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Ambassador Sondland Testifies Today; Dems Walk Out On Trump; Erdogan Has Rejected Trump's Call for Cease-Fire; Congressman Elijah Cumming Dies at 68. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 05:00   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: And 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.

Good evening, everyone. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, October 17, 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 testify 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. 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 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.

Now, a source tells CNN Sondland claims he did not understand, at the time, the president wanted an investigation into the Bidens.

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

ROMANS: Right. The impeachment inquiry clearly on the president's mind as Speaker Pelosi came to the White House. Their meeting was supposed to be about Syria and Turkey.

Now, according to a senior Democratic aide, the president called former Defense Secretary James Mattis, quote, the world's most overrated general.

And then he claimed fewer than 100 ISIS prisoners, quote, the least dangerous ones, had escaped in northern Syria.

During the 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 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.


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

The measured, factual and decisive president said, quote: Nancy Pelosi needs help fast. There's something wrong with her upstairs or she just plain doesn't like our great country. Pray for her. She is a very sick person.

The president also tweeted this photo from the meeting with what he called Pelosi's unhinged meltdown. But the speaker didn't seem to mind. It's 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.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: All right. Some very sad breaking news to report to you this morning.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings has died. A very brief statement from his office says he passed away overnight, 2:45 a.m. Eastern Time, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, due to complications from -- the statement from what his office says was a longstanding health issue.

The 68-year-old representative was first elected to Congress in 1996. He rose to become the chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee. We'll have much more on this as we get more information. But again, Congressman Elijah Cummings dead at the age of 68 this morning, 2:45 Eastern Time.

BRIGGS: A political icon there in Baltimore, where he was born and raised. Spent 16 years in the House of Delegates. Really a historical figure. You mentioned the chairman of the House Oversight. He was committed to checking the administration.

Again, a lifetime public servant. We'll have more reaction ahead.

Fifty thousand G.M. workers getting ready to go back to work. A tentative deal is reached. What's in it? And what's not? Straight ahead.



BRIGGS: Five-o-eight Eastern Time.

One of the most extraordinary things you'll ever see with a presidential seal. President Trump penning a letter to Turkey's president. 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.

In it, the president warns Erdogan: 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: History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. We'll 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 strategy and provided some insight into the White House decision-making.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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: 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 from Syria.

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

Jomana, good morning to you.

How much is already regardless of what Erdogan does at this point?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you have to look at what the vice president's mission is. You know, they are coming here to call for an immediate cease-fire.

This is something that Turkey said is a nonstarter. They've made it clear. We've heard from President Erdogan, other officials here, over the past few days, saying that they will continue with this mission.

They are determined to continue with this operation. They say they will not stop until those Kurdish fighters move away from the border, you know, that safe zone, that buffer zone, that Turkey is aiming to establish, about 30, 35 kilometers into Syria.

He says once they do that, then the Turkish operation will stop. So, you're looking at a very difficult mission here for the vice president, a very awkward time for him to be coming. You have got on the one hand, the fact that, you know, the president pretty much undermined this delegation's mission today. Yesterday, the statements you just ran a short time ago, where he says he doesn't care about happens next.

And then you've got what they're requesting here, and the fact that the United States, Dave, does not really have much leverage other than sanctions at this point and the threat of more severe sanctions, which Turkey has said they don't really care about. They're determined to go ahead with this mission.

And at the same time, they're talking to the Russians. Russia is really the one calling the shots on the battlefield right now. You see how things have shifted over the past few days when the Kurds turn to the Syrian regime, as they saw the Syrian-backed forces, the Turkish-backed forces advancing, and that basically has given the Russians the leverage here. They have a working relationship with Turkey. And we know that President Erdogan is going to be meeting next week in a few days, with the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, we're going to have to wait and see what comes out of these talks today. But, you know, some experts that we have spoken to, Dave, they say this is nothing but theatrics. They say this is a show. This is pretty much the U.S. president, trying to back pedal after essentially giving Turkey the green light, which the White House denies, to go ahead with this operation. Whether it is sending the delegation or the letter that was leaked yesterday, we have not had an official reaction to that stunning letter and no confirmation yet if President Erdogan did receive that, Dave.

BRIGGS: OK. Jomana Karadsheh live in Ankara this morning, thank you.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden not alone at the top of the polls and going after Senator Elizabeth Warren. He is seizing on her refusal at the Democratic debate to answer if middle class taxes would go up to paid for Medicare for All.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fascinating that the person who has a plan for everything, has no plan for the single-most consequential issue in this election. All that and she has moved, and has been taken more seriously, people are going to ask her about, you know, a little candor here. You know? Tell us how you're going to do what you say you're going to do.


BRIGGS: Today, both Biden and Warren attend a separate Democratic National Committee event in Washington on the women's vote.

ROMANS: All right. Some welcome 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 -- temporary workers will be able to come full-time employees after three years. And GM has offered to invest $8.3 billion in GM plants to create or protect about 5,400 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, knowing that this is what it took to get to what we wanted and what we, you know, asked for. I feel like it's worth it.


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

BRIGGSS: Back to our breaking news now. Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings has died. A very brief statement from his office says he passed away overnight due to complications from a longstanding health issue.

April Ryan, who was covered politics in Baltimore, joins us by the phone. She's known the congressman for decades. She's a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.


Good morning to you, April.

A little bit on his legacy, a lifetime public servant in particular, in that Baltimore area.

Good morning.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Good morning. I just -- I literally open my eyes and turn the TV on. And I saw it. And I just screamed.

Congressman Cummings is a fighter. We knew him as a fighter on Capitol Hill. But I knew him as a friend, as well.

Congressman Cummings was a lawyer. He was in the statehouse. And he moved on to Capitol Hill.

