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Brexit Super Saturday; Republicans Attack Trump over Syria; Lebanese Protests; Rugby World Cup. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2019 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello everyone and welcome to CNN Atlanta, I'm Michael Holmes.

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, it is Super Saturday in the U.K., what is likely to be one of the most important days in the British political calendar and a day of reckoning for Boris Johnson and Brexit.

A strategic nightmare: the U.S. Senate majority attacks Trump's Syria policy without naming him in a scathing opinion percent.

And two major matchups in the Rugby World Cup in the coming hours. That will start in about 15 minutes, reporting live from Tokyo.


HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

A few hours from now Boris Johnson's last-minute Brexit deal will face a crucial test in the U.K. Parliament. Impossible at the moment to say how it will play out on this Super Saturday. But a fanfare we saw a few days ago in Brussels might be short-lived.

Some of the key players have already lined up against this agreement. The prime minister telling the BBC why he believes this is the agreement that will finally allow the U.K. to leave the European Union more than three years after the Brexit referendum.


BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: We have got a deal that allows us to get out of the backstop that's abolished and we can do free trade agreements as one whole United Kingdom around the world.

This means that as one whole United Kingdom, we can take back control of our border, our laws and do free trade deals, set our own future according to the democratic will of the United Kingdom as one United Kingdom. That is a great step forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: Now cabinet ministers heard much of the same as they filed in to Number 10 Friday, preparing for this rare Saturday session of Parliament, hasn't happened in 37 years. It is soon to get underway. However. Here are the main points of the deal between the U.K. and the E.U. as described by E.U.'s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of E.U. rules related to goods. All procedures on goods would take place at points of entry to Northern Ireland. And not across the island.

U.K. authorities will be in charge of applying the E.U.'s customs code in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will remain in the U.K.'s customs territory but will also be an entry point into the E.U.'s single market.

Now after four years the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will vote on whether or not to continue applying E.U. rules. This is envisioned as the final deal between London and Brussels. There is no longer any plan for a subsequent agreement.

Boris Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, of course, tried and failed three times to get her deal through Parliament. She ultimately resigned. CNN's Bianca Nobilo now explains what it would take to change that scenario.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Boris Johnson is leading a minority government, since taking office he has seen defections and has expelled these 21 rebel MPs. From the past, after they have backed an opposition bill that in theory blocks a no deal Brexit.

This exodus has seen Johnson's command of the Commons go from a surplus of one to a shortfall that's in the 20s. That's if you include the Conservative Party's partners, the Democratic Unionist Party.

But they say will not back Johnson's new plan.

So can this minority government get the deal through Parliament?

Not without the support of at least some of the opposition.

Where does that support come from?

JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: As it stands, we cannot support this deal and will oppose it in the Parliament on Saturday.

NOBILO: Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is against Johnson's new deal but a handful of his pro Brexit MPs could defy him and vote for it. There's also the possibility that some of these Labour MPs from staunchly pro-Brexit constituencies might abstain. Making a majority threshold easier to reach.

Let's break down some of the smaller parties in this other category. The leader of the Liberal Democrats wants to cancel Brexit altogether.


NOBILO: So Johnson's unlikely to win over any of these 19 votes. As for the Scottish National Party, here's there leader.

IAIN BLACKFORD, SNP: The prime minister doesn't have his consent of this host. He doesn't have the consent of these islands. This doomed deal, awfully devastating no-deal Brexit. Let me tell him no, he will never have the consent of Scotland.

NOBILO: That still leaves these 35 independent MPs. Most are former Conservatives and it's quite likely that some will be inclined to take the side of their old party. So with the Conservatives and the Labour rebels and these independent wildcards, a majority for Boris Johnson's deal might just be possible. It's still unlikely -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN London.



HOLMES (voice-over): And tune in for our special coverage of the Brexit debate and vote. Our own Richard Quest will be outside the Houses of Parliament starting at 9:00 am London time, 4:00 pm Hong Kong right here on CNN.

