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Public Impeachment Hearing Kicks in a Few Hours' Time; Australia's East Coast Still Under Massive Fires; Evo Morales Granted Asylum by Mexico; Airstrike Exchanges After Islamic Jihad Leader Was Killed. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Coming up here on CNN Newsroom, the public chapter of the impeachment inquiry gets underway in just a matter of hours. How all sides are getting ready for a critical day on Capitol Hill.

Israel bracing for more retaliatory rocket attacks from Gaza just hours after the assassination of a militant commander.

Plus, dozens of fires still burning on Australia's East Coast, new evacuation orders and a warning about worsening conditions in the coming days.

So good to have you with us.

So, in just a few hours from now, testimony in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump will finally go public. In televised hearings, Democrats will try to build a case of bribery and extortion against the president for withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations of a political rival.

Two career diplomats will appear first, detailing their concerns about the administration's policies. Republicans have been busy fine-tuning their defense.

Jessica Schneider begins our coverage.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Republicans are laying out their strategy to push back and defend President Trump ahead of the upcoming high stakes impeachment hearings.

CNN has obtained the internal memo that marks the most centralized and detailed effort yet by Republicans to counter the Democrats argument for impeachment, hitting on four central defenses.

First, that the July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure. It's a point the president has repeatedly pushed.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I had a perfect phone call. I made a perfect call, not a good, call, a perfect call.


SCHNEIDER: But the rough transcript released by the White House clearly shows Zelensky asking for aid, and Trump responding, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

The second point stresses President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call. But before Zelensky took office, a source familiar told CNN that the Ukrainian president and his aides had a meeting on how to handle the Trump request to open the investigations.

The third and fourth Republican point state the Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. assistance during the July 25th call, and the hold on that military assistance was lifted on September 11th, but the Ukrainians were aware that they wouldn't receive the White House meeting they wanted without the announcement of investigations.

And aid only flowed after the White House faced criticism from Republican lawmakers, with just hours before the public hearing Republicans are attacking one of tomorrow's key witnesses, the top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor.


REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): They are relying on people like Bill Taylor as a star witness who is going to tell us something that is third or fourth-hand information.


SCHNEIDER: In closed door testimony, Taylor revealed he was told that Ukraine would not receive military money until officials announced the investigations the president wanted, but Taylor admitted he never spoke directly with the president, appoint Republicans have seized upon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said what he heard. Hearsay is not admissible.


SCHNEIDER: But Democrats say they just trying to muddy the waters.


REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Basically, those defenses are avoid the facts, avoid the facts, avoid the facts, that's basically what it is. The facts are the president abused his power and this is coming from the mouth of patriotic diplomats and their authority.


SCHNEIDER: The first set of public testimony will feature Bill Taylor as well as George Kent. He is the State Department lead career official focused on Ukraine.

And it will all unfold with Democrats and Republicans each getting 45 minutes for questioning off the bat, and that questioning will actually be led by skilled staffers from each side who have been doing the closed-door questioning. Plus, the 12 Democrats and the eight Republican members who will each get five minutes for questioning of their own.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

CHURCH: Well, as the public impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives get underway, the U.S. President will be hosting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the White House.

The two leaders are set to hold a news conference after their meeting and it comes as relations between the U.S. and Turkey have frayed over Turkeys increasing dominance in Syria.


So, let's turn to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh. She joins us live this hour from Istanbul. Good to see you again, Jomana. So, what is expected to come out of the meeting between these two leaders?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, we are going to have to wait and see. If you look at the previous meetings they've had, especially phone conversations in recent months, that's led to some stunning decisions by the U.S. president, when he announced twice the U.S. will be withdrawing from Syria.

The last phone call back in October where it was essentially greenlighting Turkey's military operation into Syria, so, we'll have to wait and see what comes out of this. There are so many issues that have strained ties between these two NAT allies. It really is a long list of issues that have really been simmering under the surface for months, even years, and we're starting to really see this all surfacing in putting these two NATO allies on a collision course.

Now, what we understand from U.S. officials is topping the agenda for the United States is to try and resolve the issue of the Russian S-400 missile defense system that was acquired by Turkey, a NATO, member just a few months ago.

The deliveries began this summer and we understand from Turkish officials that they plan on activating that S-400 system, deploying it in different parts of the country in the coming months.

So U.S. officials are going to try and find a way to resolve this issue because the Trump administration, President Trump really, so far, has pretty much shielded Turkey from sanctions that he is obliged under U.S. law to enforce, basically, and sanction Turkey for purchasing that Russian missile defense system, and with this growing push, bipartisan push really to punish Turkey for that purchase, the Trump administration need to find a way around it.

