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Gordon Sondland to Testify in Congress' Impeachment Probe; Trump Melts Down at White House Meeting with Dems; Trump Sends Extraordinary Letter to Erdogan; Pence and Pompeo Head to Turkey to Push for Ceasefire. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: His text messages are at the heart of the impeachment probe. The ambassador to the E.U. testifies 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.


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

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

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

Welcome back to EARLY START on a Thursday. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour here in New York.

And just hours from now, the ambassador at the center of the impeachment inquiry will testify under subpoena on Capitol Hill. Gordon Sondland was supposed to show up last week but he was blocked, if you'll recall, by the State Department. 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.

BRIGGS: Sondland also texted the acting ambassador to Ukraine that he didn't think there was a quid pro quo 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. Now a source tells CNN Sondland claims he did not understand at the time the president wanted an investigation into the Bidens.

ROMANS: And for the first time the Senate majority leader behind closed doors is warning Republicans, prepare for impeachment. In a closed-door lunch yesterday, McConnell -- Mitch McConnell answered questions about rules for a Senate trial and laid out a possible timeline. He said that if Democrats impeach by Thanksgiving the Senate vote will happen on whether to convict and remove the president by Christmas.

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 least dangerous ones, he said, had escaped in northern Syria.

During this remarkable meeting, Speaker Pelosi went after the president for pulling out of northern Syria. She told him, "All roads with you lead to Putin." And that, that made this 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.


BRIGGS: The White House press secretary characterized Mr. Trump as measured, factual and decisive at that meeting. The measured, factual and decisive president later said, quote, "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."

Measured, indeed. The president also tweeted this photo from the meeting with what he called Pelosi's unhinged meltdown. The speaker didn't seem to mind so much. It's now the header on her Twitter page. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was asked for his take, he replied, quote, "I didn't make any observations in the meeting. I don't have any to make now."

ROMANS: Remarkable. Remarkable. These are the grown-ups.

All right. President Trump writing an extraordinary letter to Turkey's President Recep Erdogan. The White House confirms this letter written on October 9th. That's the very same day Turkey began its military offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. Now the president warns Erdogan, quote, "You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people. And I do not want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy." Sorry, economy. "And I will." He adds, "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."

BRIGGS: Remember, it was President Trump who said he wouldn't stand in Erdogan's way. Secretary of State Pompeo asked about the Syria strategy provided some insight into the president's 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.


BRIGGS: President Trump 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.


ROMANS: Pompeo and Vice President Pence are leading this delegation to Turkey, trying to get Erdogan to halt the offensive. Comes after the White House including 100 Republicans -- the House rather, the House of Representatives including more than 100 Republicans voted overwhelmingly to condemn the president's troop pullout in Syria.

Meantime in Syrian Kurdish areas, mass funerals are being held and hospitals are stretched thin after Kurds came under attack. The changing grip on territory putting global powers on a collision course here.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in Irbil, Iraq with more.

And, Nick, as we're seeing video and first-person testimony, it's clear the American withdrawal, very quickly, left a vacuum filled by Russians.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Yes. And the video you're seeing here is in a base in Manbij, on Tuesday, a Russian journalist appeared on that taking selfie videos of himself. And we're seeing more and more of this slowly as Russian forces seem to have stepped into the void along with the Syrian regime to assist Syrian Kurds more notably in the town of Kobani where Russian flags reportedly seen over a base that U.S. troops occupied just a matter of days ago.

But the Syrian Kurds, extraordinarily difficult time as the fighting persists ahead of this meeting in Sochi next week between President Erdogan and President Putin. Many of them busy burying their dead.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): There's little light left for Syria's Kurds. They must bury their dead and their old allegiances.

It wasn't time for you to die, my son, why were you killed? She mourns. Your mistake was defending the country against invaders.

Take a moment to consider their world. They've grieved like this before, under American direction, to fight ISIS and bury 10,000 sons and daughters. Now America's president, in one phone call, has unleashed Turkey's NATO standard army and air force on them and America's military has reluctantly left them.

A martyr does not die, she chants. One of many here who do not look like they'll submit to Turkey's new border soon.

At the hospital in Qamishli, the doctors line up outside to receive the wounded. It is an endless stream. Despite over a week of fighting Syrian Kurdish fighters who complained so often that only having old Kalashnikovs to combat ISIS are still holding Turkish forces back. They've had some help. Desperate enough to strike a deal with something worse than the devil, the Syrian regime, arriving here, quite far north in the town of Tal Tamr.

The flags may be so new they've just been unfolded but the moves, the show of loyalty, is old and practiced.

Our spirits are high and our will strong, he says. We're here to defend Syrian land and people, another adds.