HOLMES: Well, a familiar name keeps popping into the impeachment inquiry, that name Rudy Giuliani. CNN has learned that President Trump's personal lawyer pushed the State Department and then the White House to grant a visa to a former Ukrainian official. Manu Raju tells us who it was and what he may have been promising.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: New details about how Rudy Giuliani used his influence to try to get dirt on Joe Biden. And then later tried to push the federal government to reverse a decision that it had made.

Now according to testimony of George Kent, a career diplomat, gave to congressional investigators earlier in the week, we are told from four sources that Kent had objected Giuliani's efforts to try to get a visa for Victor Shulkin. He's a former Ukrainian prosecutor whom Biden tried to get removed from that post.

Giuliani wanted to get Shulkin a visa. The State Department rejected that request and Giuliani went around the State Department and urged the White House to grant him a visa. Now the visa was never granted and then Giuliani carried out secret interviews with Shokin via Skype.

And those interview form the basis of a number of records that had dirt on not just the Bidens but also Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a lot of these allegations unsubstantiated. But nevertheless, Giuliani took those records to the State Department, asked the State Department to investigate. Later those were turned over to the inspector general at the State Department, who turned it over to Capitol Hill to further investigate this matter.

Shulkin has accused Marie Yovanovitch for being too close to Joe Biden, which is one reason why he was seeking her removal from the post and President Trump removed her from that post as well after Giuliani had targeted her.

And that caused much controversy in the previous weeks and months in causing the resignation of at least one high-level adviser, who was concerned that she was being unfairly targeted for political reasons.

But all of this, Giuliani's efforts form the basis of what the whistleblower complained, that the president used his office to try to benefit himself politically and tried to urge a foreign government to investigate and dig up dirt on a political rival.

And, of course, that forms the basis of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. It's just another detail that shows the depth of Giuliani's efforts to drive U.S. policy towards Ukraine -- Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: Much to go over and we will do that with Josh Rogin, a CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post."

In a little over an hour on Thursday, you had the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitting to a quid pro quo on Ukraine then the administration announced the G7 summit and the millions that will be spent on it will be at a Trump property.

And then there was the so-called cease-fire announced in northern Syria that many see as another betrayal of the Kurds. That was in an hour.

How is the week been for Donald Trump?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The one threat that joins all of those things, the president is out of control and his staff is unable to stop him. Their basic attitude towards anyone who is asking questions about it is, deal with it. It is too bad if you do not like it.

And we see it on the Ukrainian issue, the Syrian issue, we see that on the impeachment, it's just a president who does not have any guardrails anymore. There is no one left in this administration who can tell him no or who is willing to tell him no. So he is doing whatever he wants.


ROGIN: And the people who are left are just basically telling the rest of the world this is what you have. This is what President Trump is, this is what he is going to do and basically daring anyone to do anything about it.

And on the domestic front that is one thing. On the international front it has larger implications. When it comes to what's going on in Syria, it is just tragic and incompetence has a real cost in human lives.

HOLMES: That is it, exactly, some of it, you just shake your head, other things like what is happening in Syria, people are dying, because of the decision.

I'm curious what you think, how significant or not, is the heat the Donald Trump is getting from Republicans, some Republicans, for his handling of that situation?

You have supporters, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, calling it a blunder.

How does that hurt the president?

Does that sort of mini fracturing mean anything in the context of the broader situation?

ROGIN: I think it does mean something. I think Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed, calling for a reversal of Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria today in "The Washington Post." That's unprecedented in 2.5 years of the Trump presidency.

Mitch McConnell has not directly contradicted the president in such a public way. It shows two things. It shows how egregious and irresponsible this Syria policy has been. The whole thing, from the withdrawal to the cease-fire to the statements the president has made, bashing on the Kurds, our former allies. It's a bridge too far for a lot of Republicans.

It also shows that Republicans are looking at this and they are thinking about their party after Trump. If Donald Trump loses, then this party is going to have to do some serious soul searching, especially when it comes to something like terrorism and national security. They do not want to be on the wrong side of history when it comes to that.

So it's a little bit of CYA, a little bit of the Republican Party looking out for itself. But in the end, none of that amounts to what a well of Republican disapproval that will actually impact the president. Nowhere near enough to be able to convict him if he does get impeached.

