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Congressman Elijah Cummings Dies at 68; Gordon Sondland to Testify Before Congress; British P.M. Announces 'Great New Deal' for Brexit; Top Ally Lindsey Graham Turns on Trump Over Syria Policy. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 07:00   ET


LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And again, it goes back to the fact he's getting his input from somewhere else. We can only guess where it is, but it's not from our military or our intelligence agencies.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: General Mark Hertling, thank you for being with us this morning.

We have breaking news on many fronts. NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY, and we begin with breaking news for you.

Here's a shot of the Capitol, and people in Washington are waking up to very sad news. The death of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings last night just a few hours ago.

According to his office, Cummings passed away, well, this morning at 2:45 a.m. Eastern Time from complications from what they call long- standing health issues. Cummings did have a heart condition. And in 2017, he underwent an aortic valve replacement. According to "The Washington Post," he recently had a medical procedure, and he was supposed to only be out of work for one week. But the 68-year-old congressman then missed two roll call votes last week, and he never returned to his job.

BERMAN: He was beloved on both sides of the aisle and respected for his diligence inside Congress and as a committee chair. He was chair of the Oversight Committee. That committee and the chairman playing a key role in the impeachment inquiry.

Cummings was an attorney, a former state lawmaker. He was first elected to his seat in 1996. He became Oversight chair in January after Democrats won back the House.

CAMEROTA: As this news hits Capitol Hill, lawmakers already have a very busy day ahead. Just hours from now, Gordon Sondland, the E.U. ambassador at the center of this impeachment inquiry, or one of the central players, will appear before three House committees, including Oversight. His scheduled testimony, you'll remember, last week was blocked by the State Department.

According to "The Washington Post," Sondland is expected to say there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine but not a corrupt one. He'll have to explain that, obviously, to investigators. Democrats are planning more interviews with State Department and national security officials next week.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Also with us, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

I just want to play some sound from Chairman Cummings. This was in the hearing with Michael Cohen earlier this year. And I think it gets to the passion that he had for his work and his love for America. So listen to Chairman Cummings.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): This is a part of your destiny. And hopefully, this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen. A better Donald Trump. A better United States of America. And a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.

When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?


BERMAN: Dana Bash, when we're dancing with the angels, the question will be what did we do to keep our democracy intact? He's talking about the goings-on this year, but in a bigger sense, he's talking about the work that I think he did in Congress for decades.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And according to his own account, that is a phrase that he used in the one private meeting he had with Donald Trump at the beginning of the Trump presidency, when Elijah Cummings went and asked him to work together on lowering prescription drug prices. That was another one of his life's passions for, obviously, his constituents in Baltimore but more broadly.

Still, right now where we are, it is Elijah Cummings, the oversight chairman who is going to be missed beyond, obviously, his family and the very real human toll that this is going to take on colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

He is one of the main players in trying to rein in and do the constitutional duty that Congress has to oversee the executive branch. At no time in history, you know, maybe during the Nixon years. Maybe in, you know, going way back. But certainly, in modern history, has it been this hard. To get stonewalled at every single turn. And -- and he was one of the lead players in that and did so, as you

just heard there, with passion, did so with a very dogged point of view. And there's no question that he is going to be missed for that strategic mind, but also for his humanity and his compassion.


CAMEROTA: Yes. Because he wasn't afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve. So he wasn't afraid to cry when he felt sad or frustrated. He wasn't afraid to sort of rail when he felt that people weren't listening or paying attention.

And we just saw it. I mean, that clip sort of encapsulates that he still had hope, you know? That we would keep our democracy intact. But he was frustrated by people's silence.

And so obviously, he'll be really missed. And 68 years old, it's just so young. And yes, I mean, we'll have more in the rest of the program, but it does feel sudden for people waking up this morning.

Particularly, Jim, because we're in the middle of this another very busy week with impeachment that, obviously, he would have been a big part of.

And so Gordon Sondland. People have been waiting for longer than a week --


CAMEROTA: -- for what is going to happen today with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the E.U., because his first scheduled testimony was canceled for some reason. It was blocked by the State Department. Now he's been subpoenaed. So he has, certainly, a lot of -- he can provide answers, and investigators have a lot of questions for him.

