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White House Ukraine Expert To Testify Today On Trump-Zelensky Phone Call; Raging California Wildfires Force Thousands To Evacuate; Saudi Arabia Holds Davos In The Desert. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 29, 2019 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: One of the parents sentenced in the college admissions scandal is breaking his silence, saying he feels there were no victims of his crime.

In an interview with the "New York Post," Manhattan businessman Greg Abbott says, "Of course, I regret it. It was wrong. I'm not justifying it.

I'm not excusing myself. But I do think it's understandable in some respect."

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: He went on to say, "Throwing us in jail for a month is going to change things for minorities? Is the United States of American benefitting from the shock and awe of arresting 33 parents who did something wrong?"

Abbott and his wife were both sentenced to one month in prison, community service, and a fine. The couple pleaded guilty to paying $125,000 to boost their daughter's SAT and ACT scores. They have not served their time yet.

EARLY START continues right now.

BRIGGS: In just a few hours, a key witness set to tell the impeachment inquiry what he heard on the president's call to Ukraine's leader. He says the phone call was so disturbing he reported it twice.

ROMANS: New details about the raid that killed the founder of ISIS. Kurdish-led allies taking a key role in the lead-up to this operation.

BRIGGS: Hundreds of thousands of Californians under evacuation orders this morning as fires continue to rage. The National Weather Service says it could get worse.

ROMANS: Twenty-five million people under red flag warnings.

BRIGGS: Oh, man.

ROMANS: Twenty-five million.

BRIGGS: It continues to worsen -- the conditions out there.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

We begin with a stunning development 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 Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was on the July 25th phone call between the president and the Ukrainian president. He says he was so troubled by what he heard, he reported his concerns to superiors at the National Security Council twice.

BRIGGS: CNN has obtained a copy of Vindman's opening statement in which he says, "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 the U.S. government's support of Ukraine.

I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security."

ROMANS: Now, Vindman says he is not the whistleblower, 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 statements were inappropriate, that 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: It comes as House Democrats announce the next step in their impeachment inquiry, 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. Thank you for that.

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 of President Trump trying to obstruct Congress.


BRIGGS: Kupperman cited White House and Justice Department reasoning that 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 arguments from Kupperman, as well as lawyers from the White House and House Democrats.

Much more ahead on all of this. And for the first time, Congress will hear from an aide on the call between President Trump and Ukraine's leader. Will his testimony advance the House impeachment inquiry?


ROMANS: All right. We're hearing stunning new details about testimony set to happen later today behind closed doors. Will Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's account change the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry?


Joining us now, Toluse Olorunnipa, CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

And this is going to happen in less than four hours. We have a statement from him -- a prepared statement from him.

But this guy -- look, he has firsthand knowledge of this phone call on July 21st (sic). He says he raised concerns twice with the National Security Council about what he heard and he believed that this was improper. That this was the President of the United States trying to undermine U.S. national security.

Is it going to be difficult for the White House and for Republicans to undermine his testimony?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, this is a witness that's going to be very difficult for Republicans to try to undercut. This is an Iraq war veteran, a Purple Heart recipient.

Someone who was working in the White House who has direct knowledge of these calls and who has said that he not only was concerned about what the president was doing in ordering and calling for an investigation into an American citizen by a foreign government, but also that he took those concerns, at the time, up the chain of command to his superiors on the National Security Council.

The fact that he was concerned at the time and he took those concerns to his superiors shows that in opposition to what the president said about this being a perfect call and that nothing concerning happened, even people within the White House, even people who work for the president were concerned by the president calling for these political investigations.

And the fact that Mr. Vinland is going to be able to corroborate some of the most damaging testimony that we've heard so far from other Trump administration officials means that it's not just one or two people saying that the president did something wrong. You have a large group of people within the president's inner circle saying that they were concerned by his attacks on Biden and foreign policy in his relations with Ukraine.

It's going to be much more difficult for a Republicans and defenders of the White House to defend the president on the substance of what the president did because now we're hearing from so many people close to the president that they were not on board with what the president was doing.

BRIGGS: Will they try to attack him as an anti-Trumper? Time will tell.

But, Nancy Pelosi changed the equation by scheduling a vote for later this week, something the Republicans had actually been calling for. How will that change the entire procedure and strike at the very

foundation of the argument from Republicans that they're doing this behind closed doors -- they're hiding it from the American people?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, what we've seen thus far over the past several weeks is the Republicans have been focused on process.

They've defended the president by saying the process run by the Democrats is unfair. It's not allowing for due process. They're doing this behind closed doors. They haven't held a vote.

So now, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are going to put all of this out there. They're going to put this up for a vote. They're going to start bringing these hearings in public.

And even President Trump said yesterday that while process arguments are good, he wants defense on the details of the case. He wants Republicans to start defending his actual behavior in his dealings with Ukraine. That's been more difficult for Republicans to defend because some of the facts are not in favor of the president.

