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EARLY START

White House Official to Defend Damaging Testimony of Top Diplomat; Bill Barr Opens Criminal Probe of Russia Investigation; U.S. Military to Protect Oil in Syria. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:30:50]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A top official inside the White House ready to back up damaging impeachment testimony. Who he is and what he knows.

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

ROMANS: In the dark. 18 million Californians under an increased fire threat. Nine big fires burning, one of them sparked near a broken power line.

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

ROMANS: I can't even watch that video. It's just so --

BRIGGS: Incredible.

Welcome back to EARLY START on a Friday. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: It is Friday. I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour here in New York.

Let's begin here with incriminating testimony in the impeachment inquiry 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 that call directly. Sources say he will corroborate key elements from the deposition of the top diplomat in Ukraine.

BRIGGS: 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 specific, and he is so respected that it has been a game- changer in the impeachment probe.

Here's Manu Raju with 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.

ROMANS: All right, Manu, thank you for that.

Democrats are now discussing the scope and scale of potential Articles of Impeachment and more 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 the closed-door testimony making Republicans angry even though it's not really unusual.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A very good point. Still, Trump loyalist Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution criticizing the impeachment process and calling for a House vote to initiate a formal inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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)

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

[04:05:02]

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

ROMANS: All right. 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.

Now this will likely raise concerns that the 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The federal prosecutor has conducted some interviews in this 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.

ROMANS: All right. Another potential about-face by President Trump on Syria. Two Pentagon officials tell CNN plans are being -- 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. Troops the president just ordered out of Syria.

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

Nick, what is the White House on this part of the world? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Simple

enough for this part of Syria, the main message focus seems to be protecting the oil. And that's backed up by Defense officials saying they don't want the oil field, small as they are, in Syria to fall back into the hands of ISIS and become a revenue stream for them. That's a farfetched idea at this point because ISIS don't have much territory and the Syrian Kurds are still reasonably in control in that part of town.

But it does appear to have been a logic which has been very comfortable for President Donald Trump, enabled him to send more resources, to fight in that area or at least secure those oil fields. Of course, troops there, too, will be also able to continue to fight against ISIS from a better tactical position than across the border in Iraq, which was the original plan before this sort of hundreds or so strong contingent was allowed to remain there.

Tanks, well, that you might say is overkill. It certainly will require a large number of forces there to service and maintain them. But it will provide the protection that those 200 or 300 troops or so, who look pretty much on their own, I have to say, when this was first announced, will not certainly need. It may be in fact more lightweight armored vehicles get sent instead, in which the U.S. originally had quite a few there, too.

The question of air cover and air support will of course be important with the Russian Air Force and the Syrian regime on the ground and Russia military police in the area as well. So a lot of moving parts in all of this but none of them pointing to the broad idea that the United States is reducing its presence in the region. Remember, they sent thousands of other troops to other countries in the Middle East as well.

And the broader question, too, to be answered is about the relationship with Turkey. U.S. officials are directly accusing Syrian rebels working for Turkey of war crimes. Turkey is a NATO ally, a NATO member that has allowed now Russia, the focus of NATO, when it was created, to patrol its southern border.

So much to be asked about the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, and Turkey and NATO here. But still that's part of the geopolitics. The urgent question I think now is whether or not, and I should say, Turkey has denied these accusations of war crimes and opened a commission to investigate some of the accusations against these Syrian rebels. The broader question, of course, is these U.S. troops, how they are reinforced and how they're supported in that part of Syria -- Christine.

ROMANS: You know, and keeping -- keeping a resurging ISIS away from those or out of those oil fields critical. That's how ISIS got its money. That was the oxygen originally for the growth of that group. I guess it's an admission from the Americans that they think that they could, you know, reconstitute if they're allowed into those oil fields again.

PATON WALSH: Possibly, yes. But you have to remember, we were at a stage three weeks ago where ISIS were losing more territory. They didn't really have a physical caliphate they like to call it anymore.

ROMANS: Right.

PATON WALSH: They have many people in camps, many people in jails. That hasn't enormously changed. The vacuum is certainly enabling them and dozens potentially have escaped from those areas. But they're not suddenly a land force again necessarily so the idea of them retaking those oil fields tonight.

ROMANS: Sure.

PATON WALSH: That's a tough sell. But it certainly is a helpful logic if you're trying to persuade the commander in chief to leave troops inside.

[04:40:03]

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Nick Paton Walsh, in Irbil, Iraq. Thanks.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, British prime minister Boris Johnson says he will extend the timetable for parliament to debate his Brexit deal if lawmakers agree to set a general election for December 12th. A vote on Johnson's offer now set for Monday. This is the first time the prime minister has conceded Britain will not leave the E.U. on October 31st. Something he had repeatedly said would happen do or die. Later this morning, the E.U. chief Brexit negotiator brief member nations on jobs and request for a Brexit extension.

ROMANS: All right. Vice President Mike Pence taking a hard line with China. He backed Hong Kong protesters and Taiwan's democracy. He called China's increasingly provocative. He slammed its treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Pence's speech closely watched as President Trump works to complete a partial trade deal with China. Now Pence emphasized the U.S. wants to engage and not fight with China but he laid out China's bad behavior -- intellectual property theft, Chinese Fentanyl flooding the U.S. and China's growing surveillance state.

And then he blasted U.S. businesses for siding with the communist regime. He pointed to Nike for removing Houston Rockets jerseys from its Hong Kong Stores when China complained about a tweet from a team executive. He claimed Nike and the NBA were muzzling free speech in exchange for business with China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: All right. Get to that in a moment. It's worth noting that in 2017 the vice president walked out of an NFL game, remember, after players there exercised those same rights to free expression by taking a knee during the national anthem?

