Return to Transcripts main page


Top White House Official to Back Up Bill Taylor's Testimony; Trump Suggests Kurds Relocate to Protect Oil Fields; Mike Pence Blasts U.S. Businesses for Siding with China. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The top official inside the White House ready to back up damaging impeachment testimony. Who is he and what does he know?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The investigation of the Russia investigators is now a criminal matter. Is the president misusing the Justice Department?

BRIGGS: Eighteen million Californians under an increased fire threat. Nine huge fires are burning. One of them sparked near a broken power line.

ROMANS: And incredible video from Arizona. A couple and their baby saved from death after a drunk driver is stopped by another car.

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

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs. Happy Friday. 4:00 a.m. here in New York.

We start with bombshell testimony in the impeachment testimony soon to be confirmed by a witness inside the White House. A top adviser on the National Security Council expected to testify next week. That official was on the phone call that sparked the impeachment probe. His testimony would be the first from someone who heard the call correctly. Sources say he will corroborate key elements from the deposition of the top diplomat in Ukraine.

ROMANS: That diplomat, Bill Taylor, testified President Trump pressured Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into Joe Biden and his son before the president would release U.S. military aid.

Taylor's testimony is reverberating among Republicans on Capitol Hill. GOP congressional sources telling us the diplomat's deposition was so detailed and so specific, and he is so respected that it has been a game-changer in the impeachment probe.

Our Manu Raju has more.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Now, we do expect the House impeachment investigators will have a busy

upcoming week and we expect a pretty significant moment next Thursday when a top U.S. -- White House official, someone who serves on National Security Council, Tim Morrison, is expected to testify. Now, he is a top Russia and Europe adviser, someone who has a lot of knowledge about what exactly happened with that Ukrainian aid.

He is expected to back up the account of Bill Taylor, who is the top U.S. diplomat for Ukraine who testified earlier this week before the House committees and said very clearly that he was told that the president had withheld vital military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a public declaration to announce investigations that could help the president politically.

In Taylor's testimony, he mentioned Morrison's name about 15 times. Expect this to be a key moment in this investigation as Democrats look to fill out their impeachment probe. But expect Republicans to push back. I am told that there are some concerns among Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House, but the notion that you may not have heard things in the first hand, you can only have second hand account could be one area where the Republicans decide to push back. But ultimately, we'll have to see what he decides to say -- guys.

BRIGGS: Manu, thanks.

Democrats are now discussing the scope and scale of potential Articles of Impeachment and more explosive testimony could be on the way. "The New York Times" reports attorneys for former National Security adviser John Bolton are negotiating a date for him to appear behind closed doors.

All this closed-door testimony making Republicans angry even though it is not unusual.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: As frustrating as it may be to have these hearings going on behind closed doors, the hearings for which Congressman Schiff is presiding, they are consistent with the rules.

When were the rules written last? In January of 2015. And who signed them? John Boehner. And who enacted them? A Republican majority.


BRIGGS: Still, Trump loyalist Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution criticizing the impeachment process and calling for a House vote to initiate a former inquiry.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The process you're engaging in regarding the attempted impeachment of President Trump is out of bounds and is a substantial deviation from what the House has done in the past regarding impeachment of other presidents. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senator Graham supported closed-door depositions during the 1998 impeachment inquiry into President Clinton.

And a new development this morning, the "Washington Post" reports the White House representative withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine's trade privileges in August. That's a sign the U.S. may have exerted pressure on the new Ukrainian administration beyond the withholding of military aid.

BRIGGS: The investigation of the origins of the Russia probe is now a criminal matter. The Justice Department escalating its administrative review to give it the power to subpoena witnesses, convene a grand jury, and file potential criminal charges.


This will likely raise concerns that President Trump is using the DOJ to go after his perceived enemies. The president insists he was the victim of a deep state spy operation in 2016, a conspiracy theory the attorney general has embraced.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): You're not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?

BARR: I don't -- well, I guess you could -- I think there's -- spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.


ROMANS: The federal prosecutor has conducted some interviews in the so-called investigation of the investigators, but he has also been hampered by witnesses who declined to cooperate.

