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White House Ukraine Expert to Testify Today; New Details from U.S. Raid Targeting Baghdadi; Raging California Fires. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: In just hours, the White House Ukraine expert is set to testify in the impeachment inquiry. He says he was so disturbed by White House request for investigation into Joe Biden he reported it twice.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New details about the raid that killed the founder of ISIS. The key role America's Kurdish allies played in identifying al-Baghdadi.

BRIGGS: Hundreds of thousands evacuated as massive fires threaten California and it could get even worse today.

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

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, October 29th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

We begin with breaking news in the impeachment inquiry. A top White House Ukraine expert will testify today that he heard President Trump ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was on the July 25th phone call between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky. He says he was so troubled by what he heard on that call that he reported his concerns to superiors at the National Security Council twice.

BRIGGS: CNN has be obtained a copy of Vindman's opening statement in which he says, quote: I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and I was worried about the implications for U.S. government's support of Ukraine. I realize that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which undoubtedly would result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.

ROMANS: Vindman says he is not the whistle-blower, but he is the first person who was on the call which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry to testify before Congress.

His opening statement will also address language used by E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He says: Ambassador Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the president at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his comments were inappropriate. But the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.

BRIGGS: This stunning new development comes as House Democrats announced the next step in their impeachment inquiries, setting up a vote later this week to formalize impeachment procedures.

More now from Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Now, House Democrats taking a significant step making it very clear that they're prepared to move in a more public posture in this impeachment inquiry, setting a vote for later this week that would set the ground rules for what that next phase of this inquiry would look like -- public hearings, the release of transcripts, the release of a report, and also how evidence will be shared with the House Judiciary Committee.

And that is significant because the House Judiciary Committee is the panel that will first take a crack at voting on articles of impeachment against the President of the United States. And that is expected to happen potentially in a matter of weeks as the Democrats press forward on this investigation and plan to move forward on public hearings.

Now, Republicans have been demanding for some time a vote to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry. Now, they say that this resolution simply falls short of what they have been demanding. But, Democrats say that it is not actually authorizing any impeachment inquiry. They say they don't even need to do that.

But nevertheless, they are in some ways calling the president's bluff in his refusal -- the White House's refusal to provide information, turn over documents, and try to prevent witnesses from coming forward.


Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me they still plan to conduct more closed-door depositions -- several more scheduled for this week -- some have been subpoenaed for next week -- and then we can see that more public phase before Democrats push to potentially impeach this president this fall or even this winter -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Manu Raju, thank you.

House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff says former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman had no basis in law for skipping his scheduled deposition Monday in the impeachment inquiry. Schiff claims it's further evidence President Trump trying to obstruct Congress.

BRIGGS: Kupperman cited White House and Justice Department reasoning he was immune from testifying because of his previous work on the National Security Council. He filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to decide whether he must comply with the congressional subpoena. The judge set a Thursday deadline to hear argument from Kupperman as well as lawyers from White House and House Democrats.

ROMANS: Attorney General William Barr shedding new light in his role at the center of the investigation into the origins of the Russian probe. In a Fox News interview, Barr says he spoke with foreign officials about the investigation being run by U.S. attorney John Durham at their request.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I initially discussed these matters with those countries and introduced them to John Durham and established a channel by which Mr. Durham can obtain assistance from those countries but he is in charge of the investigation. I'm not doing the investigation.


ROMANS: Barr initiated the so-called investigation into the investigators earlier this year over concern the 2016 Trump campaign was improperly surveilled. It has now escalated into a criminal investigation. Barr says Durham is, quote, making great progress and FBI has been cooperating.

BRIGGS: 2020 presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, heads back to Iowa for a town hall this evening. During a late night appearance Monday, she told Seth Meyers about a candid campaign moment revealing her passion for the Hawkeye State.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I was at the capitol, you know polls go up and down, right? And so, I saw Mazie (ph) as I was walking down the stairs. It was she and I, or so I thought.

And so, I see Mazie, she gives me a hug, Kamala, how are you doing? I'm like, Macy (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Iowa.

People are -- they show up at events. They are serious about love of country. They are going to eye ball you. They want to know, are going to talk, you know, in a way that is relevant. It's good stuff.


BRIGGS: Also, fellow 2020 Democrat Beto O'Rourke talking to the "Daily Show's" Trevor Noah about his showing in the polls.


TREVOR NOAH, HOST, DAILY SHOW: Are you where you hope to be in the presidential race?

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I would love to be doing a lot better. That's for sure.

I wish that enthusiasm and dedication was reflected in the polls. To answer your question, I don't think the polling reflects the passion and the commitment and the resolve of our supporters from all over the country. I really feel it.


BRIGGS: Most recent CNN poll has Beto O'Rourke at just 3 percent.

ROMANS: All right. The S&P 500 officially hit a record high yesterday. The Nasdaq closed just five points away. Stocks have been near highs last week after the U.S. trade representative said it was close to finalizing a phase one trade deal with China.