ACOSTA: Well, and I think what Elijah Cummings was saying in that clip about putting country first and being a patriot, I think is at the heart of some of the themes that are going to be discussed in this testimony today.

You know, what's been alleged so far is that there are members of the administration and people close to the president who were kind of working outside of the lines. And Gordon Sondland appears to have been a part of an operation to hold up aid to Ukraine in exchange for some kind of payback from the Ukrainians in terms of investigating what the president believes to be corruption in the 2016 election and the Bidens.

And what we're going to find out, I think, you know, when Sondland is deposed and is questioned about all of this, is what exactly does he have to say?

If he is going to say, as has been reported, that there was some kind of quid pro quo that went on, the president of the United States has been on camera repeatedly saying there was no quid pro quo. Many of his defenders up on Capitol Hill have gone on the shows and said there was no quid pro quo.

And so that has the potential to be some pretty damaging testimony if he ends up testifying truthfully about all of this.

The other thing is, you know, according to Fiona Hill, the top Russian, you know, expert to the president, adviser to the president was testifying just earlier this week saying that Sondland and Mulvaney was part of this, quote, "drug deal," according to the former national security advisor, John Bolton. And so it does sound as though --

CAMEROTA: Using it metaphorically.

ACOSTA: Using it metaphorically, but it does sound as though there was some kind of rogue shadow operation going on to try to get the president his political dirt on Joe Biden and perhaps dredge up some kind of information that lends credence to this conspiracy theory that he and Giuliani have been peddling for some time now that they were somehow the victims in the 2016 campaign.

BERMAN: So what we don't know is why he bowed to White House pressure last week not to testify or speak to Congress and why he's decided to go speak to Congress this week.

It was "The Washington Post" that reported he will say there was a quid pro quo, just not a corrupt quid pro quo. This is CNN's reporting here. And this is from friends talking to CNN's team. "'If he wanted to get this meeting, Sondland is going to testify, with Zelensky, then you could either abandon that or you could work through Rudy,' the person said, again describing what Sondland may say on Thursday. 'They came to understand that what Rudy wanted was a public statement by Zelensky to look at Burisma and the server in 2016."

And the larger picture, Jeffrey, when you look at this, is where Sondland could fill in more pieces to the puzzle, is the idea that through Rudy Giuliani was this separate shadow operation to benefit the president that wasn't necessarily for the benefit, directly, of the United States of America. And person after person has been testifying over the last week to something to that effect.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And what makes him so important is that, unlike some of the lower-level people who have -- who have or are going to testify, Sondland actually had contact with the president. I mean, there is at least one phone call and perhaps more where he and Donald Trump talked about how Ukraine policy should unfold.

That makes him especially important if the impeachment investigation is looking at Trump's direction of foreign policy. You know, what was the goal of American foreign policy in Ukraine?

The core question of this whole impeachment investigation is was Donald Trump pursuing the national interest or his political interest in getting dirt on Biden. Burisma from that last full screen that we just put up, that's Hunter Biden's company. So, you know, is -- was our foreign policy in Ukraine designed to get

dirt on Biden and thus, you know, Burisma, or was it about pursuing the national interest? That's why Sondland is so important, because he is a direct tie to Donald Trump on that subject.


CAMEROTA: Speaking of looking at the big picture, let's look at the big picture of what happened yesterday in this meeting --

BASH: Let's look at this picture.

CAMEROTA: -- between some, you know, congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. And as well as everyone there around that massive conference -- oval conference table.

And I mean, the body language, Dana, says a lot in this picture. This was the picture put out by President Trump to show that he felt that Nancy Pelosi was having the temper tantrum, that Nancy Pelosi said Donald Trump was having the temper tantrum.

She then owned it and, I guess, turned it into an asset and put it on her Twitter feed. But the point is, there were a lot of words exchanged in this meeting.

And this is, I believe, where Nancy Pelosi was asking him, why do all roads seem to lead back to Russia with you, Mr. President? And that's when there was a sort of angry end to the meeting, and the congressional leaders stormed out of it, or at least walked out and went to the microphones.

What more do we know about what happened in that?

BASH: So many things to unpack there. First, can we just do one more beat on that photo, because there you have it back up? Because until now, what her staff owned and what has kind of made her, you know, kind of iconic among the Democratic base and even beyond that, is that picture of her walking out of the White House and putting her sunglasses on.

