes decisions and then absorbs data and facts, evaluates situations, if we need to adjust our policy to achieve our goals.


ROMANS: Trump -- President Trump now looking to distance himself in the wake of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops and abandon the Kurds in northern Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at a border. It's not our border. We're not a police force. As two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. Kurds are much safer right now but the Kurds know how to fight. And as I said, they're not angels. They're not angels.


BRIGGS: Pompeo and Vice President Pence land in Turkey this morning, leading a delegation trying to get Erdogan to halt the offensive. Yesterday, the House, including 100 Republicans, voted overwhelmingly to condemn the president's troop pullout in Syria.

Jomana Karadsheh joins us live from the presidential palace in Ankara.

Good morning to you. So, the Turks are not angels and they are safer now. Your reaction?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's lots of questions about the president's statements that seem to be constantly changing. Of course, you know, if you look at that statement about the Kurds being safer, there's lots of questions about that because they found themselves in a position where they were facing the Turkish military. They had to turn to the -- to the Assad regime. You know, you look at the region that they were controlling. That was one of, relatively speaking, the safer parts of Syria.

So, you know, with all these mixed messages and, you know, confused messages at times, coming from the president, you're going to have the vice president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here on a very tough task and a very awkward time. They're coming with this message that they want an immediate cease-fire, when Turkey has made its position very clear, saying that they will not be ending this offensive. That they will go ahead with this military operation to achieve their objectives.

Their main objective is that they want to push these Kurdish fighters who they see as an existential threat to Turkey. Its biggest national security threat, they want to push them away from the border and create that safe zone, that buffer zone that they have been talking about. So it's hard to see what the vice president is going to be able to accomplish during these meetings today, especially, you know, when you look at what leverage the United States has left. Some would say not much, other than the threat of sanctions.

And now, you know, you have Russia that is left with much of the leverage here, especially as it gets to call the shots on the battlefield in Syria. And we know that President Erdogan is going to be meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, next week, in Russia.


So we'll have to wait and see what comes out of these meetings today. But experts that we've been speaking to here, Dave, say what we're seeing from the administration so far they feel that this is just a show, trying to, you know, put in the show for a domestic audience in the United States -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. We'll keep an eye on that show.

Jomana Karadsheh, live for us in Ankara this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: The president yesterday in one of those photo-ops says it's just a lot of sand.

BRIGGS: A lot of sand.

ROMANS: Just a lot of sand.

All right. 50,000 GM workers getting ready to go back to work. A tentative deal was reached. What's in it? What's not?



ROMANS: All right. Some welcomed news for nearly 50,000 United Auto Workers members. General Motors and the union have reached a tentative deal to end the 31-day strike. Here's what we know. Temp workers, temporary workers will be able to become full-time employees after three years. And GM has offered to invest $8.3 billion in GM plants to create or protect about 5400 jobs. Union members in Detroit appeared optimistic.


JOHN HATLINE, GM WORKER: I'm hoping to see something there that we retain a new product and this plant is going to stay open for our membership and their families.

MAURICE FAUST, GM WORKER: Something to look back at and knowing that this is what it took to get to what we wanted and what we -- you know, we asked for. Hey, I feel like it's worth it.


ROMANS: A source familiar with the deal said the Lordstown plant which closed earlier this year will not get a new product line. The Hamtramck plant in Detroit will get a new electric truck for production. Workers, by the way, stay on strike until the union's national council votes on the deal later today.

BRIGGS: Former president Barack Obama urging Canadians to re-elect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The endorsement comes just weeks after photos of Trudeau wearing blackface surfaced, forcing him to publicly apologize. President Obama backing Trudeau in this tweet. He says, quote, "The world needs his progressive leadership now. And I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term." Polls show Trudeau's party locked in a close race with opposition conservatives and could lose its majority in the House of Commons after next week's elections.

Coming up, the nation's third-largest school district grinds to a halt today. A teachers' strike in Chicago.



BRIGGS: 1:21 out West and thousands of California residents may face several days without power again. Southern California Edison is considering shutting off power to avoid wildfires. More than 33,000 customers in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties would be affected. The National Weather Service is forecasting elevated to critical fire conditions beginning tonight into early next week.

ROMANS: A super welterweight boxer has died just days after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a title fight in Chicago. Patrick Day was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the 10th round of the bout. He was hospitalized after the fight. He had emergency surgery. A day lapsed into a coma. Never regained consciousness. Day's promoter says the Long Island native was surrounded by family, friends and members of his fight team when he died.

BRIGGS: Classes have been cancelled in Chicago today as 25,000 members of the teachers' union goes on strike. Schools will open so 360,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district will have some place to go. 75 percent of them also rely on school for free or reduced priced breakfast or lunch. Teachers are demanding smaller class sizes and raises, and more support staff, like librarians, nurses and social workers.

The school system has offered 16 percent raises and hundreds more support staff. But the union says that's not nearly enough.

ROMANS: A remarkable life-saving rescue captured on video in Utah.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a train coming. We got a train coming. We got train coming.


ROMANS: All right. Utah state trooper Ruben Correa pulling an unconscious driver from his car stuck on the tracks just seconds before it was hit by a train. Police say a medical issue caused the man to drive off the highway and onto those tracks. Correa arrived in the nick of time. It took 35 seconds from the time he got out of his patrol car to the moment the train smashed into the vehicle. The hero trooper says he wasn't really thinking at all. He was just doing his job. As for the driver, he was checked out by medical personnel and is said to be doing well.

BRIGGS: The president's astonishing letter to Turkey's leader, don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool. While you were sleeping, Jimmy Kimmel tried to find some historical, if not hysterical precedent.


JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE-NIGHT HOST: On this very date, October 16th, 57 years ago, the Cuban missile crisis started. And this letter from Trump is eerily similar to a letter from JFK sent Khrushchev, but when we found out the Soviets were putting nukes in Cuba, well, he wrote at that time, "Dear Premier Khrushchev, don't be a (EXPLETIVE DELETED), OK?" Get missiles out of Cuba. Everybody will say, yay, Khrushchev, you're the best. But if you don't, everybody will be, like, what an A-hole and call your garbage country, the Soviet bunion. You're really busting my nuts here. Give you a jingle later. Hugs, John Fitzgerald Kennedy." So, I don't know. Maybe Trump is one of the greats.


BRIGGS: So there's truly nothing unusual about this.

ROMANS: This letter, though, the crazy thing is that this letter, when Trish Regan at FOX Business posted it.



ROMANS: I mean, people had to call the White House and say, this is a joke, right? This is not exactly on presidential stationery what the president said. I mean, it just didn't seem weighty or measured the way the situation is. BRIGGS: I like how he stuck the landing. "I will call you later."

All right. His text messages linked an investigation by Ukraine to a meeting with President Trump. What will the ambassador to the E.U. say when he testifies in the impeachment probe today?