Return to Transcripts main page


Explosive Testimony By Top Diplomat in Ukraine; Russia Brokers Syria Deal; Facebook Chief Faces Grilling; Future of Brexit in Limbo Again; Game Juan to the Nats. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 04:30   ET




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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Russia cements itself has the top power broker in Syria. A deal to force U.S. allies from the Turkey/Syria border takes effect overnight.

BRIGGS: Happy to take money for political ads, but not police them. The Facebook chief faces big questions today on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: And a 20-year-old having a post-season for the ages, leads the Nationals to an early lead in the World Series.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: That's train tracks.

I'm Dave Briggs. It's 4:31 Eastern Time.

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

ROMAN: 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 is back on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.


BRIGGS: Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Some top congressional Republicans breaking with the president over his use of a word with charged racial history in the United States. Fighting back against impeachment, the president said, quote: All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here, a lynching.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 -- 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.


BRIGGS: President Trump did find some support, however, 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.


ROMANS: Criticism from Democrats came swiftly, including from presidential candidate Joe Biden, who enjoys broad support among African-Americans. It turns out, though, Biden used that word himself on CNN back 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.


ROMANS: Late yesterday, Biden apologized. He said it wasn't the right word then, it's not appropriate now, but he said Trump chose his words deliberately and continues to stoke racial divides in this country.

Biden, by the way, 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.

BRIGGS: Senator Elizabeth Warren joining striking teachers on the picket line in Chicago. The walkout is offering its fifth day, with 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.


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

ROMANS: All right. A crack has he merged in the financial markets and Senator Elizabeth Warren fears big banks will use it to cut regulation. In a letter to the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Warren said she's alarmed by the turmoil in the overnight lending markets. Last night, a spike in overnight borrowing rates forced the New York Federal Reserve to come to the rescue for the first time in a decade.

Now, it's not clear what's causing this stress, some analysts have said post-financial crisis rules may be one of the reasons. Those regulations limit the ability of banks to provide cash to short-term borrowers when it's needed.

Now, Warren, a strong supporter of tough regulation on Wall Street seems skeptical of that argument. It would be painfully ironic, she says, if unexplained chaos in a small corner of the banking market became an excuse to further loosen rules that protect the economy from these types of risks. Warren asked Mnuchin to answer several questions about the cause of the spike in rates and what regulators are doing to prevent it from affecting the economy. She wants those answers by November 1st.

BRIGGS: The senior White House official who wrote an anonymous "New York Times" op-ed last year that President Trump called treasonous has written a new book about the president. It's called "A Warning" and will available November 19th. CNN has obtained an exclusive look at the cover of the book, being described as an explosive and shocking firsthand account of the Trump presidency. The author will remain anonymous.

We're told the publisher and the literary agents verified the author is the same person who penned the op-ed, quote, "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration" in September 2018.

ROMANS: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg heads back to Capitol Hill today with the social network facing more scrutiny than ever before. This week, Facebook unveiled sweeping changes on elections and disinformation. It revealed it uncovered dozens of fake, Russian- controlled accounts, seeking to influence this election, the 2020 election.

Facebook, though, will not subject ads by political candidates to third-party fact checking. It will not take down ads containing lies and false statements. Meantime, 46 attorneys general have now joined a New York-led antitrust investigation of Facebook. The move raising the stakes in a bipartisan probe of the tech giant that could result in big changes to its business practices.

ROMANS: All right. Big stuff there.

The future of Brexit, meanwhile, in the hand of the European Union. Will they grant a delay Boris Johnson was forced to request?



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, 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 as a central power broker, as U.S. influence in the region wanes.

Senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen, has reported extensively from inside Syria.


He joins us now from Sochi, where the Russian and Turkish presidents struck their deal.

And what I'm struck by is this is a significant rebalance of power, rebalance of influence that the United States open the door to.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Christine. This deal is a landmark deal, in pretty much every sense of the world, and it certainly does very much change the balance of power. Just to give you an update, 15 minutes from now is when exactly that deal is essentially going to kick into effect. That's when Russian and Syrian government forces are going to move into large parts of the border area between Syrian and Turkey, and they are going to start driving those forces that were allied with the U.S., the Kurdish forces, out of an area 30 kilometers away from Turkey's border.

