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Explosive Testimony By Top Diplomat In Ukraine; Putin And Erdogan Strike Deal On Syria; Nationals Beat Astros In Game One Of World Series. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 05:30   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 powerbroker in Syria in a deal to force U.S. allies from the Turkey-Syria border that takes effect this hour.

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

BRIGGS: And a 20-year-old having a post-season for the ages. Juan Soto leading the Nationals to an early lead in the World Series.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you --

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: -- this morning, Dave. Thirty-two minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning.

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 he was told the president was sitting on vital military aid and would not be released until Kiev publicly pledged to investigate President Trump's unfounded concerns about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

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

Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly now 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.

The White House calling Ambassador Taylor's testimony a, quote, "coordinated smear attack from radical unelected bureaucrats.

Keep in mind, it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who asked Taylor to come out retirement to serve in the position. Today, investigators hear from a budget official for national security programs who will no doubt be asked about the withholding of aid. And, the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense, a vocal supporter of aid to Ukraine.

ROMANS: All right, more ahead on this. Plus, current players have been quiet but former NBA legends get 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.




BRIGGS: Crucial testimony on Capitol Hill from the top American diplomat in Ukraine. Bill Taylor's closed-door deposition in the House impeachment inquiry contradicting the White House claim there was no quid pro quo.

Let's bring in "Washington Post" congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian. She's a CNN political analyst. Good to see you, Karoun.

ROMANS: Hi, Karoun.


BRIGGS: A big day on Capitol Hill. Among the things we read in a statement from Bill Taylor, 15 pages of it was this.

"During the phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him he wants President Zelensky (of Ukraine) to say publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election."

How did yesterday and what Bill Taylor testified to, and this 15-page statement change everything for the White House?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, look, Bill Taylor laid out an extremely detailed accounting of what happened since the middle of June when he actually went to Ukraine to serve as the charge d'affaires -- the top diplomat -- until late September when the president released a transcript of that July 25th phone call during the U.N. General Assembly.

And the fact that he goes through and paints, basically, the narrative of how he saw the Giuliani-directed operation moving away from the same goals of better Ukraine-U.S. relations -- the regular diplomatic channels we're trying pursue -- and how that by the time that we got to early September he realized and people were telling him from directly in his circle that the military aid was being held up in order to procure these promises to investigate.

And these investigations, which are political in nature and could be advantageous to Trump in 2020 -- he is making the details of the case. And he's making the details of the case in a way that is more meticulous than the other people who have come before him.

And so that's why he's both filling in gaps and contradicting the denials of a quid pro quo because he's basically laying out exactly who and when did what to create it.

ROMANS: And for those, Republicans in particular, who are saying this all behind closed doors, they want some transparency. This is Adam Schiff keeping us all secret. This is 15 pages -- a prepared --


ROMANS: -- statement that is the outline for what he told lawmakers.

And what Bill Taylor really says here is our national security depends -- demands that this relationship with Ukraine remains strong. He really paints this as a national security issue.

He says this about this irregular information channel that the White House had made here. "In August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons."

Look, other presidents have had a shadow diplomacy, you know.


ROMANS: FDR during World War II. I mean, he had to.

BRIGGS: Probably all.

ROMANS: But the -- right. But the issue here is using the shadow diplomacy for personal reasons. To exploit unfounded conspiracy theories to try to win an election.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, track II diplomacy happens all the time, going outside and bringing in experts that can help advance what the government is trying to do.

But in this case, it's really striking that Taylor also lays out who was working in what camp. He shows how the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the head of the CIA, and the National Security adviser, who at the time was John Bolton, were trying to convince the president to let go of this military aid that he had a hold on for Ukraine because you can't talk about Ukraine and not be thinking about Russia. That is why we send the military aid.

There are Russian-backed separatists in their eastern provinces. Ukraine has always been at the front line of the tension between the United States and Russia, which was amped up like crazy five or six years ago -- five years ago -- excuse my math in the morning -- when Russia annexed Crimea and the Russian-backed separatists made these incursions into the eastern part of that country.