President Trump's eagerness to have the DOJ focus on his critics has caused awkward issues for the department. Officials recently said the A.G. did not know the president mentioned his name in his July phone call with Ukraine's president that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

BRIGGS: Another potential about-face by President Trump on Syria. Two Pentagon officials tell CNN plans are now being discussed to deploy tanks in eastern Syria for the first time. A large number of troops would be needed to operate those tanks, the troops the president just ordered out of Syria.

Nick Paton Walsh live from Irbil, Iraq, with the latest on this.


this is addressing the kind of problem tactically of leaving 200 or 300 troops in parts of Southern or Eastern Syria to protect the oil as President Trump kept talking about. Those 200, 300, they're reasonably vulnerable, given the supply routes that had in the past and their freedom of movement is restricted by how much territory the Americans no longer can operate in and how close the Syrian regime and Russians are to some degree, too, to the areas they would normally drive themselves in and out of.

So, clearly, these tanks designed to send a signal. When they arrive, if they arrive, to provide extra protection and to solidify that presence around the oil field.

I have to tell you, it is surprising, frankly, that after all of this rearrangement geopolitically and the damage this has done to the fight against ISIS, that the focus appears to be so much securing these oil fields. They're not strategically of great value. A hydrocarbon produced the light the United States does not need to be sure it accesses this part of Syria for its own energy needs.

But it seems to be certainly something that President Trump is keen to graph upon. And often there are officials suggesting that were Isis to get this back under their grasp then they could potentially make money out of them. They did in the past certainly but there are no way at this point a territory enough force to risk that sort of thing.

There was a tweet we saw yesterday in which President Trump said he had spoken to General Mazlum Abdi, who's the commander of the Syrian Kurds here, who has been, I think, probably ambivalent is a fair description about his response towards the United States. Clearly I'm sure he feels the sense of betrayal that most Syrian Kurds do, but he's being very diplomatic in his choice of language. Donald Trump seemed very pleased with their phone call and he went on to suggest that perhaps the Kurds should move down towards the oil.

Now that presumably in his mind, in his understanding of Syria, presents a sweet spot where maybe the Kurds could move to the oil and the Americans could protect the oil and the Kurds. But unfortunately it neglects the fact that that is not traditionally a Kurdish area. It's where Sunni Syrian Arabs live, essentially suggesting another wave of migration in an area which has already seen total upheaval in the past two weeks.

Startling, though, seeing a drop in violence and a reassignment, frankly, of the map at this point that the focus still remains on the oil reserves -- Christine.

BRIGGS: Deriving strategy from the situation difficult if not impossible.

Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Iraq. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Vice President Mike Pence blasted U.S. businesses for siding with China. Pence's speech closely watched as President Trump works to complete a partial trade deal. Now while the vice president emphasized the U.S. wants to engage and

not fight with China, Pence cited several examples of China's bad behavior, including intellectual property theft, Chinese Fentanyl in the opioid crisis and Chinese export of surveillance technologies. He criticized the NBA and Nike in particular he says for muzzling free speech in exchange for business with China.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nike promotes itself as a so-called social justice champion. But when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door. In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of that authoritarian regime.


ROMANS: Now worth noting, in 2017, the vice president, remember he walked out of an NFL game after players exercised those same rights to free expression by taking a knee during the national anthem?

Now as for the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver responded this way.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: We've adhered to our core values from the first moment to the extent that there was any doubt about that, we reinforced that those are our core values.


And I'll just say, once again, we're going to double down on engaging with the people of China and India and throughout Africa, around the world, regardless of their governments.


ROMANS: Now the president has remained quiet on supporting Hong Kong. Some have suggested he is keeping quiet to avoid slowing progress on a trade deal with China.

BRIGGS: Therein lies the problem. The president has kept silent on Hong Kong, and yet the -- and Mike Pence was criticizing the NBA, who really wasn't silent. Adam Silver was pretty strong saying we will not fire Daryl Morey, we won't even suspend him.

ROMANS: Right. Right. The initial tweet, right. So there are those who say, look, the NBA is one of the rare companies or organizations that has said that it's -- the rights of free expression of its employees will be allowed.


ROMANS: You know, will be respected. So, you know, but at least for Pence, it's -- they are the target of his ire. BRIGGS: All right, ahead, Joe Biden had sworn off super PACs. But

his campaign making a radical shift as the war chest thins.