President Trump said yesterday the U.S. is ahead of schedule in terms of signing a first part of a deal. He tweeted about the record, of course. He said this is a big win for jobs, 401(k)s and, frankly, everyone. About half of American households own stocks.

The U.S. and China reached a preliminary deal a couple of weeks ago. The agreement falls short of the big comprehensive deal the president was looking for. It's said to include Chinese purchases of American agriculture goods and some agreements on intellectual property.

Investors will turn their attention to the Federal Reserve meeting. That starts today. It's expected -- the Fed is expected to lower interest rates for a third time in a row. That decision is expected to be announced tomorrow, along with the latest GDP numbers. And this Friday, we'll also see job numbers for October.

So, there's a lot of information about the economy this week for investors I think to chew over.

BRIGGS: Eagerly awaited.

Ahead, the parents of slain ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller are speaking out.


MARSHA MUELLER, MOTHER OF SLAIN ISIS HOSTAGE: This has been going on for so long I'm not sure about the last 48 hours for me. I'm just searching for Kayla.


BRIGGS: Their reaction to al-Baghdadi's death, next.



ROMANS: New details emerging about the military operation that target ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Officials say six enemy fighters were killed in a raid and that Baghdadi's remains have been buried at sea. Meantime, another key defense figure is contradicting President Trump's account of Baghdadi as whimpering and crying before his death.

Here's what General Mark Milley says about those details.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Certainly (ph), I was asked that same question yesterday. I know that the president had planned to talk to you unit and unit members. So -- but I don't know what the source of that was. I assume it was directly talking to unit members.

REPORTER: You haven't talked to any unit members that described to you.

MILLEY: I have not talked to unit members, no, that's correct. I've talked to the commanders, CentCom, and others, but not down to unit members.


BRIGGS: Defense Secretary Mark Esper also said Monday he doesn't know the source of the comments. Other officials say it would be impossible for President Trump to hear that on the feeds he watched.

General Milley also said images of the raids will be released in the coming days.


As for now, President Trump declassified of the dog he says was involved in the raid. The president said its name, however, is still classified and an official said the dog suffered electrocution injuries but is recovering.

ROMANS: All right. Also, a senior State Department official is now saying Syrian Democratic Forces played a key role in the Baghdadi raid. The Kurdish-led U.S. allies helped the U.S. defeat ISIS but their relationship now tenuous at best after the Trump administration announced a U.S. troop withdrawal of Syria, opening the door to a Turkish invasion of Kurdish invasion of Kurdish-held areas.

Turkey and Russia expected to start joint patrols along much of the Turkish and Syrian border as early as today.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Erbil, Iraq with more -- Nick. NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we

are learning a little more about what the Syrian Kurds, the U.S. key ally in the fight on the ground against ISIS for years, said it was their involvement in hunting down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Mark Esper, U.S. secretary of defense, and the Joint Chiefs, very limited in actual details they would give but to say that two people were, in fact, detained during that raid.

The Syrian Kurds said they had a mole inside Baghdadi's inner circle, an ISIS informant. He said where the compound was and described his detailed lay out but also stole dirty underwear from Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi and a blood sample which enabled the U.S. then, said the Syrian Kurds, to test that DNA against the DNA they most likely had obtained from Baghdadi while he was a U.S. prisoner in Camp Bucca about a decade ago and they made a match and make sure the extraordinary risk of inserting helicopters deep into al Qaeda territory in northwestern Syria was worth it.

Now, obviously, the U.S. has not verified that version of events, and there are a number of different groups or nation states trying to suggest they assisted this key moment for U.S. military and the fight against ISIS, including the Iraqis have a senior intelligence official telling us that they in fact believe this may have originated from their detaining of an adviser to Baghdadi called Mohammed Ali Sajet who was detained two months ago, who was detained two months ago now in Baghdad, led the Iraqis to a courier whose wife had documents leading to Baghdadi.

But all of this, frankly, a key moment for the U.S. campaign here that could still as it continues to wrap up and see to take out other Baghdadi associates in the past 48 hours could face another hurdle later today. But a key moment for the cease-fire between the Syrian Kurds and the Turkish incursion here in which Russians, Turkish patrol are suppose to start along the border, to keep the peace.

But before that, the Syrian Kurds must have pulled back 30 kilometers from the border, unclear whether Turkey that they've done that.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Erbil, thank you so much for new detail. Just fascinating. Thanks, Nick.

BRIGGS: The parents of American aid worker Kayla Mueller is speaking out about al-Baghdadi's death. Kayla was held hostage by ISIS and killed in 2015.

Here's what the Muellers told Fox News.


M. MUELLER: This has been going on for so long I'm not sure about the last 48 hours for me. I'm just searching for Kayla. I was glad that he blew himself up, that no one killed him from our side.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: The Muellers also added they hope the mission can shed some light on their unanswered questions.


