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Big Blow For Trump's Defense; Russia Brokers Syria Deal; Facebook Chief Faces Grilling; Game Juan to the Nats. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A devastating blow to the president's impeachment defense. What the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine told investigators behind closed doors.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Russia cements itself as the top power broker in Syria. A deal to force U.S. allies from the Turkey-Syria border takes effect overnight.

ROMANS: Why will you take money for political ads, but no responsibility for the content? One of the many questions the Facebook people face on Capitol Hill today.

BRIGGS: And a 20-year-old is having a postseason for the ages. Juan Soto leads the Nationals to an early lead in the World Series.

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

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

It is Wednesday, October 23rd. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

President Trump's impeachment defense jolted by dramatic new closed- door testimony that offered the strongest proof yet of a quid pro quo. The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testifying that he was told the president was sitting on vital military aid and it would not be released until Kiev publicly pledged to investigate meddling in the 2016 election and 2020 Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

BRIGGS: Taylor's testimony seems to directly contradict the president's claim there was no quid pro quo. Taylor also detailed what he called highly irregular shadow diplomacy with Ukraine. Back- channel bargaining led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, that ties into much of impeachment inquiry.

Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, since almost the first deposition, lawmakers have said they need to hear from William Taylor, one of the three individuals on a series of text messages that have become public that made clear that Taylor was concerned that U.S. security assistance to Ukraine was, in fact, being withheld for political reasons -- something the Trump administration and the president himself have denied was actually the case.

Well, he testified behind closed doors, more than eight hours in that room -- testimony that, at least based on a 15-page prepared statement obtained by CNN, led, according to one lawmaker, to gasps in the room as he laid it out in detail -- meticulous detail from his months as the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine -- making very clear that at least in conversations with another administration official, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., was repeatedly talking to the president that there was, in fact, a quid pro quo at play.

That the president had informed Sondland that while there wasn't a quid pro quo, at least in terms of the words, the president expected something for the Ukrainian security assistance. The president wanted an investigation into Burisma, the company that had hired Joe Biden's son, Hunter. He also wanted an investigation into allegations, since debunked, of 2016 election meddling by Ukraine.

In all, the statement was detailed throughout the process and made very clear that at least in Taylor's mind, from Taylor's perspective, that there had, in fact, been some type of restrictions put on place because of political reasons. Now, again, that runs contrary to what the White House and what the president has said.

One thing to keep an eye on. Taylor's deposition or at least his opening statement diverge in some parts from Gordon Sondland's deposition and where those inconsistencies lie is something members of both parties are saying they want to look into.

Another thing to keep in mind, one lawmaker I spoke to said his read was that Taylor had extensive notes that memorialized many of the conversations he was talking about, which probably led to how detailed his statement was -- something lawmakers didn't get during his deposition but you can be certain they'll be looking for in the days ahead -- guys.


ROMANS: A career diplomat, taking a lot of notes, came out of retirement for that job. The White House is calling Ambassador Taylor's testimony a coordinated smear attack from radical, unelected bureaucrats.

Keep in mind, it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who asked Taylor to come out of retirement to serve in this position. We're now seeing a clear trend in the impeachment inquiry testimony, putting the word of career officials against Trump appointees.

Vice President Mike Pence addressing that pattern on Fox News.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have some extraordinary men and women in our diplomatic corps, who know their work and who are strong and are out fighting for America's interests. But there's no question that when president Trump said we're going to drain the swamp that an awful lot of the swamp has been caught up in the State Department bureaucracy. And we're just -- we're just going to keep fighting it.


BRIGGS: Despite his attack on the swamp, Pence refused to say whether he was comfortable with Rudy Giuliani's shadow diplomacy with Ukraine.


Today, investigators hear from a budget official for national security programs, who will no doubt be asked about withholding of aid, and the deputy assistant secretary of defense, a vocal supporter of aid to Ukraine.

ROMANS: Some top congressional Republicans this morning breaking with President Trump over his use of a word with a charged racial history in the U.S. fighting back against impeachment, the president said all Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here, a lynching.

The pushback included the only black Republican in the House, Congressman Will Hurd.


REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): It's a crazy statement. It shouldn't have been said. And it shows a level of insensitivity to a horrific period in our history.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Given the history in our country, I would not compare this to a lynching. That was an unfortunate choice of words.


ROMANS: President Trump did find some support among Republicans.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is a lynching, in every sense. This is un-American. What does lynching mean? A mob grabs you, they don't give you a chance to defend yourself.


BRIGGS: Criticism from Democrats came swiftly, including from presidential candidate Joe Biden, who enjoys broad support among African-Americans. But it turns out Biden used that word himself on CNN in 1998.


THEN-SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): Even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching.


BRIGGS: Late yesterday, Biden apologized, but said Trump chose his words deliberately and continues to stoke racial divides in this country.

Biden wasn't alone in 1998. At least five House Democrats also compared Bill Clinton's impeachment to a lynching. One of them, Jerry Nadler, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. That committee may have to draw up articles of impeachment.

ROMANS: Senator Elizabeth Warren joining striking teachers on the picket line in Chicago. The walkout is offering its fifth day, 300,000 students missing class.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in public education and I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education. And I've got a plan for that.


ROMANS: Joe Biden is back on the trail today in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to deliver a speech focusing on the middle class.

BRIGGS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg heads back to Capitol Hill today with the social network facing more scrutiny than ever. This was supposed to be a hearing about digital currency, but this week Facebook uncovered dozens of fake Russian-controlled accounts, seeking to influence the 2020 election. And the social network is facing heavy criticism for not doing third party fact checks for political ads and not taking down ads with false statements.

Also, 47 attorneys general are now part of an anti-trust investigation of Facebook, raising the stakes in a bipartisan probe that could result in big changes to business practices for the tech giant.

ROMANS: All right. China's foreign ministry slammed White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for using an alter ego in his books to boost his arguments about Beijing's threat to the U.S. economy. During a press conference, a spokesperson said: Certain people in the U.S. can do whatever they think of to contain and smear China without scruple. It is absurd and extremely dangerous to make lies, spread lies, and even formulate policies based on lies.

A longtime China hawk, Navarro, has been a key player in trade talks and has repeatedly defended President Trump's tariffs. Last week, he admitted he made up this alter ego, Ron Vara, in his books, describing it as a whimsical device and a pen name, purely for entertainment value. It was an anagram of his own last name, Navarro. Navarro mocked the criticism from Beijing, saying, quoting Ron Vara, a source close to Ron Vara indicates that China has revoked his visa and lowered his social credit score. In a related event, the ministry of state security has banned all anagrams and humor in social media and nonfiction books.

The Vara alias is quoted in at least six of Navarro's books, including "The Coming China Wars" in 2008.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment, but --

BRIGGS: I'm only laughing, because if I don't, I'm going to cry.

ROMANS: Peter crafted a clever kind of poke in the eye to the Chinese there.

BRIGGS: Wow, so 2019.

All right. Ahead, current player have said quiet, but former NBA legends getting combative about the recent NBA/China controversy.


SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, RETIRED NBA PLAYER, TNT SPORTS ANALYST: Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say that's not right.

CHARLES BARKLEY, RETIRED NBA PLAYER, ANALYST, "INSIDE THE NBA": We don't get to impress our values on other countries.




ROMANS: Defense Secretary Mark Esper has landed in Baghdad. His stop in Iraq's capital happening as U.S. forces withdraw from Syria and enter neighboring Iraq.

He addressed the future of those troops in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You said that they were going to be redeployed to western Iraq, but the latest news is that the Iraqi command says welcome to come across the border but only en route out. He doesn't anticipate your troops staying there, so where will they be?


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, as you know, we're conducting a phased withdrawal -- deliberate phased withdrawal from northeast Syria. We will temporarily reposition in Iraq pursuant to bringing the troops home. And so it's just one part of a continuing phase but eventually those troops are going to come home.

AMANPOUR: So they are coming home?

ESPER: They will come home.


ROMANS: Esper says some could stay in the southern part of Syria, while others may stay to deny ISIS and others access to key oil fields in the middle part of the country, but there's been no final decision.

