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White House Budget Official Breaks Ranks, Testifies Behind Closed Doors; Results Of Latest CNN/Iowa Poll; Hong Kong Police Officer Shot with Arrow during University Siege; U.S., South Korea Postpone Joint Military Exercise; Venice Flooding. Aired 3:30-4a ET

Aired November 17, 2019 - 03:30   ET




NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Nick Watt live from Studio 7 at CNN Center in Atlanta.

Ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, three closed door depositions shed new light on Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

A new front-runner among the Democrats in Iowa.

Plus, protests in Hong Kong turn violent. A police officer is hit by an arrow.


WATT: Saturday was yet another fast-moving day in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Two deposition transcripts were released, providing yet more evidence that the president ordered aid withheld, pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens.

Meanwhile, another senior White House official testified behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. He is Mark Sandy, a veteran of the White House budget office. And a source familiar with his testimony says he told lawmakers he was confused, did not know why the $400 million in military funds to Ukraine were suddenly frozen but Sandy did provide a possible who.

He said a Trump political appointee, Michael Duffey, insisted on taking over the Ukraine account and signed some of the documents, putting that security assistance on hold. The source said Sandy testified Duffey's actions were an unusual departure from the normal budget process.

Here is CNN's Lauren Fox with details of those deposition transcripts just dropped.


LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On Saturday, we got new details about Tim Morrison, a former NSC official, who testified to congressional investigators last month that he came to understand that E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland was getting direction from president Donald Trump when he was pushing the Ukrainians to announce investigations into the president's political rivals.

Morrison testified behind closed doors that he believed that Sondland and President Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 25th, the date of that phone call between President Zelensky and President Trump, and September 11th, when nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was finally released.

He said in one of those conversations, he spoke directly with Gordon Sondland after Sondland had gotten off the phone with President Trump. Here's what he testified.

Quote, "He told me he had just gotten off the phone with the president. He told me, as it relates to Ambassador Taylor's statement, there was no quid pro quo but President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to."

Now Tim Morrison also provided more details about the July 25th phone call, especially the fact that was put in a secure server. There are questions, of, course why it was put in that server. But Morrison said he came to understand from the top NSC lawyer that it had been put there by mistake. Here's what he told investigators.

Quote, "John Eisenberg relayed that he did not ask for it to be put in there but that the executive secretariat staff misunderstood his recommendation for how to restrict access."

Now this is a reminder that, next week, both of these individuals, Tim Morrison and Gordon Sondland, will testify publicly in front of these congressional investigators and the American public -- for CNN, on Capitol Hill, Lauren Fox.


WATT: Now to those Democrats vying to face President Trump. Remember, spending time, money and energy in Iowa seems to be paying off for Pete Buttigieg. A new CNN/"The Des Moines Register" poll shows the 37 year old mayor is now leading his rivals in Iowa. His standing among likely caucusgoers has soared by 16 points since September.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, IND., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's extremely encouraging, obviously. We have felt a lot of momentum on the, ground especially with the work that we've been doing, not just in terms of my visits to the state but over 100 organizers they're building relationships, getting our message out.

And even now, we know that we are not as well known as some of my competitors so it's very encouraging and at the same time, it's a long way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATT: He's right. There is still a long way to go. The Iowa caucus is the first real test for the 2020 Democratic candidates set for February 3rd. Now earlier I spoke about all these developments with political analyst Michael Genovese.


WATT: I asked him what might account for Buttigieg's sudden surge in Iowa.


MICHAEL GENOVESE, POLITICAL ANALYST: Buttigieg seems to be the flavor of the month.

The question is, does he have legs?

Will he last?

He has a lot of assets. He is young, he somewhat charismatic, he has a military background, he is a hard worker, he is the smartest person probably running of any of the candidates.

And his youth, contrast that to the senior brigade at the top of the Democratic list, that contrast really is an asset for him.

He does have some real liabilities, his age and his inexperience. Plus he does not do well with African Americans. And you cannot win as a Democrat in the general election, probably even in the primaries, unless you can get support from African Americans.

And so some of his assets in the Democratic primaries then might turn into liabilities in the general election. I think, right now, he's going to be the target. As the leader in the race, if he does win Iowa, all the guns will be pointed in his direction, all of the criticism will be directed at him.

So can he stand the heat?