I mean, this makes that look like, you know, not -- not even at all symbolic. I mean, look at that photo of one woman standing up and, you know, giving it to the president of the United States at a table with all men there. I mean, of course she's going to own that.

Now, beyond the symbolism and the imagery that we're looking at, what was that all about? It was -- it was, from all accounts, people I'm talking to, our colleagues are talking to, pretty intense. And that the president was pretty -- to use his word that he likes to use -- rude to her. Maybe it was a two-way street. It was -- it was very antagonistic.

I'm told that when the members of Congress came back to the Capitol, particularly on the Senate floor, because there were senators there, it was all the talk. Even among Republicans. How the president treated the House speaker. But it's also important to keep in mind what all this means beyond the

histrionics. And it is the reason the president is so upset, is because the House of Representatives dealt him a huge, huge rebuke yesterday with a vote saying that he should not have done what he did with the -- with the troops in Syria.

CAMEROTA: Bipartisan.

BASH: The majority --

BERMAN: Two to one, 2-1 Republican.

BASH: Exactly, exactly. And the majority of his fellow Republicans. I mean, you know, we've been looking at the Republicans on Capitol Hill, saying when are you going to stand up? They stood up. And that is one of the reasons why the president was so upset and Nancy Pelosi is one of his favorite foils.

BERMAN: Yes. Look, he's lashing out at Nancy Pelosi there, but you can see, in his head probably, that it's the Republican defections, I think, that he's most nervous about, Jim. What's your reporting on this?

ACOSTA: I would you say so. And you know, as much as President Trump considers himself to be a master tactician at all of this, you know, he may have, you know, played things badly here. Not -- not made a great chess move here. He is going to need those Republicans in the Senate to stay home.

If he is impeached in the House and they conduct a trial in the Senate and Mitch McConnell was saying yesterday, in addition to this meeting that occurred over at the White House, Mitch McConnell was talking to Republicans behind closed doors and saying he intends to hold a trial in the Senate if -- if the president is impeached in the House.

And what has happened here, and Dana, I think, put her finger right on it, what has happened here is that this Turkey-Syria policy that the president, you know, sort of rolled out there without any notification to a lot of the stakeholders in Washington has unnerved the very people he is going to need if things get very critical for him over in the Senate later on this year.

And so this may have been one of his worst moves since he's come into office. Because, you know, there are a lot of Republican senators -- they won't say it publicly, because they're worried about being tweeted about. But they will say privately that they've had it up to here with this president.

BERMAN: Look, and I will just note, whatever the politics, there are people dying right now in northern Syria. U.S. allies are dying while these things are being said and these letters are being written. Just keep that in mind, as well.

Jeffrey Toobin, Jim Acosta, Dana Bash, thank you.

More breaking news, very important breaking news. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, just a short time ago announced a new deal for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union for Brexit. But the deal still needs to be approved by both the European Parliament and the British Parliament.

CNN's Melissa Bell live in Brussels with all the breaking details. This is a giant step, Melissa.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's huge. And you can see by the way that the pound rose on the back of this very surprising 11th hour breakthrough and the hopes with it that something had been achieved. The negotiators here in Brussels across the road at the commission, John, had been working day and night.

European negotiators on one hand, British negotiators on the other. It was very difficult to see how they were going to cobble together some deal, given how different all their positions was.

In the end, they did it. What now happens is that European leaders are to arrive, along this red carpet later today. Angela Merkel has just arrived here in the building. We understand the other 26 European leaders will also arrive. The deal will be put to them. The expectation is that they will accept it, since after all, the E.U. negotiators have been working on their behalf, protecting European red lines and so on.

The real question is what Boris Johnson does now. We had this tweet from him earlier. And this was how we learned the deal had been done, saying, "We've got a great deal done. It now needs to get done by Westminster on Saturday. We need to get behind it so we can get to the other priorities of this government."

And that really is the likely next sticking point. It is likely it'll get past the European leaders. This was a deal negotiated on their behalf. How he gets the numbers behind him and this is, again, where Theresa May had failed before him. For now, it's very hard to see. But a glimmer of hope this afternoon, certainly.

CAMEROTA: Wow. I mean, this is just changing by the day, by the hour. Please keep us posted when you have more information, Melissa. Thank you.