And you know, one of the things that we heard President Trump tweet about all of this. He said that he believes that good things are happening in Syria. And they certainly are if you're Vladimir Putin, or if you're the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and if you're Bashar al Assad, but not if you're America's former allies, the Syrian Kurds, who, of course, were so important in fighting ISIS together with the United States. In fact, the spokesman for the Kremlin earlier today said if the Kurds don't get out of that area, they are going to be, quote, steamrolled by the Turkish military.

As you can imagine, one of the folks who's very happy with this deal is also Bashar al Assad. There was a phone call late last night between Vladimir Putin and Assad, where Assad thanked Putin for striking this deal, and saying that he was very much onboard with what is going to be happening next, which as you correctly say, is a very much a redistribution of power and influence, not just in Syria, but pretty much in the entire Middle East, Christine.

ROMANS: You know, just a quick question, Fred, but where are the people supposed to go? Where are the Syrian Kurd fighting forces supposed to go if they're being moved out of this area? This is their traditional homeland, right?

PLEITGEN: That's exactly the thing. And that's one of the things that I'm not sure many folks or at least the folks striking this deal have given much thought to, because the places that they are being essentially driven out of, those Kurdish fighters, the YPG, that is the Kurdish homeland.

You're talking about cities like, you're talking about cities like Kobani, those are places that very traditionally have been Kurdish and obviously where those groups have been operational, as well. They moved further south. There's a lot more Arabs who are living down there who are not going to be happy to have more Kurdish forces and especially those Kurdish fighters in those areas.

So, that is something that's pretty unclear at this point in time. The further south you move, you are still going to be U.S. forces down there. But of course, right now, it's anyone's guess how long America is going to stay in Syria at all, Christine.

ROMANS: Of course. All right. Fred Pleitgen for us in Sochi, thanks, Fred.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 308. The nos to the left, 322. So the nos have it.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's that the government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a no-deal outcome. Until we reach, we will pause this legislation.


BRIGGS: The future of Brexit in limbo again. Lawmakers rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's planned timetable to accelerate his withdrawal agreement through parliament. Johnson now says he will pause the legislation until the European Union responds to the U.K.'s request for an extension.

Here we go again, Max Foster, live in London. Two steps forward, one steps back, or is it three steps back? Not exactly clear. Good morning.

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a huge amount of frustration, Dave, in Downing Street about this timetable not getting through. Effectively, what they want to do is fast track Boris Johnson's Brexit deal through parliament, so he can meet that October 31st deadline. They voted against that, and he, as you heard there, talked about pausing this deal.

Behind the scenes, that doesn't mean -- I mean, you've got to look at the wording there. It doesn't mean the deal is over, they're not going to reintroduce it, they're just pausing it for now. The next thing we're waiting for is for some sort of response from the European Union, because Boris Johnson was forced by parliament to ask for a delay in Brexit, beyond that 31st deadline.

That's something he doesn't believe is in the national interest. And he's hoping, actually, that the European Union will turn that down. But we're expecting to hear from the European Union imminently. We could hear as soon as tonight, according to our sources.

But the European Union now, very wary about throwing themselves into what has become a political decision. It's not just saying yes or no to a delay. It is something that feeds international politics and it's something that the European Union don't necessarily want to get involved with.

We'll hear Boris Johnson's latest positioning very soon, though. He's due to appear in parliament again for prime minister's questions, which is midday, our time, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Max Foster, good to see you my friend. Live in London.

Romans, how do we do the Boris Johnson, I mean, do we intentionally un-- mess up there, and then go, and the red light.

ROMANS: It's the look.

BRIGGS: How's it worked for me?

ROMANS: I don't like it on you.


It wouldn't look good on Max Foster, either.

BRIGGS: Max Foster, no way --

ROMANS: Oh, my God, let me fix your hair.

All right. Big leaders at big companies -- I'm sorry I did that. They're moving on. CNN business is next.