He filled the position. He was elected to the post that was left by Kweisi Mfume, then-Congressman Kweisi Mfume.

Elijah Cummings was a man of faith. He always saw the spiritualness in it. He would pause and say, April, you know, from where we come, look at who we are and where we are in Washington.

You know, I would think of so many conversations I would have with him. There were times he was in the hospital and I didn't know. He would reach out and we text each other.

And I didn't know he was in hospital, then he said, you don't know but I'm in a hospital, and I'm like OK. And I would pray for him. But we still keep it moving. I would send him notes of encouragement.

He's been dealing with an illness for a while. He had a heart issue. And there's been multiple complications from that. And I was looking for him the week of the Congressional Black Caucus in September. He took ill again around that time.

And we haven't really seen him since then. It was interesting and I ran into something that was chose to him last week. I inquired about him. They said they just talked to him last week on the phone. And his voice sounded like it was himself again, you know? Because he said for the last two weeks, he hadn't been sounding like himself. But his voice was strong, sounding like himself.

And that's why, this morning, I am in shock because I was hearing the words that he was on the mend. They said he wasn't there yet, but he was on the mend.

This morning, yes, I wake up to the fact -- in the Baltimore community, you know, he is in the community. And he -- as you know, he had been on a walker and a wheelchair. But he was going to things.

And you know, we knew something wasn't quite right, when we were hearing that they were taking a lot of his engagements. They were declining a lot of engagements that he was supposed to go to. So, we were quietly concerned. But we would always keep track of him.

ROMANS: April, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know this means so much to you and he means so much to Baltimore and, you know, honestly, to the country. I mean, he's been a loyal -- something that's interesting about him. He always, to me, covering him, seemed to be someone who was unruffled.

RYAN: Right.

ROMANS: And no matter how kind of ugly it got between -- you know, with partisanship, I remember him reaching across the aisle and defending Mark Meadows last year.

BRIGGS: That's right.

ROMANS: Remember? I mean, he did that with such grace. You know, and even when sometimes he was attacked by the other side, I was really -- I think that's kind of an impressive character trait.

RYAN: That was his heart. That was his heart. His heart was about the people and for the good for the people.

You know, when this president, Donald Trump, even, became president, when they had -- the day of inauguration, he and Donald Trump talked at that luncheon on Capitol Hill.

They said, let's have a meeting on the price of prescription drugs. He said because the cost is killing his people. He said he wanted to find a way to fix this.

And then, you know, just a couple of weeks ago, in the Oval Office, President Trump's heart had softened saying he saw a side of Elijah Cummings he wanted to go back to meet again. So, Elijah Cummings was willing to go across the aisle and deal with people.

He's from the time when people came together and people's hearts came together, even though they didn't see eye-to-eye. He wanted to work for the people.

But today, my heart is -- we have lost a fighter. We've lost -- and this is not about party. This is about person and humanity. This is a man whose mother -- he grew up for people. But his mother, he used to say his late mother would take him and his brothers and sisters to the pools in Baltimore, swimming pools in Baltimore, that were not integrated, that were segregated pools, to help him understand, that you, too, belong.


You, too, meant something.

He would tell me that ugly things of the past would haunt him. But he realized who he was and it was a fight for the people. That's why he was friends with Mark Meadows. That's why he talked to President Trump about prescription drugs.

He was a fighter. And you don't have anyone of that caliber like Elijah Cummings. It's just -- it's a loss for Baltimore. It's a loss for the nation. It's a loss for the world.

I'm just in shock. I'm sitting here watching the pictures that you have on the air, of Elijah Cummings. I'm in shock. My heart goes out to Maya, his wife, and his family.

It's just -- I am in shock. I had heard, again, last week, that he was on the mend. But this morning, you know, we have to pull together and do the bio on this great Democratic congressman, the head of Government Oversight and Reform, Elijah Cummings.

BRIGGS: A lifetime of public service, a political legend in Baltimore, a father of three and a husband. April Ryan, we're sorry you lost your friend and this country lost a political legend.

We appreciate your time on this sad, breaking news this morning.

RYAN: Guys, thank you so much. Thank you for letting me talk about the Elijah Cummings that I knew.

BRIGGS: Thank you.

And April will be on throughout the morning here on CNN. We'll talk with Suzanne Malveaux about the loss, as well.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BRIGGS: The boxing world is mourning the loss of super welterweight Patrick Day, who died four days after being knocked out in a fight.

ROMANS: Carolyn Manno has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Sad story, Carolyn.

BRIGGS: Good morning.


Unfortunately, the dangers of boxing are well-documented. And in this particular case, the tragedy is one that Patrick Day's promoter says is very difficult to explain away.

Day passed away after suffering a traumatic brain injury during Saturday's title fight in Chicago. He was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the tenth round, and the 27-year-old had emergency surgery and lapsed into a coma. He never regained consciousness.

And in an emotional social media post, Conwell wrote that he never meant for this to happen. The Olympian said: All I wanted to do was win. If I could take it back, I would.

He went on to say: I replay the fight over and over in my head thinking, what if this never happened? And why did it happen to you?

Day's promoter said he was surrounded by family and friends and his fight team when he passed away. A tragic nonetheless.

Meantime, the skies over New York clearing up a little bit. So, the tarps at Yankee Stadium is going to be rolled up for today's game four of the American League Championship Series. Astros and Yankees get things started just after 8:00 Eastern. Houston leading the best-of- seven series, 2-1 games. The winner, of course, host the Washington Nationals in game one of the World Series on Tuesday.

But some tough news here today in the sports world. Really --

BRIGGS: Yes, far too frequent in the sport right now.

MANNO: Yes, one of a handful that has happened this year as the result of a traumatic brain injury.

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

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, 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?

Also, the latest on Elijah Cummings passing away at 68 years old this morning.