So what you're seeing our cracks in the Republican support for Trump. And basically the wall is still holding.

HOLMES: I always liked the saying when it came to Richard Nixon, Republicans were with him until they weren't. The process is unfolding.

The other thing I wanted to ask you about is the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tried to get a visa for a key figure, the career diplomat, George Kent, he gave congressional investigators information. He said Giuliani asked the State Department and the White House to grant a visa to the former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to travel to the United States.

He is the guy who was fired as the top prosecutor for corruption.

What do you make of that?

ROGIN: It's worse than that. This is a story I have done of my own reporting on. I know a lot about. Shokin is the guy, the only guy in Ukraine, who actually put his name to paper to accuse Hunter and Joe Biden of some type of corruption related to the Burisma energy company in the allegations.

This was the beginning of the Biden allegation, conspiracy theory. And to find out that Rudy was actually trying to get Shokin a visa to come to the United States, the implication being that Shokin was paying him.

In other words, there's a whole other quid pro quo where they have this side deal, where they are doing favors for each other. That brings the whole Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Burisma scandal into a new light because it is not really the one guy who was accusing Hunter and Joe Biden of doing something wrong had something to gain from Rudy for doing this.

So it undermines that claim and it reveals even more corruption in Rudy's shop than we knew before and there was already a lot of corruption. SO it just feeds the narrative that Rudy was doing all sorts of shady business and mixing his personal interests with the national interests with the political interests of the president.

Josh, good to see you. Appreciate it.

ROGIN: Anytime.

HOLMES: You heard a moment ago, about this change in U.S. policy in northern Syria, the cease-fire or Turkey prefers to call it a pause, is off to a bit of a rocky start after reports of scattered fighting.

Turkey agreed to stop its operation for five days to give Kurdish fighters time to withdraw from a so-called safe zone. That deal ends on Tuesday, the same day Turkey's president meets with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.


Perhaps not.

Mr. Erdogan hopes they can solve that safe zone issue.


HOLMES: The situation in Syria escalated after President Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops and abandon America's Kurdish allies. The Senate majority leader now slamming that move though not mentioning the president directly by name.

In a blistering op-ed, he wrote, "Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies and weaken important alliances as neo-isolationism rears its head on both the left and the right we can expect to hear more talk of endless wars."

He goes on, "But rhetoric cannot change the fact that wars do not just end; words are won or lost."

Mitch McConnell.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh looks at how one week has already brought dramatic and bloody changes on the ground.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two decades vanished in a week with the U.S.' rapid withdrawal from northeastern Syria. The rules of the region are rewritten.

U.S. forces leaving so fast, so perilously, they blew up their own base, something they have not done since fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And abandoned their key ally against ISIS, the Syrian Kurds, who died in their thousands, fighting the terror group. And where the U.S. flag once flew at this outpost near Kobani just days ago, Russia now stands tall. The Kremlin can surely not believe how easy extending their influence has been.

TRUMP: Syria may have some help with Russia and that is fine. It's a lot of sand.

WALSH (voice-over): President Trump campaigned on leaving what he called endless wars and has tried to put that into action.

He also said he had 100 percent defeated ISIS. But his first bid to leave Syria last year came just at the critical moment the group still had territory so was delayed. The U.S. departure from Syria was eventually inevitable, some say, as was the Syrian Kurds needing to find new allies. But the speed and chaos of the withdrawal announced before the troops got the order to leave, imperiled not only the Kurds and the Americans.

We saw a U.S. convoy buzzed nearby Turkish jets. But America's standing as an ally globally. America's other allies may be reeling. Saudi Arabia's gasoil fields were hit, U.S. officials say, by Iranian missiles. But Iran said it would fight back if attacked.


WALSH (voice-over): Trump dropped his big stick.

TRUMP: Do I want war?

I don't war with anybody.

WALSH (voice-over): So it was no coincidence the Saudis, who reflexively expected U.S. protection, met another president weeks later. He's also been keeping close to another traditional U.S. ally.