And so, you can't separate the two. So the fact that you have people of that level of the government who are responsible for national security all trying to tell -- trying to organize themselves -- the meeting never happened to tell the president you have to let this go. You have to get back on track here.

And yet, then you got the perilous situation where the president's personal lawyer is working with a side group, which includes some diplomats but mostly not people who were responsible for Ukraine, including Ambassador Sondland who is the ambassador to the E.U. And they are -- seem to be pushing an agenda that not only is about domestic politics and political gain but would effectively potentially undercut what the U.S.-Ukraine policy is supposed to be and direction it's supposed to go in.

ROMANS: It's essentially experts on one side and appointees on another side.

BERMAN: Well, and to characterize what she's talking about -- real quick, Karoun. The White House says this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.

What are you hearing from congressional Republicans, though?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that congressional Republicans are -- some of them are extremely concerned. We heard some Republicans say they want to hear from Giuliani, they want to hear from Sondland right now and that you can't just shrug this sort of thing off.


But you have the leaders -- you have Jim Jordan, you have Mark Meadows saying look, there's no quid pro quo here.

It's fine, it's just hearsay. Taylor was told this by other people. He wasn't in the room.


DEMIRJIAN: How can he just go and throw around these accusations. He doesn't have any direct proof.

And that's fine. We heard that before when we were talking about the whistleblower. We heard that before when we were talking about former ambassador Yovanovitch's testimony. But this is clearly a case that is building up and you've seen that

the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees -- the House Democrats -- have been bringing in people who were outside the room and inside the room and kind of playing them off each other. And we are seeing the discrepancies are filling in the gaps this way and they are not done.

We assume that they are going to be working --


DEMIRJIAN: -- up the chain. They've subpoenaed many people in the -- in the cabinet levels of this administration. And you've got -- the interesting thing is that you really do have political appointees on both sides of this issue and that --

ROMANS: On both sides of the issue.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, and that illustrates that this is not really just careers versus a Trump loyalist issue. This is an issue of the substance of the merits as well.

ROMANS: OK, good point.

BRIGGS: Karoun Demirjian, appreciate the time. Thank you.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 46 minutes past the hour.

The Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, will testify on Capitol Hill today. Lawmakers expected to press him on the company's work to safeguard U.S. elections from foreign interference.

CNN tech reporter Brian Fung live in Washington for us. Brian, good morning. Explain why today is just so critical for Facebook.

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: Sure. This is a major test for Facebook, especially as it faces so many sorts of scrutiny across the political spectrum.

You know, you've got Facebook potentially being asked questions about its expansion into digital currency, which a lot of lawmakers have raised concerns about, asking why you're expanding into this heavily- regulated area of business when you haven't figured out yet how to deal with disinformation and trolls.

You have other areas, including health care -- I'm sorry, housing issues --

ROMANS: Right.

FUNG: -- that the company is being asked about.

The company is being challenged on questions about the truthfulness of political advertising on its platform. You have the company facing questions about whether or not its stand on fact-checking politicians and ads is appropriate.

All of this is really swirling around the company at a time of a lot of regulators and policymakers are trying to develop rules around how to ensure that the company is not unduly influencing political speech.

ROMANS: Right. Yes, political attackers or meddlers, liars, truth on its platform. It says we're a platform for communication. We leave the fact-checking to the journalists, for example, Mark Zuckerberg said.

We'll see. I think lawmakers are going to have a lot of questions about that.

And there's more trouble. Forty-seven attorneys general are now part of this antitrust investigation of Facebook. That could mean changes.

What can you tell us?

FUNG: Certainly. On Monday, a number of federal antitrust officials met with state attorneys general in New York to discuss possible legal theories that could underpin a future antitrust case against Facebook that could seek to either break up the company or look at imposing new regulations or commitments on that company.

It's very early days in terms of where that investigation stands. The investigators are -- have been described to me as I'm trying to get a grip on the issues that are facing regulators and the types of business activities that Facebook is involved in that could raise antitrust concerns.