While diplomacy stalls at Ankara, and soon the Kremlin, and the displaced scavenge shelter yet again possibly hundreds of thousands are on the move, as the fighting continues.

Turkish President Erdogan wants control of a deep swath of Syria. Yet the Kurds are fighting hard for Ras al-Ain with the Syrian regime supporting in nearby Tal Tamr. Pro-Turkey forces pushed towards this road and the American base west. But the regime and Russia are now in Manbij setting both sides for a collision in the city of Kobani.

And Wednesday night, video emerged of a deeply symbolic moment. Syrian regime forces entering the city of Kobani, where the Syrian Kurds fought for months with American air support to kick ISIS out of the rubble. But where now Russia and the regime are their new protectors from America's NATO ally.


PATON WALSH: Five days potentially ahead of us now in which people try and consolidate their positions on the battlefield. That town of Kobani aptly essentially to the goals of both Syrian Kurds for whom it is deeply symbolic. And of course for their Russian backers now, seeing the Russian flags in that city, too. And Turkey, who need that town to secure the border area they desperately so badly need as part of their strategy here.

So President Erdogan and President Putin, meeting in Sochi on October 22nd. A lot of days and a lot of fighting and dying that could happen before that meeting, which may provide the only real diplomatic off- ramp here. Back to you.


ROMANS: And Nick, this remarkable -- remarkable letter from the president of the United States, where he, on October 9th, warns the Turkish president, don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool. Does the United States have any leverage at all to be making claims now? Or a request now to the Turkish government?

PATON WALSH: It's palpable that the answer to that really is no. That letter was sent. It had no impact. President Erdogan has consistently said he will not be looking at a cease-fire, which has been the American demand. And bear in mind, too, that while he may have said in that letter, Donald Trump also yesterday recited Turkish talking points about the Syrian Kurds. He said that the PKK, the Turkish branch of the Kurds, who fought part of the SDF force that was fighting ISIS with American backing, he said that the PKK were worse than ISIS.

That is a Turkish talking point entirely.

ROMANS: Right.

PATON WALSH: So while at the same time Donald Trump is trying to criticize President Erdogan, tell him not to be a tough guy, don't be a fool, language from a sort of different era to some degree, he's also saying the things they want to here. So why would they listen to him? The Syrian Kurds, the other side of the negotiation here, they're not going to be listening to the United States because they believe that their political leadership have entirely abandoned and betrayed them. So little hope for Ankara today. All eyes on Sochi next week. But there's a lot of time and a lot of bad things that could happen between now and then.

ROMANS: Sure. All right. Nick Paton Walsh, for us. Thank you so much for walking us through that from Irbil, Iraq.

BRIGGS: Yes. Some great reporting there.

Ahead, weeks after a blackface scandal threatened his campaign, a surprising endorsement for Justin Trudeau.



ROMANS: Chinese censorship versus American freedom of speech rocking the gaming world. Three American university east sports players have been suspended by Activision Blizzard for this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspense won't go any longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do draw the second divine spirit. That it is.


ROMANS: The students held up a free Hong Kong boycott blitz sign and now they're banned from official or third-party blizzard events for six months. The players were acting in solidarity with the Hong Kong player known as Blitz Chung. Chung was banned for six months by Blizzard and disqualified from a tournament last night, had to give the money back, after he shouted a pro-Hong Kong slogan. Blizzard said it banned the students after they knowingly break the rules, adding, quote. "We strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition."

One of the students said he and his friends have supported the Hong Kong protests in the past. "We just have happened to have an amazing opportunity to protest an American company bowing down to China within the context of the Hong Kong protests." Blizzard says its decision to ban Chung was not influenced by China.

BRIGGS: Proposed changes to food stamps could affect school lunch for almost a million children. About half would be forced to pay a reduced price. The other half would remain eligible for free meals but families would have to apply. The National School Lunch Program serves roughly 30 million students including 20 million free meals a day. The School Nutritional Association says about three-quarters of school districts nationwide have students with meal debt.

ROMANS: Former president Barack Obama is 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 tweeted, "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.

All right. How much would you pay for the most expensive home for sale in the U.S.? Do you have a couple hundred mill laying around? CNN Business is next.



BRIGGS: The family of a U.K. teenager killed by the wife of a U.S. diplomat driving the wrong way on English roads say they feel defiled after the president spoke out about their meeting. The president met face-to-face with Charlotte, Charles and Tim Dunn Tuesday night. They're in the U.S. to make the case that Anne Sacoolas should be returned to Britain to face justice for killing their 19-year-old son, Harry Dunn. The parents described their encounter with the president as an ambush.