But the president, himself, has said that he wants not process defensives but actual defenses on the details.

ROMANS: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: And now it seems like Republicans --


OLORUNIPPA: -- are going to have to do that.

ROMANS: You know, you could argue that Nancy Pelosi has neutralized those concerns or those complaints from the Republicans about all this being behind closed doors. This is now -- we will now be entering the public phase of this inquiry and she will have to get lawmakers on the record.

But, Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican of Louisiana, yesterday -- even after she said they were going to do this, this is now he responded.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): The cow's out of the barn, OK? They're only doing that because of the pressure. They don't want to do that. Any modifications that they're making right now is just like putting paint on rotten wood.

And I think they've made up their mind. And if they've made up their mind then they need to go ahead and send the articles to us.


ROMANS: So, you know -- I mean --

BRIGGS: Painting on rotten wood doesn't work. ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: I've tried that before.

ROMANS: No. Look, they're going to find a way to criticize this process.

OLORUNNIPA: That's exactly right.

And some Republicans who are closer to the president and who are defending the president are going to defend him no matter what -- no matter what comes out of this process. They are looking to vote with the president and defend him no matter what. Some of -- even the people within the White House say that they were concerned about his dealings with Ukraine.

So, Democrats can't really focus on just trying to flip the most ardent supporters of the president and the Republican Party, but they're trying to make it more difficult for some of the swing voters -- some of the people who are facing tough reelections in the Senate who have to be a little bit more bipartisan and a little bit more open-minded. People like Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who has not been as staunchly in defense of the president.

Those are the people that are going to be facing the pressure to actually look at the facts of the case and decided whether or not it's in their interest to support the president 100 percent or to be a little bit more open-minded to the idea of having a bipartisan vote on impeachment.


So that's really where Democrats are focusing now, trying to put pressure on a few Republicans. I don't think anyone in this process thinks that 20 Republicans are going to break ranks with the president and lead to the ouster --


OLORUNIPPA: -- of this president. But putting pressure on a few of them who face tough reelections is the top goal, I think, of Democrats at this point.

BRIGGS: I can't even see two. Can you?

OLORUNIPPA: Right now, not. But you have to remember there are a lot of Republicans that have just been silent and they've said I'm going to be a juror in this case.


ROMANS: Right.

OLORUNIPPA: I'm not saying anything.

BRIGGS: Well, that's what they should say. OLORUNNIPA: People like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and Lisa Murkowski, who have expressed -- shown some level of independence in the past may be willing, in addition to Mitt Romney, to say that at least what the president did was wrong, even if they don't --

BRIGGS: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: -- say it's impeachable.

And that -- creating that kind of daylight between the president and Republicans is not something that we've seen very often and if we see it here it could be a sign of the president's standing is weakened going into 2020.


BRIGGS: That may ultimately be the defense.

Toluse Olorunnipa of "The Washington Post." Good to see you, sir.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

OLORUNNIPA: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right, back to the future for former attorney general Jeff Sessions.

According to Republican sources, Sessions is strongly considering a run for his own Senate seat in Alabama. He held the seat for 20 years before becoming attorney general. It would be an uphill battle for Sessions despite his popularity in the state.

ROMANS: He'd face an already-crowded field of Republicans looking to defeat incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in 2020.

Sources say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell believes Republicans are well-positioned to retake that seat as it is.

Sessions was a frequent Trump punching bag for recusing himself from the Mueller investigation. That could hurt him in the deep-red state.

Here's a preview of what to watch today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rising rent and home prices are pushing Americans further from the places they work. This is straining the backbone of our communities.

To do our part, Wells Fargo has committed $1 billion over the next six years to develop housing affordability solutions, putting affordable homes within reach. This is our commitment. This is Wells Fargo.



ROMANS: Let's get a check on "CNN Business" this Tuesday morning.

Taking a look at markets around the world, you can see a little bit of retrenchment in European shares, and Asian stocks closed mixed. Look, investors are eyeing developments after the U.S. and China said that they had reached a preliminary deal on phase one of its trade deal and could be looking to sign something in the weeks ahead.

On Wall Street, right now, futures are barely mixed. Stocks closed higher yesterday -- a record high for the S&P 500.

Besides trade news, investors saw earnings from companies like Google's parent, Alphabet, reported higher ad revenue despite regulatory scrutiny. Still, it missed investor expectations in part because of losses on investments.

Juul is planning to cut some jobs -- 500 jobs. According to "The Wall Street Journal," the company's new chief executive said they are undergoing a, quote, "necessary reset."

It's facing a proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes. That category makes up 80 percent of its sales in the U.S.