WATT: And, Michael, let's go back to what was our top story, as usual, the impeachment hearings.

So those transcripts that were released today, I mean, that seems to be more evidence that the president did, in fact, in direct this quid pro quo. And Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the E.U., you know, put once more front and center, he is going to be testifying out in the open on Wednesday.

What does the next week, in your opinion, hold for President Trump?

More bad things?

GENOVESE: Well, they're moving from bad to worse. They're not getting better and, with each passing day, the testimony seems to contribute, bit by bit, drip by drip, to the conclusion that the president was actively involved, it was at his direction and he was withholding funds until he got an agreement.

It was, without using the words quid pro quo, that is exactly what it was. It is kind of, like if you think of it as a meal, we are done with the amuse-bouche, we have had some of the foreign service professionals who would be on the front line of our soft power, they were testifying and bringing things slightly from the outside in towards the president.

Next is the appetizer and that's Sondland. He'll come in Wednesday. And the question is, his early testimony was changed a few days later, when people were testifying to the contrary of his view, his words.

Now when he comes in Wednesday, is he going to have his come to Jesus moment turn on the president?

That will be the most revealing story. And if he turns on the president, that will be devastating.

Now the third thing is you want the main course. We're not going to get the main course. The main course would be if we had Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mulvaney, Pompeo, just go down the list, all the people the president is not permitting to go before Congress.

So we're not going to get the main course.

The question, is will we get enough in the amuse-bouche and the appetizer to move on impeachment?

Probably will for the House but will that convince the public?

Right now, it looks like views are being hardened more than changed.


WATT: Political analyst Michael Genovese speaking to us just a little earlier.

The U.S. president surprised those who track his every move by going to the hospital unexpectedly on Saturday. Mr. Trump went by motorcade to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, apparently to begin some procedures, including lab, test part of his regular annual physical exams.

But previous exams have been announced ahead of time. However, the White House insists, nothing to see here. The president is healthy and energetic.

In the U.S. state of Louisiana, Democrats are celebrating a significant win and a setback for President Trump. The incumbent Democratic governor John Bel Edwards narrowly beat his Republican challenger, who was heavily backed by the president.

Mr. Trump won Louisiana in the 2016 presidential election by a crushing 20 points and held two recent rallies in the state.

In his victory speech, Edwards said of, Trump, God bless his heart. The violence in Hong Kong escalates. Police and protesters fighting

over key strongholds and police say an officer has been shot with an arrow. We'll show you what happened.

Plus, Iran faces its own unrest. Protesters denouncing an increase in fuel prices.





WATT: In Hong Kong, a standoff between police and protesters is getting even more violent. Authorities say a police officer has been shot with a narrow during a dispersal operation at Polytechnic University. He was wounded in the calf and taken to the hospital.

The authorities have surrounded the Polytechnic University, trying to force out pro democracy demonstrators. They fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters who retaliated with petrol bombs and bricks. Let's go live now to Hong Kong and CNN's Anna Coren.

Anna, what is happening on the ground there right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR: There is a bit of a lull at the moment. We have seen the water cannons, which are several hundred meters behind us, move towards us, spray the water, spray the blue dye.

There is two water cannons here, they sort of move in and then move out. Protesters retaliate with petrol bombs and I just want to show you the position of not just the protesters where we are just standing but obviously up here on the balcony of Polytechnic University.

There are dozens of them up there and a little bit earlier we went up and had a look at what was going on inside the university and they are stockpiling petrol bombs. They are stockpiling bricks. There is a catapult up there, there are numerous archers up there with bows and arrows.

You mentioned that police officer who was shot several hours ago in the calf by an arrow. You can see the water cannons. They are now firing at the protesters.

This has been going on throughout the day, Nick. It doesn't really seem to be making any headway. There's also tear gas being fired. But no one is moving, the police not able to move forward, and the protesters are just holding the ground.

The reason that this place has become such a flashpoint for the police and some of the protesters is because of its location.

[03:45:00] COREN: We are very close to the Harbor City tunnel, which is the link really between Kowloon side to Hong Kong island, which has been shut down now for days. So that key piece of infrastructure has been out of use because of the protests.

Many protesters have come from Chinese university, where we saw those violent scenes last weekend and throughout the week. Many have come here to Polytechnic University and this is now the new flashpoint.