Now NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded and says the NBA stood up to China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 have to 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now we have not heard from the president himself supporting the protest in Hong Kong. Some have suggested that's because he's trying to keep quiet on that to avoid slowing progress on a trade deal with China.

BRIGGS: TD broadcaster and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley had some pointed words for Mike Pence.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: He told him to shut the hell up. I am quoting, that is a direct quote from last night. But Barkley believes, look, these companies should just put their business, their profits first. So this debate continues.

ROMANS: With the NBA and China, it seems as though both of them are trying to de-escalate the situation. Look, the NBA is incredibly popular in China. There's 300 million people have played basketball in the country.

BRIGGS: Some would argue it's more popular in China than it is here.

ROMANS: Right. So it's an important market there but at the same time, Adam Silver is walking a very fine line.

BRIGGS: Well, and Adam Silver said we will not even suspend Daryl Morey. Adam Silver stood up to China more so than we've seen other countries, other businesses. I think they were pretty bold --

ROMANS: Companies never stand up to China.

BRIGGS: Pretty strong, I thought, was Adam Silver.

ROMANS: Adam Silver and the NBA has done more than any other --

BRIGGS: All right, ahead, a painting stolen by the Nazis before World War II. Where was it found and what happens to it now? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:48:17]

BRIGGS: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department have been held in contempt by a federal judge. They have been ordered to pay damages to student borrowers who took out loans to attend the now defunct for-profit college. The Education Department was previously ordered by the judge to stop collecting on the loans. But last month, Education officials admitted more than 16,000 borrowers were incorrectly told they owed a payment after the court order was rendered. About 1800 of those borrowers had their wages garnished and more than 800 were mistakenly burdened with incorrect credit reporting.

ROMANS: The U.N. is sending a team of investigators to Chile to look into claims of human rights abuses. The probe follows a week of clashes between protesters and police in the Chilean capital of Santiago. At least 18 people have died. Now the violence erupted after the government hiked prices on energy and mass transit. Yesterday Chile's president announced he was rescinding the bill that sparked this protest but that failed to stop the violence. A curfew has been in effect now for six straight nights.

All right. Amazon is delivering your packages faster. And guess what? That eats into profits. CNN Business has more next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:51]

ROMANS: 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: About 50,000 people were ordered to evacuate mostly around Santa Clarita.

[04:55:03]

All L.A. unified district schools 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 under consideration.

A painting stolen by the Nazis before World War II has been recovered from a museum in upstate New York. The work titled "Winter" by American artist Gary Melchers, has been hanging in the Arkell Museum near Albany for decades. According to the FBI, the Nazis seized control of the Mosse family's art collection after they fled Germany in 1933. The recovery is part of an international effort to find artworks stolen by the Nazis. The painting is being held in an FBI facility and will be returned to the Mosse family heirs.

BRIGGS: Take a look at this incredible video of 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 the family over. Police are calling Shannon Vivar, quote, "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.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. This Friday morning. Taking a look at markets around the world. A mixed performance. European markets have opened slightly lower here. On Wall Street, futures directionless, I would say. Just like yesterday. Stocks ended the day mixed. The Dow fell 28 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq rose slightly.

Twitter plunged nearly 21 percent. The platform attracted users in the third quarter but struggled to sell advertising to market to them. 3M fell 4 percent due to a weak outlook as sales are expected to continue falling in China.

Every plane in Southwest Airline's fleet is a Boeing 737. That may not be the case in the future. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the airline will look at whether Boeing is the right partner going forward and if it's wise to only keep one aircraft type in its fleet. The airline said the grounding of the 737 MAX has cost it $435 million through the end of September. And guess what, it expects those costs to rise. Kelly said reaching an agreement over how Boeing will compensate it for damages is a key focus right now.

Amazon is spending a lot of money to deliver your package faster. And that's hurting its profits. Profits fell nearly 28 percent, $2.1 billion in the third quarter, the first decline since 2017. Shipping costs for the quarter hit nearly $10 billion, up 46 percent from last year. But the investment comes as Amazon Web services, one of its key profit drivers, is experiencing slower growth. CEO Jeff Bezos said the investment will be worth it in the long run. BRIGGS: To the NBA, Kawhi Leonard is proving to be quite the buzzkill

for the Golden State Warriors. The new L.A. Clippers star scored 21 points and dished down nine assists in three quarters last night in a 141-122 victory over Golden State. The win spoiled the Warriors' home opener in their shiny new Chase Center in San Francisco. Four months ago he was the NBA Finals MVP, leading Toronto over the Warriors, who's spoiling their final game at Oracle Arena.

Could be a rough go without their star Clay Thompson.

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

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

A top official inside the White House ready to back up damaging impeachment testimony. Who is he and what does he know?

ROMANS: 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 big fires are burning, one of them sparked near a broken power line.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans on a Friday.

BRIGGS: Happy Friday.

ROMANS: It is Friday, October 25th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. And let's begin with Washington.

Incriminating testimony in the impeachment inquiry 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 directly. Sources say he will corroborate key elements from the deposition of the top diplomat in Ukraine.

BRIGGS: That diplomat, Bill Taylor, testified President Trump pressured Ukraine to public 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 tell us the diplomat's deposition was so detailed and specific, and he is so respected that it has been a game- changer in the impeachment probe.

Here's Manu Raju --

[05:00:00]