ROMANS: Congresswoman Katie Hill denying allegations of an improper relationship with a member of her congressional staff. The California Democrat accused Republican operatives and her husband of coordinating a smear campaign during the couple's pending divorce. Hill's husband Kenny Heslep has not responded to media requests for comment. She says Capitol police are investigating the distribution of intimate photos that were posted online without her consent.


BRIGGS: First, the Houston Astros denied a team executive taunted female reporters, then hours later, that executive apologized. This all happened during the team's celebration after its ALCS win.

According to "Sports Illustrated," assistant GM Brandon Taubman honed in on three women in the locker room, one wearing a bracelet promoting domestic violence awareness. He reportedly said six times, thank god we got Osuna.

Now, the Astros closer Roberto Osuna was acquired last year after being suspended 75 games for violating baseball's domestic violence policy. The team blasted the "Sports Illustrated" story as quote, misleading and irresponsible.

But yesterday afternoon, Taubman acknowledged his inappropriate remarks, attributing them to over-exuberance in support of a player.

And it did not get better for the Houston Astros in game one of the World Series.


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 was a massive shot from 20-year-old Juan Soto, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 5-4 win over the Astros last night. It went 3 for 4. A homer and a two-run double. The Nats added three runs in the fifth and held on for the win. First loss for the Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole since May 22nd. Game two tonight in Houston.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Taking a look at markets around the world on Wednesday.

Mixed performance here. You can see Asian markets close mixed. European markets opened up and down.

On Wall Street, let's look at futures. Slightly lower here. Not a big, big move. Stocks finished slightly lower Tuesday after a handful of disappointing earnings reports. The Dow down about 40 points. That's just 2 tenths of a percent. The S&P and Nasdaq also standing still.

Weak earnings caused some of this mood. McDonald's declined 5 percent on lackluster earnings on U.S. sales. Hasbro, wow, down 17 percent. That's the worst day since December 2000. Why? Tariffs ate into the toymaker's profit. Facebook lost 4 percent on deepening antitrust scrutiny.

It was a head-spinning day in the executive ranks of major companies. Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank is stepping down as its North American sales struggle. He's also having trouble attracting customers from its rivals like Nike.

But changes are happening there too. Nike's CEO Mark Parker is stepping down after 13 years. Parker told employees, I strongly believe the best way for us to evolve and grow as a company is to bring in a phenomenal talent to join our team who has long been part of the Nike family.

Plank and Parker will both become executive chairman of their respective boards.

Another offering in the fake meat craze. Kellogg's is partnering with Pizza Hut to introduce a plant-based meat option. It's incogmeato sausage. That's clever.


ROMANS: It's veggie garden specialty pizza. Also look at this, the pie will come in an environmentally friendly round box. Pizza Hut said the design is less packaging that the traditional square box. The garden pizza and round box will get a test run at one location in Phoenix, Arizona, starting today.

I'm very bullish on the round box.

BRIGGS: Yes, I like the round box. I'm not necessarily sold on incogmeato yet, but I'll try it.

We've heard President Trump and his supporters pushing Ukraine conspiracy theories. While you were sleeping, actor John Lithgow is channeling the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on the late show.


JOHN LITHGOW, ACTOR, CHANNELING RUDY GIULIANI ON CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": I now have reason to believe that the 2016 election was not hacked by the Russians. It was hacked by Hunter Biden, who was actually a "Men In Black"-style alien being operating by a tiny Hillary Clinton in his neck. STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": OK. Wow, that's a bold assertion.

LITHGOW: Oh, no.

COLBERT: That is -- that is -- sir, that's a bold assertion. Do you have any proof of that?

LITHGOW: Not yet or ever. I'm not falling into that proof trap.


BRIGGS: He's a national treasure. John Lithgow will be on "NEW DAY" this morning in the 8:00 hour.

Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day.

For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: Some might call it a devastating blow to the president's impeachment defense. What the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine told investigators behind closed doors.

ROMANS: Russia cements itself as the top powerbroker in Syria. A deal to force U.S. allies from the Turkey-Syria border takes effect this hour.

BRIGGS: Happy to take money for political ads but not police them. Facebook chief facing some big questions later today on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: And a 20-year-old having a postseason for the ages leads the nationals to the lead in the World Series.