CHARLOTTE CHARLES, MOTHER OF U.K. TEEN HIT AND KILLED BY U.S. DIPLOMAT'S WIFE: A bombshell was dropped after we walked in the room and Sacoolas was in the building and was willing to meet with us. And we made it very clear that, as we've said all along, we will meet with her but it has to be on our terms and on U.K. soil.


ROMANS: After Dunn's parents rejected a meeting with Sacoolas, the president addressed the situation yesterday.


TRUMP: My meeting with the family was really -- it was beautiful in a certain way. It was very sad, to be honest. She lost -- and they lost their son. I believe it was going down the wrong way because that happens in Europe. You go to Europe and the roads are opposite. And it's very tough if you're from the United States. You do make that decision to make a right turn where you're supposed to make a left turn. The roads are opposite.


ROMANS: In the U.K., the roads are opposite. A spokesperson for the Dunn family says they're extremely angry that they were taken advantage of to make President Trump look good. U.K. police Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity following that crash and left the country. Through her attorney, she apologized for a tragic mistake. Police say their investigation continues. Harry Dunn's parents appear this morning on "NEW DAY" around 7:50 Eastern Time.

BRIGGS: The 34 top selling fruit drinks for children have one thing in common. They're all unhealthy. U.S. beverage companies spent over $20 million in 2018 to promote the fruity, sugary products, according to the University of Connecticut's Ruud Center for Food Policy and Obesity.


And those products increase the risk of harmful conditions like Type II diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and child obesity. Two-thirds of the 34 sweetened drinks analyzed contain no juice but images of fruit appeared in 85 percent of the packages. Drinks which did contain juice generally capped the amount at 5 percent.

ROMANS: Las Vegas is letting people pay for parking with food donations. The city council approving this program for citations issued between October 16th and November 16th. People issued tickets not related to public safety will be allowed to pay for them with non- perishable food items worth at least the value of the fine. The food will be donated to those in need during the holiday season.

Las Vegas has done this before. In July, the city accepted school supplies in lieu of parking ticket payments.

BRIGGS: 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.


BRIGGS: 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 a 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, just doing his job. As for the driver, he was checked out by medical personnel and is said to be doing well.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. This Thursday morning. Taking a look at markets around the world. Mostly leaning higher here. In the U.S., futures right now are also just barely higher. Stocks were down yesterday. There was some weak retail sales data and worries about the trade war. That helped offset what has been some strong earnings.

The Dow closed down just 22 points, barely moving really. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also down a little bit. Retail sales fell in September. The first decline in seven months. Consumers are spending less on cars and online purchases that weighed down that sales number.

General Motors, though, closed up 1.1 percent on news it reached a tentative deal with the union to end a 31-day strike.

All right. Streaming wars heating up. And Netflix fell short of its own expectations. Netflix added 6.8 million new subscribers in the third quarter just under the $7 million it expected. Revenue went up 31 percent, $5.2 billion. Wednesday's earnings were important for investors who've been worried about Netflix's growth. This is also the last report before Apple and Disney launch their streaming services next month. The field is going to get even more crowded next year with Warner Media and NBC Universal services. Still Netflix has a head start with more than 150 million subscribers worldwide.

All right. How much would you pay for the most expensive home for sale in the U.S. right now? The legendary Casa Encantada is listen for $225 million. It's 40,000 square feet. It's an estate owned by Gary Winnick. It sits on top of the Bel Air Country Club. Winnick is best known for founding Global Crossing back in 1997. But the estate is on sale in a market in the midst of a downturn.

So say you don't have $200 million. Say you only have $20 million, right? Sales of $10 million and $20 million homes are down about 20 percent and 25 percent. Single-family home sales on the west side of L.A. are down about 16 percent from last year. So all of that big left coast money. I don't know. Real estate market, not so great.

BRIGGS: Not so hot indeed.

ROMANS: If you're a mega billionaire.

BRIGGS: No. Sorry for them.

Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day. For our EARLY START viewers, we continue right now.

ROMANS: His text messages are at the heart of the impeachment probe. The ambassador to the E.U. testifies behind closed doors today.


PELOSI: It was a meltdown, sad to say.

SCHUMER: He called her a third-rate politician.


BRIGGS: Tensions boil over at the White House. Democrats walk out after the president unleashes his fury.

ROMANS: 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.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START on a Thursday. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, October 17th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everyone.

Just hours from now, the ambassador at the center of the impeachment inquiry will be testifying under subpoena on Capitol Hill. Gordon Sondland was supposed to show up last week but he was blocked by the State Department. Remember it was Sondland who texted a special envoy to Ukraine that President Trump, quote, "really wants the deliverable."