It has been suggested that perhaps maybe they would try and reach an agreement whereby Turkey will not activate the S-400.

Another issue of course is the Turkey's military operation into northern Syria. That remains a major issue that has infuriated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And again, putting pressure on the Trump administration to do something about this.

Still, again, you know, possibilities here of trying to push Turkey into some sort of permanent ceasefire, and also, Turkey has come under a lot of criticism for their behavior, alleged war crimes that may have been committed in the early days of this operation by the Syrian proxy force that is back in this operation in northern Syria,

But, Rosemary, if you look at these two issues, we know the Turkish position on this. They have made it clear that these is -- there are issues it will not compromise on. They see these as national security issues.

And we understand from Turkish officials that they're going to be going into this meeting trying to make the argument, again, for their military operation in Syria, trying to convince the United States again of the threat they see coming from northern Syria and the United States Syrian Kurdish allies.

So, this is coming at a very critical time when relations between these two countries have really hit rock bottom.

And one thing that Turkey experts would point out here is that President Erdogan especially has relied on his relationships, his close ties with President Trump, his ability to negotiate and work with President Trump, and really has not spent much time trying to mend ties with U.S. lawmakers, something that could backfire, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Indeed. We'll keep a very close eye on all of this. Jomana Karadsheh, bringing us the very latest there from Istanbul. I appreciate it.

Well, Palestinian officials say 12 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. Among the head is this man, senior Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata whose targeted killing early Tuesday triggered the cross-border fighting.

Now, this was the scene in Gaza City after his death. Islamic Jihad vowed a response and Israel says more than 200 rockets were fired out of Gaza. Israel says dozens of the projectiles were shot down, thanks to its Iron Dome aerial defense system.

And CNN's Oren Liebermann is outside Sderot in Israel. He joins us now live. Good to see you again, Oren. So, in the aftermath of this targeted killing, what is the situation on the ground?

All right, we are having some audio issues there with Oren Liebermann. We will of course try to reestablish that link and come back to him.


But let's move on for now. Another big story we are watching very closely.

Bolivia's former president has fled to Mexico but the country is still in turmoil as an acting president takes over. We'll have the details ahead.

Plus, Australia's raging bushfires have already destroyed many people's homes, but the fire chief of New South Wales has warned the worst is yet to come.


CHURCH: We have now reestablished contact with CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is outside Sderot in Israel and joins us now live. Good to see you again, Oren.

So, in the aftermath of this targeted killing of a militant later, we've been seeing rocket fire and airstrikes. Where do things stand right now, where is this going?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, after a surprisingly quiet night, there was some eight or nine hours over night where there is no fire from either side, there was a salvo of rockets from Gaza this morning, and since then, they have been a number of rockets fired, and a number of Israeli airstrikes.

According to the Palestinian ministry of health, it now stands at 15 Palestinians killed in Gaza, and we've seen injuries on both sides of the border, as well as damage on both sides of the border.

The key point to make right not is remains a fight between Israel not just Gaza, but Israel, and specifically Islamic Jihad. As you pointed out it was Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata whose targeted killing early Tuesday began this round of fighting.

And since then, it seems that Israel, the military has almost gone to great pains to point out there striking only Islamic Jihad targets, and it is only Islamic Jihad firing rockets from Gaza into Israel.

So, this fight is specifically between Israel and one militant group in Gaza, the second most powerful. It does not, at least at this point involved Hamas, a far more powerful though less radical organization than Islamic Jihad.

Whether Hamas decides to get involve goes a long way into determining how this plays out. Does it continue for days, or is there a chance here to de-escalate? There are efforts behind the scenes by the U.N. and Egypt to try to

act as intermediaries between Israel and Gaza to see if they can keep a lid on the fighting. And so far, what we've seen is some sort of a lid this morning. The rockets fired as of now are sort of the less powerful rockets that are aimed at the Gaza periphery. They've been aimed at Sderot and Ashkelon, two cities fairly close to Gaza.

They haven't been the more powerful kinds of rockets that can go 20, 30, even 40 miles. And that's what we are waiting to see. Does it escalate to that level or does it stay here? And we're not just interested in knowing the answer to that question, including the Israeli military and Israeli officials are as well that will give us a big clue as to how this goes here on the Gaza border. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. We will of course continue watching this, as you will. Oren Liebermann with the very latest there from Sderot in Israel. Many thanks.