All right. So President Trump facing criticism on his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, including from one of his fiercest allies in Congress. We're going to take a closer look at the complicated dynamic between the president and Senator Lindsey Graham.



CAMEROTA: Most Republicans are standing by President Trump in the impeachment battle, but when it comes to the Syria policy, there has been a break in the ranks, with at least one top ally speaking out against what the president is doing. You might say that Lindsey Graham's relationship with Mr. Trump is,

quote, "complicated."

CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us once again from Washington.

It is complicated. What have you learned about what's going on in this dynamic, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we've seen the last year and a half of Lindsey Graham's political life has been defined by his metamorphosis from a McCain Republican who bucked his party leadership to a Trump Republican who toes the president's line.

Well, this week, we do see their relationship is very complicated.


BASH (voice-over): Lindsey Graham is frantic.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He's making the biggest mistake of his presidency.

BASH: Donald Trump is annoyed.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Lindsey should focus right now on Judiciary.

BASH: Lindsey Graham is warning about terror attacks.

GRAHAM: He will have American blood on his hands if he abandoned Kurds, because ISIS will come back.

BASH: Donald Trump doesn't want to hear it.

TRUMP: The Democrats, the do-nothing Democrats as I call them.

BASH: Listening to that, it's hard to believe Graham is one of Trump's most loyal allies. It's like a time warp back to their campaign rivalry.

GRAHAM: I don't think he has the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief.

BASH: Then 2016 Graham warned voters about exactly what 2019 Graham is apoplectic about now, that Trump's promise to withdraw troops from the Middle East will make America less safe.

GRAHAM: For God's sakes, pick somebody who is worthy of the sacrifice of those who are fighting this war and who actually knows how to win. And I don't believe that's Mr. Trump.

BASH: For Graham and Trump, it's complicated. Very complicated. On abandoning the Kurds, U.S. allies against ISIS, Graham says he's holding Trump to the Obama standard. GRAHAM: By assuming the Kurds are better off today than they were

yesterday, that is just unbelievable. I can imagine if Obama said that what Republicans would be saying now. So I'm going to say it with Trump. That is just unfair, dangerous.


BASH: But what if Obama called a foreign leader and asked for dirt on his political rival, like Trump did with Ukraine's president on Biden? It's hard to imagine Graham would say, no big deal, like he is now.

GRAHAM: This phone call is a nothing burger.

BASH: In fact, Graham is still staunching defending Trump.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much. It's been a good hearing.

BASH: Even using his powerful role as Senate Judiciary chairman to backstop the president against the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

GRAHAM: I can do two things at once.

BASH: But that's not how the president seems to see it.

TRUMP: He ought to find out about what happened with Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, what is the president's mood today?

BASH: Trump seems almost disoriented that Graham is not singularly focused on settling scores against Democrats.

TRUMP: What happened with President Obama. What happened with Brennan. That's what Lindsey ought to focus on. That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on.

GRAHAM: It's not about me and him. It's about the country.

BASH: Yet it is about the two of them. Being close to Trump helps Graham, who is up for re-election in South Carolina where the president has so much support, a top Graham aide calls it Trumpistan.

Trump treasures Graham as a golf buddy and navigator in the ways of Washington. But we now know Graham's influence, his attempts to curb the president's isolationist world view, has limits.

TRUMP: Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people's wars. I want to get out of the Middle East.


BASH: Now Graham has always been quite candid in saying that staying close to the president keeps him relevant. And being relevant -- being effective, though, we now know, which from his point of view is keeping the president from making calls that he dislikes and says are dangerous, impulsive calls in the words of Lindsey Graham. We know that those are two very different things -- Alisyn.


BERMAN: Right. I'll take it, Dana. If Lindsey Graham wants that relevance, it's not keeping Donald Trump from doing things he doesn't want him to do. That's for sure right now.

Thank you, Dana.

All right. Breaking news. Longtime member of Congress Elijah Cummings passed away overnight. We are going to speak to a friend and a member of Chairman Cummings' committee. That's next.


BERMAN: Breaking news this morning, Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chair of the House Oversight Committee, passed away last night. In a statement, his office said he died due to complications from long-standing health challenges.

Joining me now is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She serves on --