The last two decades of U.S. involvement in the Middle East have been exhausting in blood and treasury but led to alliances that endured as U.S. troops came home. This week's hasty shambolic rout in Syria and the lives it cost not only expose the president's unwilling to restrain his whimsical urges to keep troops and allies safe, it also rearranged the alliances in the world's bloodiest region. That risks more mayhem as a new order emerges to reset the rules of the game -- Nick Paton Walsh, ,CNN, Irbil, Northern Iraq.


HOLMES: We are also in Beirut for you with demonstrations over Lebanon's economic crisis once again erupt in flames. When we come back, what the country's leader is proposing to do about it.





HOLMES: Protests are happening, sweeping Lebanon's capital where the prime minister is talking tough now. He says that they have fewer than three days to come up with solutions to get help the debt-ridden country end its economic crisis. Ben Wedeman is on the spot.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Volleys of tear gas rain down on protesters near government headquarters. By Friday evening, central Beirut began a scene of flaming pandemonium.

Demonstrations ignited by falling living standards, rising prices and government inaction.

WEDEMAN: There has been growing economic discontent in economic in Lebanon for months; indeed, for years. The government has had warning after warnings that the situation was not sustainable. Now it is getting out of control.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The prime minister addressed the nation, giving his political rivals, who are also his partners in government, 72 hours to accept his reform program. That may not be enough.

What they're chanting is, "The people want the downfall of the regime." That is the chant we heard during the Egyptian revolution.

What sparked these protests? There have been sporadic protests in Lebanon over the last few months.

What sparked these protests, which have been intense since last night?

Was the government's decision to impose a 20 cent tax on WhatsApp calls?

That seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough is enough, this is the first time I've come down the streets because enough is enough. I don't want to leave. I want to stay here. I want a future for my kids here. And this is why we are here today.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Earlier this year the government declared an economic state of emergency. Lebanon is severely indebted. The economy is at a standstill. The government rescinded the proposed WhatsApp tax within hours. But that may have been too little too late.

Thursday night, throughout the country, the protests grew in size and intensity, including clashes with the security forces. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, the country has been ruled by a variety of sectarian leaders, long accused of corruption and incompetence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want a new election, a new parliament. We want these thieves out.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): There are only Lebanese flags at these protests in front of government headquarters; this often divided country is coming together to demand change and change now. The day began with peaceful protests and is ending in chaos -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


We will take a short back break but when we come back, the Rugby World Cup heats up. We will take you live to Tokyo for a look at the four heavyweights taking to the pitch in Japan.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

Four of the world's heavyweights squaring off in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup in Japan and right now England taking on Australia and later defending champion New Zealand take on Ireland.

CNN's Christina Macfarlane joins us live from Tokyo.

I'm going to say this but I don't know what the score is, let's start with the Wallabies taking down your Lions.

CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is very bold, very bold indeed.. They just kicked off in the south of Japan in the last few minutes, still 0-0. I might remind you that under Eddie Jones, England actually defeated the Wallabies on the last six previous occasions they met.

And England are certainly going to be out for some revenge today. It was the Wallabies who knocked them out of the World Cup in 2015. They never even got to the quarterfinals. That certainly stung.

And when you add to the fact that England coach Jones is actually a former Aussie coach, taking the Australians to the 2003 World Cup final when the English kicked them out. So a lot of beef in this game.

And the reputations of both coaches are likely to be defined by what happens in this game. Remember test matches are one thing; the Rugby World Cup is another thing altogether.

We must mention, standing right now here in Tokyo, preparing for another huge clash today, we have Ireland against New Zealand, the fans are coming in, you see green and black behind me.

Of course, all of this favor goes in fact with New Zealand. They are the two time World Cup champions and going for a third Rugby World Cup title. They haven't been beaten in the World Cup in 12 years. Ireland by contrast, they haven't got past the quarterfinals and never beaten a Southern Hemisphere team since 2011.

But we are talking about an exceptional Ireland team, this is the grand slam winning Irish side. They've beaten New Zealand two out of the last three times that they played them so this is going to be a fascinating contest, due to kick off in just about an hour's time here.

HOLMES: Very exciting stuff. Very exciting stuff. I think your camera man, Paul, is an Australian so you are outnumbered. Thank you for that, Christina Macfarlane.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes. I'll be back with your headlines.