Well, Bolivia has a new leader. And Jeanine Anez, the acting president says she hopes to hold elections soon. The top job became available after former President Evo Morales resigned on Sunday amid voter fraud allegations and fled to Mexico.


CNN's Matt Rivers has the details.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexico City officially has won new resident as of Tuesday, and that would be former Bolivian President Evo Morales. He arrived here in the capital of Mexico shortly before midday on Tuesday where he officially claimed political asylum.

This was after the Mexican government invited him to claim asylum here after the former president abruptly resigned from his position in Bolivia on Sunday.

The Mexican government sent a plane down to Bolivia to pick up the former president and after some initial uncertainty which included being denied the right to fly back to Mexico through Peruvian airspace, the plane eventually made it here and deposited the former Bolivian president.

And if you had any notion that the former president was going to simply stop commenting on Bolivian politics or just go quietly into the night, well, that is definitely not true. As soon as he got off the plane, he was met by a throng of reporters whom he addressed briefly. Here is a little bit of what he had to say.


EVO MORALES, FORMER PRESIDENT OF BOLIVIA (through translator): We are here safe, thanks to Mexico and its authorities, but I also want to tell you, sisters and brothers, as long as I'm alive, we'll continue in politics. As long as I'm alive, the fight continues and we are sure that the people of the world have the right to liberate themselves.


RIVERS: So, what Morales is essentially saying there is that he is going to maintain an active voice in Bolivian politics, and he has the means to communicate with his myriad supporters that remain in Bolivia. He is very active on his Twitter feed as we saw during his trip, even here in Mexico, and you can expect that that is going to continue into the future.

And that is just one of the challenges now facing the interim government that is being set up in Bolivia, how will Morales effect Bolivian politics over the next couple of months?

There are already lot of challenges, not the least of which will be if and when new elections are set up in Bolivia. The fact that there are lots of protests that remain in La Paz and other parts of the country, there still remain so much uncertainty in Bolivia.

And that's before you consider that Morales could whip up his supporters, continue to foment unrest, will his supporters challenge the legitimacy of any future elections that are set up in the near term?

These are all open questions that we simply don't know the answers to yet. We know that it's going to be uncertain times for a while in Bolivia.

What we do know for sure is that at least right now, it's most famous resident, arguably, Evo Morales, well, he no longer is there and he will be a resident of Mexico, at least for the foreseeable future as someone who has sought political asylum here in the country's capital.

Matt Rivers, CNN, in Mexico City.

CHURCH: The bush fires burning in Eastern Australia are some of the fiercest the country has seen in decades and more are expected.

There were 85 active fires in New South Wales as of Tuesday evening. The flames made it to Sydney suburbs and police believed some of those fires may have been set deliberately. The fire chief for New South Wales says the worst is yet to come with more hot weather on the way.


SHANE FITZSIMMONS, COMMISSIONER, NEW SOUTH WALES RURAL FIRE SERVICE: We will not have all those fires contained and locked up for many, many weeks given the enormity of the firefighting effort.

Unfortunately, what we need is rain, what we need is plentiful rain and there is certainly nothing in the forecast for the foreseeable future that is going to make any discernible difference to the conditions that we are experiencing.


CHURCH: And further north in Queensland, it's all hands-on deck, authorities say crews might not be able to stop a fire heading for the north shore where conditions are described as very dangerous.

So, let's turn to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri who is tracking all of this for us. And as we heard there from the police chief, I mean, the problem here is that there is no rain in sight.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, not enough to make any difference, absolutely. You know, so we look at the forecast we've seen additional warming potential over the next couple of days, but really the one area that we are finally seeing some improvement is the wind speed.

They are beginning to die down. When you take a look of course, quite a bit of fire activity still in place, the smoke detected as much as 4,300 kilometers away, father into portions of New Zealand, even as far south as Antarctica.

And you kind of contract the smoke in association there with over 100 active fires at this hour between the two states. But as of yesterday, about 24 hours ago, we had 19 fires that were considered catastrophic in nature, and in fact, since the record keeping began for this sort of categorizing the fires, the catastrophic level was a level five, which had never been issued, and of course, we had 19 of them this time yesterday.

At this hour, they have removed all 19 of those, they have all dropped down to a level four on a scale of one to five, but altogether, still over 100 active fires between the two states, and of course you see the winds with the frontier that is pushing right through Brisbane at this hour.


Wednesday are beginning to gust, to the fires across portions of Queensland really beginning to see their peak at this hour while farther towards the south around New South Wales, and certainly around the Sydney metro region, winds beginning to die down, and that is good news here with the forecast, at least in the immediate term.