Juul trying to -- trying to mend its difficult relationship with the regulators. Many blame it for a rise in teenage vaping. It's also the subject of several federal investigations, including a criminal probe by California prosecutors.

It's got a little more than 4,000 total employees.

Apple released a new high-end version of its AirPods yesterday. The product will have a new design and new features like noise-canceling technology.

It also comes with a higher price tag. The premium version will cost $249, $90.00 more than current AirPods.

Apple said AirPods are the best-selling headphones in the world. It didn't say how many it has sold but its CEO, Tim Cook, has called the demand phenomenal.

The new model hits stores tomorrow.

BRIGGS: Right now, huge wildfires are raging in different parts of California, 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 soon.

Lucy Kafanov in Calistoga, in Napa County, with more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): 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: All right, Lucy. Thank you so much for that.


The high-profile investment summit known as Davos in the Desert kicks off today in Saudi Arabia. It's a 3-day event.

It was a place for heads of state and top finance figures to try to meet and mingle, but 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 at this year's event. A strong turnout is expected. Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin leads the U.S. delegation, which is expected to include President Trump's son- in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

CNN's John Defterios live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. So how will the reception be for Davos in the Desert this year? JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR AND ANCHOR: Well, we're getting a good indication here in the first couple of sessions, Christine. I'm in the vast complex at the Ritz Carlton and the crowd is much bigger than in 2018.

But this is the third future investment initiative, which is supposed to be the engine to drive diversification and end that addiction of oil, as the conference -- Mohammad bin Salman has been claiming since he became the Crown Prince and pushed that reform program.

But they set up their own roadblocks, if you will, with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which really scared many in the international community. You have this war in Yemen.

And finally, in the same venue in 2017, just a couple of weeks after this event, they had this arrest of better than 400 Saudi millionaires and billionaires and captured back $100 billion. So, of course, this scared off investment.

But we see, as you suggest here, the Trump administration offering some very visual support in the name of Jared Kushner; Steve Mnuchin, who came to Riyadh last year but didn't come to the venue because it was so explosive; and, Rick Perry, whose sources told me in the last 30 minutes had meetings at Saudi Aramco in Dhahran.

And the Wall Street players here in full force. The first pow (ph), for example, had the CEOs of Bridgewater Associates, Blackstone, the COO of Goldman Sachs, the COO of HSBC suggested here. They're paid to play. They're here to manage money, handle the privatizations.

But outside of that Christine, I have to be very blunt. This is a Middle Eastern event in tone, outside of the Wall Street bankers who are trying to provide the support.

And the Crown Prince here, very quickly, I think we should just note you can see the strategy. He's acknowledging the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and would like to turn the page, as you're suggesting here.

Invited friendly faces with the leaders of India, Brazil, and Nigeria. But it's not so easy outside of Wall Street, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, I'd say.

All right, thanks so much for that. John Defterios in Riyadh.

BRIGGS: Finally, while you were sleeping, Arnold Schwarzenegger told Jimmy Kimmel about how he tricked 80s Hollywood rival Sylvester Stallone into doing the forgettable movie, "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot."


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: Hollywood knew that I was wanting to get out just doing action movies so they came to me with this other movie and -- I've forgotten what it was called.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": "Stop! Or My Mother (sic) Will Shoot."

SCHWARZENEGGER: "Stop! Or My Mother (sic) Will Shoot" -- exactly. That's right.

And so, I read the script and it was a piece of (bleep). And so I said to myself, I'm not going to do this movie.

So then, they went to Sly and then Sly called me and he says hey, have they ever talked to you about this movie? And I said, yes, I was thinking about doing it. I said this is a really brilliant idea, this movie.

And so, when he heard that -- because he was in competition, he immediately called them and says look, whatever it takes, I do the movie. So he did the movie.


SCHWARZENEGGER: The movie went major into the toilet.


BRIGGS: Major into the toilet.

I don't -- I don't remember "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" but I did look it up and Estelle Getty was the mom.

ROMANS: Oh, really?

BRIGGS: Golden Girl.

ROMANS: Oh, I got it -- all right. That was a little bit forgettable.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Well-played by Arnold.

I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


(Audio gap)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- not to cooperate, so his testimony is very important.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The process that's going on in Congress today is a disservice to the American people.

RAJU: House Democrats taking a significant step, setting a vote for later this week.

KENNEDY: The cow's out of the barn. They're only doing that because of the pressure. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts, so we press forward.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, October 29th, 6:00 here in New York.

Another very busy morning. I know I say that every morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No, every time you think there can't possibly be another big witness, there is.

CAMEROTA: OK, and here is another one. The most damning testimony yet in the impeachment inquiry is expected to happen today.

An active-duty military officer currently working inside the White House, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, will defy his commander in chief and testify that he was so concerned about the Ukraine controversy he twice reported it to -- reported on President Trump's pressure tactics.