And a big question moving forward is whether or not the law can actually reach some of those --

ROMANS: Right.

FUNG: -- business activities and actually bring Facebook to heal.

ROMANS: All right, Brian Fung up early for us. It's going to be a big day for you. I know you'll be monitoring those hearings in Washington. Thanks so much.

FUNG: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, we'll be right back.



BRIGGS: Defense Sec. 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.


BRIGGS: Right now, a deal between Russia and Turkey is taking effect and that agreement removes Kurdish fighters along Syria's border.

Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen has reported extensively from inside Syria. He joins us live from Sochi. Fred, good morning to you.

What does all this mean for Russia's role in the conflict in the region?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a huge, expanding role that Russia has Dave, not just in Syria but, indeed, in the entire region as well.

I do have a little bit of breaking news for you that's going on right now because as you mentioned, that deal went into effect essentially about 15 minutes ago. Well, just a couple of minutes ago we had word that apparently, Russian military vehicles were sighted in the town of Kobane on the Turkish-Syrian border.


Of course, that is the first phase of that agreement where both Russian military police and Syrian government forces are going to move into that border area. And their task is to move Kurdish fighters out of that area about 30 kilometers away from the border. Then after that what's going to happen is there's going to be joint patrols between the Turks and the Russians in that area of what the Turks call their safe zone.

Now, of course, President Trump -- he tweeted on all of this and he said that he thinks that good things are happening in Syria. Well, they are good things if you're Vladimir Putin, if you're Bashar al- Assad or if you're the president of Turkey. But certainly not if you are America's former ally, the Kurds, who of course were so key to fighting with the U.S. against ISIS and driving ISIS out of a lot of those lands. The Russians have essentially told them they need to get out. And, in fact, a spokesman for the Kremlin said the Kurds are going to be, quote, "steamrolled" by the Turkish army if they don't leave that area.

But right now, you can clearly see that the Russians are the big power there in Syria, massively increasing their influence while the U.S. is essentially out of the picture as far as the future of Syria and at least northeastern Syria is concerned, Dave.

BRIGGS: Fred Pleitgen with the breaking news from Sochi this morning. Thanks, Fred.

ROMANS: All right.

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 pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong while the league was playing preseason games in China.


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.


ROMANS: Fans could be seen waving a Hong Kong flag behind the TNT set during halftime of the New Orleans-Toronto game last night.

BRIGGS: Good discussion, though, by those gentlemen.

Game one of the World Series 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: That is 20-year-old Juan Soto blasting one to the train tracks there, lifting the Nationals to a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros last night. He went three for four, including a two-run double. The Nats added three runs in the fifth and held on for the win.

Game two tonight in Houston.

ROMANS: And, President Trump and his supporters are pushing Ukraine conspiracy theories. While you were sleeping, actor John Lithgow channeled 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.


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.


ROMANS: That is funny.

BRIGGS: The facial expressions.

ROMANS: I love it. John Lithgow will be a guest last later.

BRIGGS: Pretty solid.

ROMANS: Yes, I agree.


ROMANS: I thought -- I laughed out loud. Agree with him or not, I laughed out loud.

BRIGGS: He'll be on "NEW DAY" but will he be --


BRIGGS: -- in character as Rudy?

ROMANS: I don't know. I don't know. He's going to be on "NEW DAY" in the 8:00 hour so John and Alisyn can have some fun with that. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Here's "NEW DAY."


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: This is corruption at the highest levels. Taylor's account was painstakingly detailed.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): I've been in there for 10 hours. I can assure you there was no quid pro quo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't just say that something is not happening when all of the evidence is right there in front of you.

ESPER: We didn't sign up to fight a war to defend the Kurds against a longstanding NATO ally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan have carved up the area amongst themselves.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I hope the administration is trying to mitigate the damage done by the decision to withdraw from eastern Syria.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, October 23rd. It's 6:00 here in New York.

And the other shoe just dropped. These are the headlines. We want to show you that President Trump is waking up.