Russia and Turkey have reached a deal to remove Kurdish fighters along Syria's border, cementing Russia's role now as a central power broker, as U.S. influence in this important region wanes.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live along the Turkish-Syria border -- Jomana.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, basically, this agreement, if you look at this, it's going to be in two phases. At least about in an hour's time, the Syrian border guard, along with the Russian military police, are going to deploy to the safe zone. Now, what is not included in that Turkish safe zone is the area of the operations. As you'll recall, where Turkey entered that 70-mile stretch between the towns of Tal Abyad and the town of Ras al-Ain. That area will remain under the control of Turkey and the forces that it backs.

Now, if you look at actually what happened overnight, we heard from the Syrian Democratic Forces that mainly Syrian/Kurdish fighting force, they say they have withdrawn from that area based on that agreement that was brokered by the United States last week. The Turkey ministry of defense says that they were notified by the U.S. that these fighters withdrew from this area. So there's no reason for them to resume the operation.

Then you've got the other part, where the Syrian regime comes into play here and the Russians. And that is these patrols that are going to begin in about an hour. They have about 150 hours, until next week, basically, to push the Syrian Kurdish fighters out of about -- you know, to 20 miles inside Syria and in a week's time, that is where you're going to see joint Turkish and Russian patrols taking place around that border area to basically make sure that the Syrian Kurdish fighters do not return.

The irony in all of this is the fact that the United States and Turkey were negotiating a similar agreement, but Turkey felt that the U.S. was dragging its feet. It was never going to deliver on it, and now we have this agreement coming from Russia, not from their own NATO ally, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jomana Karadsheh for us there on the border -- thank you, Jomana.

BRIGGS: Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the TNT broadcasting team had a lot to say about the recent NBA China controversy on opening night. It all started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong while the league was playing preseason games in China. Morey quickly deleted the tweet, but it was too late to stop Beijing from suspending ties with the Rockets and threatening the NBA's ability to broadcast in China. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'NEAL: You've got people speaking when they don't know what they're talking about. But, Daryl Morey was right. Whenever you see something wrong going on anywhere in the world, you should have the right to say that's not right and that's what he did.

And -- but again, when it comes to business, sometimes you have to tiptoe around things. But again, they understand our values and we understand our values -- and here, we have the right to speak, especially with the social media. We're going to say whatever we want to say when we want to say it.

BARKLEY: Because of Yao Ming, the Rockets are by far and away the most popular team in China. You can't come to my country and make money and insult me. We don't get to impress our values on other countries. Daryl Morey had the right to say it but he didn't look at the big picture.


BRIGGS: Fans could be seen waving a Hong Kong flag behind the TNT set during halftime of the New Orleans-Toronto last night. The L.A. game, Lakers/Clippers, was not aired by China state TV CCTV, but was picked up by Tencent in China. So, this thing is far from over.

ROMANS: The irony there that that discussion would never be had in China publicly. And the initial tweet that caused this firestorm was also not visible in China in the first place.

BRIGGS: Banned, Twitter.

ROMANS: So, remember, the free speech debate is something that's not happening on the Chinese side.

Nineteen minutes past the hour. There are new charges in the college admissions scandal. Prosecutors leaning in on parents who have refused to cooperate.



BRIGGS: New charges in the college admissions scandal. Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband designer Mossimo Giannulli and nine other parents now face federal bribery charges on top of fraud and money laundering and conspiracy charges. It appears prosecutors are trying to crank up the pressure to get the parents to plead guilty. They now face up to 45 years in prison. So far, of the 52 people charged, 29 have agreed to plead guilty, including actress Felicity Huffman, with sentencing of just weeks or months.

Game one of the World Series is in the books.



WORLD SERIES ANNOUNCER: Third-youngest players as you saw in a hit clean-up in a World Series and he just cleaned up. Wow!


BRIGGS: That, folks, is a mammoth blast from 20-year-old Juan Soto, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros. Last game, he went 3 for 4, including a game-tying homer in the fourth inning. Nats added three runs in the fifth and held on for the win.

The first loss for Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole since May 22nd, 19 straight. Game two tonight in Houston.

And for those of you who are wondering, Juan Soto will turn 21 on Friday night, so if they win the World Series, it is legal that he takes part in the champagne celebration.

Ahead here, the president's impeachment defense, thrown into serious doubt with the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told investigators.