But we look ahead into the next couple of days, we've seen the levels of concern drop from a five to a four. Of course, a very high still over the next couple of days. But notice the forecast rises back up to 30 degrees, there is thunderstorm potential now in the forecast come Sunday afternoon.

So, yes, some rain may come of it but with the thunderstorm of course you have gusty winds, potential for additional fires to be ignited, so it is going to be a very long fire system across this region, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. I still find it hard to believe that people actually deliberately lit some of these fires. It just makes you wonder, doesn't it?

JAVAHERI: It does.

CHURCH: Pedram, many thanks to you. Well, Venice, Italy is under a state of emergency. Flooding from an exceptionally high tide, the highest in 50 years in fact, has inundated 45 percent of the city, forcing businesses and schools to close.

One man has died. The mayor blames the flooding on climate change. Citizens are being asked to document damage so they can be compensated, and volunteers are deploying throughout the city to help.

Well, Australia's high court has agreed to hear an appeal from Cardinal George Pell. The former Vatican treasurer was convicted last

December of child sexual abuse in the 1990s. Pell has always maintained his innocence.

This appeal set for next year is his last chance to overturn the conviction and six years sentence. No response yet from the Holy See which had previously said it would wait for any appeal before considering Pell's future within the clergy.

Well, special set of rules on Capitol Hill will guide the public impeachment hearings just hours away. And we will look at what to expect. Back in a moment.


CHURCH: Returning to our top story now in the pivotal new phase in the U.S. impeachment proceedings. Public hearings will begin in just a few hours from now with two career diplomats as the first witnesses.

And Democrats will try to prove President Donald Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure for investigations of his political rival Joe Biden, and in doing so is guilty of extortion, bribery and coercion.

The Trump campaign argues the public hearings are a political stunt and the president has the facts on his side.

I spoke with Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia about the Republican strategy of insisting there was no pressure put on Ukraine, and that Ukraine was not aware the aid was on hold during the July 25th call.


LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Even if the Ukrainians had not known that the aid had been held up, wouldn't they have immediately recognized that one word from the president could hold it up? So, I just don't understand what that argument is even about.

CHURCH: And the fourth GOP argument is that when military aid was eventually released on September 11th, the Ukrainians got the meetings without having to launch any investigation, so in the end they actually got the military aid and they got the meeting.

[03:25:03] So how strong is that argument? Will that be convincing enough?

SABATO: It will be convincing, again, to Republican viewers, as well as obviously Republican members of Congress, but you can present an alternative universe in which Trump simply expected the investigations to be going on or to eventually take place in time for his reelection campaign.

So, I just don't know that that would convince anybody who wasn't inclined to be convinced, and of course, the people inclined to be convinced are the Republican members of Congress.


CHURCH: And when millions of viewers tune into these impeachment proceedings, they will see a different process from the usual congressional hearings.

Isa Soares has details on the rules approved by the House.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: The stakes couldn't be higher for Democrats and Republicans this week as the public impeachment hearings get underway. Democrats publicly laying out the evidence that President Trump may have committed impeachable offenses, and then Republicans hoping to convince the American people that in fact he didn't.

First, though, let's talk about the witnesses. Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, and George Kent, the former senior State Department official. These first witnesses will reset the tone for these public hearings.

Now, we expect some of the most damning testimony from Taylor. He is expected to say he had a clear understanding that military aid would not be released to Ukraine unless Kiev announced investigations into Trump's political rivals.

Then, Kent, he is expected to say he understood a White House meeting between the new Ukrainian president and President Trump was contingent on those investigations.

Now, it will all happen in this room, in the long width building of the Capitol. That is the largest room in fact in the House. And both witnesses will sit in one panel, fielding really questions from members and committee lawyers.

Now, critically to the questions, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, that's Adam Schiff, and ranking Republican Devin Nunes will get most of the time for questions. They get 45 minutes each.

Democrats hope to prevent this from becoming a partisan circus and making it so there is an uninterrupted flow of questions really from each side.

Now, the remaining members, 12 Democrats you are seeing here and the eight Republicans here, they will get five minutes each. At the end, the Democrats will draw a report with their findings and they expect to have the full House vote on impeachment and send it to the Senate for trial, get this by Christmas.

Isa Soares, CNN, London.

CHURCH: And you can tune in to CNN Wednesday for live coverage throughout the day of the House impeachment hearing starting at 8 a.m. in New York, 1 p.m. in London.

And thank you so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. Vital Signs is up next. But first, of course, I'll be back with a check of the headlines. You're watching CNN. Do stay with us.