A protester said to me a little bit earlier, we are at war. They believe they are defending their university. The police obviously have deemed everyone here to be rioters. They have told journalists not to get in the way of their work.

A medic inside the university, Nick, told us they're expecting live gunfire to be fired perhaps later in the evening, so this is an incredibly tense situation here. Protesters are concerned that police could very well charge in the coming hours, Nick.

WATT: And, as you were talking, we were seeing pictures, there live pictures of petrol bombs. Thanks very much. Please stay safe.

Meanwhile, demonstrations against a gas price hike in Iran have turned deadly. The government says at least one person has been killed in the unrest. Protesters on Saturday flooded the streets of the capital, Tehran. They jammed roads and clashed with authorities.

Iran's interior minister says security forces have shown restraint but will act to restore calm. Meanwhile, a border crossing between Iran and Iraq has been closed to travelers because of unrest in both countries.

The U.S. and South Korea just made a diplomatic gesture towards Pyongyang, postponing their joint military drills planned for later this month. The U.S. Defense Secretary calls it an act of goodwill.

During a joint press conference in Bangkok, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked if this was a concession to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.


MARK ESPER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't see this as a concession. I see this as a good faith effort by the United States and the Republic of Korea to enable peace, to shape the terrain, if you will, to facilitate a political agreement, a deal, if you will, that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And that's part of what we do. As I said previously, my job is not only to bolster diplomacy but my job is also to enable and to empower. In this case, I think it creates more space for our diplomats to strike an agreement on the denuclearization of the peninsula, is very important.


WATT: Both Washington and Seoul are urging North Korea to return to the nuclear negotiating table.

Venice is on edge as another round of flooding is expected to further submerge the city. We are live from the city of canals. That's next.





WATT: Crippling floods are expected to hit Venice once again. In the coming hours, high tide is forecast to reach 1.6 meters or more than 5 feet. The Italian city has seen historic flooding this week, forcing businesses and landmarks to close and damaging centuries-old treasures. CNN Scott McLean joins me now from Venice.

Scott, how's it looking?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Nick. Things are going to get worse before they are going to get better here. There will be one more round of flooding, as you said, before Venetians get a bit of a break here from all of this.

A little bit of context here for you. Just around the corner from here is St. Mark's Square, that's the lowest part of the, city just 80 centimeters above sea level. Remember, today we're going to get 160 centimeters. So this area is already flooding.

It's actually hard to tell the sidewalk from a channel here and if you look over this way, well, it's almost impossible to differentiate where the sidewalk ends and where the canal starts.

I spoke with the mayor yesterday, who said that 30 years ago, they said the sea levels would rise, he didn't believe them. He did not believe in climate change then. Now he says it is impossible not to see the effects.

St. Mark's Basilica, we also got a tour in there yesterday. They actually held one church service last night. Today, they, are battening down the hatches for more flooding. We also visited the conservatory yesterday, where they actually had centuries-old manuscripts, books that ended up partially submerged. They're trying to dry those out while also making sure that they're as protected as they can be from this flooding.

I want to show you another thing and that is just at the bottom of the columns here. You'll notice it is a lot more deteriorated than at the top. Venice is built on marble and solid rock. The problem, though, is that, when you see these high tides, especially high tides today, is considered extraordinary, saltwater gets into places where it's not really supposed to be.

The worry is especially when it gets into some of the bricks because, yes, the water comes up quickly and it leaves quickly but the salt doesn't and so what happens then is it gets in there and it makes its way out and it deteriorates the rock.

And so there are serious questions about how much more Venice can withstand before it's going to have some serious repair bills on its hand. We're already seeing it at St. Mark's Basilica, the bases of some stone columns, really old bases they're having to replace and they worry that if something isn't done about this it will only get worse. Nick?

WATT: Scott McLean in Venice. Thank you very much.

Finally, "People" magazine says singer John Legend is the "Sexiest Man Alive" but one rap legend says they got it wrong.


WATT: Snoop Dogg posted this Photoshopped image of himself on the cover with the sexiest titled image, which has more than 400,000 likes so far, shows the weed enthusiast with a joint. Of course.

So did "People" magazine get it wrong?

We will let you decide. My take, it's a dead heat, those are two suave, talented, fine looking gentlemen. They both deserve the title. No response from "People" yet to Snoop's little tweak there.

Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Nick Watt. Michael Holmes is another hour of news that is coming right up.