ROMANS: All right. Welcome back. A major reversal by Joe Biden. Just a month ago in New Hampshire, Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No super PACs. No money at all coming from people that you don't know where it's coming from.


ROMANS: All right, now, the Biden campaign has dropped its resistance to the creation of an outside group. The campaign is facing big fundraising shortfalls. It spent more in the third quarter than it took in. But solving the problem this way could create complications in a primary fight where some of Biden's rivals are railing against outside money.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't need a super PAC. I am not going to be controlled by a handful of wealthy people. I will be controlled by the working people of this country.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no room for political action committees or super PACs. There's no truth to the idea that corporations are people and money is speech.


BRIGGS: Also, Thursday Representative Tim Ryan dropped out of the 2020 race. His campaign failed to gain any traction in a large field of better-financed, better-known Democrats. Ryan will instead run for reelection to his Ohio congressional seat.

Not running for re-election to the House, Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii congresswoman says she is all in on a White House bid despite being in about 1 percent national.

ROMANS: A final farewell to longtime Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. His funeral will be held today in Baltimore. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will be among those eulogizing Cummings, who died last week at the age 68. Yesterday, Cummings' body was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol. He is the first African-American lawmaker to receive this honor, which is typically reserved for presidents.

BRIGGS: All right, ahead here, the Astros called the claims misleading and irresponsible. But now an outburst toward female reporters has caused a team executive his job. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: Eighteen million. Eighteen million Californians under red flag warnings as the wildfire threat intensifies. Across the state, nine active fires are burning. A total of nearly 30,000 acres have burned. In northern California, Sonoma County, the Kincaid Fire has burned 16,000 acres and about 2,000 residents are under evacuation orders. No word yet on what sparked it, but utility giant PG&E says a high-voltage power line malfunctioned near the origin around the time it began.

BRIGGS: High winds prompting power cuts to 178,000 customers, including businesses facing steep losses once again. PG&E says it has restored power to 93 percent of those customers. North of Los Angeles, the Tick Fire has consumed close to 4,000 acres. 10,000 structures are threatened. A local station was with a woman the moment she learned she lost her home.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just now -- it just lit up and I don't know if anybody is up there. I don't know if they're helping or putting out the fire. I don't know. I can see the whole structure is on fire.


ROMANS: About 50,000 people were ordered to evacuate mostly around Santa Clarita. All L.A. unified school districts in the San Fernando Valley will be closed today. Across Southern California, more than 30,000 customers affected by the pro-active power shut off. More than 380,000 customers are now under consideration.

BRIGGS: Two stories coming to a head in a rough week off the field for Major League Baseball. The Houston Astros announcing assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was fired for an outburst at female reporters after the Astros won the ALCS. Taubman was celebrating the acquisition of a pitcher who'd previously been suspended 75 games for violating baseball's domestic violence policy. The team initially called the reporting on Taubman's conduct misleading and completely irresponsible.


JEFF LUHNOW, HOUSTON ASTROS, GENERAL MANAGER: That original reaction by the Astros was wrong and we own it as an organization. There's a lot of really talented female journalists in baseball and other sports and journalism in general, and I hope that continues. And there's no reason to think that this is a setback, I hope.


BRIGGS: Not the only Major League distraction during the World Series.


Umpire Rob Drake apologizing for a tweet about buying an assault rifle and calling for a civil war if President Trump is impeached. Drake says he especially wants to apologize to every person who has been affected by gun violence. The Umpires Union says Drake chose the wrong way to convey his opinion.

ROMANS: All right. Take a look at this incredible video. A Phoenix woman saving the lives of a couple pushing a baby stroller. She T- boned a drunk driver who barreled through a red light in a jeep and was about to run this family over. Police are calling Shannon Vivar an angel in the form of a Chevy Cruze. She says she's no hero. It was unintentional but meant to happen.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ernest Oveso was taken into custody after a foot chase and processed for DUI. He is charged with possession of a weapon and aggravated assault. Look.

BRIGGS: So -- it was an accident but she feels in the end may have been intended.

ROMANS: Yes. A divine intervention.


ROMANS: Look at that family. Unbelievable.


ROMANS: All right. He was on the phone call that sparked the impeachment probe. Now, a top White House official is ready to support damaging testimony against the president.