CARL MUELLER, FATHER OF SLAIN ISIS HOSTAGE: Our hope is to seize this moment and this moment is the fact that al-Baghdadi has been killed, some of his lieutenants have been captured, and we are hoping that they have the information we've been seeking. That is who killed Kayla, where was she killed and where was she buried?


BRIGGS: The operation that targeted Baghdadi was named after Kayla Mueller.

Hundred of thousands of Californians evacuated as multiple fires rage in the state. A threat in Central California gets worse today. And more power cuts are expected. The latest, next.



ROMANS: The high-profile investment summit popularly known as Davos in the he Desert kicks off today in Saudi Arabia. It's a three-day event. It was a place for heads of state and top finance figures to meet and mingle. Not last year.

Dozens dropped out of the conference last year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia is hoping to turn the page of this year's event a strong turn out now is expected.

CNN's John Defterios live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

And last year, you know, a lot of figures decided it was just too hot to go there, politically hot to go there and show support for this regime after the death of Khashoggi. A year later, it's cooled off.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's cooled off a little bit, Christine, but there's some nuance there. This is the third future investment initiative. It's supposed to be an engine to drive diversification in Saudi Arabia. Very importantly, the second one after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi which kind of hovers over the atmosphere for most global players.


And the nuance here, not Wall Street. The first panel, for example, was led by leaders from Blackstone, and Bridgewater Associates, the president of Goldman Sachs, the CEO of HSBC. And other kind of sidebar here, those are bankers that are paid to play in Saudi Arabia. They are handling the IPO of Saudi Aramco, the oil giant and big privatizations.

But a lot of uncertainty has happened not just with Jamal Khashoggi but go back to 2017, after this event. This is the same venue where they took in 400 CEOs from Saudi Arabia and took out $100 billion in the name of corruption. We've had the war in Yemen, the attack against the Aramco facilities.

You can see why investment is a little bit scared coming into the kingdom, minus the bankers. In fact, the investment went up slightly last year but it's only a quarter what it was, Christine, back in 2012. And growth is flat-lining right now.

So, it's a big venue and this is the plenary hall that is behind me, it's well-attended, mainly Saudis, Wall Street bankers represented about 40 percent of the audience, some of the Europeans.

But the keynote here is what the crown prince is going to say, Mohammed Bin Salman going forward. He acknowledged the murder of Jamal Khashoggi happening under his watch. Can he turn the page going forward? That has not happened yet, Christine.

ROMANS: Have you seen any sign of Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and adviser? What about the American contingent there?

DEFTERIOS: Well, in fact, you brought it up. Big support from the Trump administration. Jared Kushner will speak in about five hours time. We've not seen Steve Mnuchin.

Rick Perry is expected to be on the energy panel tomorrow. We know the controversy around the impeachment and his testimony in not going forward as a witness. But a signal from the Trump administration, we do back you, even though we're the number one oil producer in the world right now, the United States, we are here to support you in that transition.

ROMANS: Yes, human rights activists decrying the presidency, the American administration there at that venue.

Thank you so much, John Defterios, for us.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, huge wildfires are raging in different parts of California right now. The largest one burning in California's Wine Country.

The Kincade fire is nearly 75,000 acres and as of last night, only 15 percent contained. More than 120 structures have been destroyed, including some 50 residential buildings.

Strong winds prompting safety power shut-offs to about 600,000 customers. Another 200,000 may face power outages today.

Lucy Kafanov in Calistoga, in Calistoga, in Napa County, with more.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Christine, good morning.

A lot of anxiety here in Calistoga -- we're in the heart of California's Wine Country -- and let me explain why. Those fires ripped through the area. You can see the kind of damage that they left behind.

I'm going to step out of the frame and show you what we're looking at. This home nearly completely flattened. The only structures you see standing are the brick fireplace, the metal corrugated roof. Everything else effectively collapsed, burned -- very little standing here.

The people, however, thankfully got out alive. They are OK.

But, firefighters are now trying to prevent more destruction -- more damage like this.

We are in a critical time for the Kincade fire because at around 11:00 a.m. local time on Monday, that red flag warning lifted. That means no more threat of those dangerous winds -- 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts that spread those flames very quickly.

There is a small reprieve for firefighters to be able to try to contain this fire that's still burning, but a lot of anxiety because later in the evening, tonight, they could expect those winds to pick up again. They are expecting red flag warning conditions and that could spread those flames again.

So, folks are racing against the clock to try to contain these flames.

Christine, Dave, back to you.


ROMANS: Lucy, thank you so much.

I mean, for these rolling blackouts, you're either facing rolling blackouts because they are trying to prevent, you know, some of these power lines from sparking fires or, you know, you're having trouble getting around. It's just a real -- a real challenge there in California.

All right. A key White House expert set to testify today on Capitol Hill. He'll tell investigators he was afraid that Trump's he demand Ukraine's president could undermine U.S. national security. More details next.