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Four Officials to Testify in Impeachment Probe; U.S. Recognizes Israeli Settlements; Big Change for Chick-fil-A; Beating the Odds. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 19, 2019 - 04:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The impeachment probe back in the spotlight today.


Four top officials set to testify. Why they matter and how new revelations from this diplomat make him critical for Democrats.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. role as a Middle East broker again in doubt. The White House reversing decades of policy recognizing Israel settlements in the West Bank.

ROMANS: A major shift for a major brand. Why Chick-fil-A will no longer donate to groups with anti-gay views.

BRIGGS: Doctors said a little boy wouldn't live past his 2nd birthday. He just turned 3 and the town celebrating the occasion.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, November 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. exactly in New York, 5:00 p.m. in Hong Kong. It's 11:00 a.m. in Jerusalem.

Democrats trying remove President Trump and Republicans battling to save him. Both are bracing for the most momentous phase yet in the impeachment inquiry. Four senior national security officials will testify in public today. That's just the warm up. Five more are set to appear later this week.

BRIGGS: Democrats now accusing the president of bribery, saying he abused his power to pressure Ukraine for political favors. Republicans are hoping to show Trump was only exercising his sweeping authority. A week of packed testimony will test Trump who has been blasting witnesses publicly since last week.

Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and David, I hope you're well rested, well fed, have some snacks ready, because week two of public impeachment hearings is going to be a slog. It's going to be a lot. It's going to be nine witnesses over the course of three days starting with four over the course of two separate hearings just today.

Now, here's what you need to know about the first hearing that are happening today. The first hearing will be two White House officials, one, Jennifer Williams, who works in the vice president's office, the other, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, who's the top Ukraine policy expert on the National Security Council.

Now both of these individuals testified in their close door depositions that they had concerns with President Trump's July 25th call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, wondering why certain investigations were brought up, why Vice President Biden's son was brought up, as well as what those two individuals working in their roles inside the White House knew about the broader U.S. policy as it pertained to Ukraine, particularly the kind of outside shadow policy channel that was being run in part by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Keeping it on the afternoon as well though. These are two witnesses, Kurt Volker, who is the former U.S. special representative to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former top Russia hand on the National Security Council, who were actually witness request from Republicans. One of those individuals Kurt Volker has made very clear in his private deposition, closed door deposition, that there was as Republicans say no quid pro quo.

They didn't believe the president did anything illegal. However, he did raise some concerns about some individuals involved with the foreign policy related to Ukraine. Same goes for Tim Morrison. He made clear that he was on the July 25th call between the two presidents. So, he didn't think anything illegal was said in that call but made clear various elements of the U.S.-Ukraine policy outside of regular channels, whether it's Rudy Giuliani, or U.S. ambassador of the E.U., Gordon Sondland, were problems in their roles. So, that's Tuesday's hearing.

I want to flash forward just real, because there's also a new development. On Thursday, a new individual has been added to the testimony list. That would be David Holmes. He is the U.S. embassy and Ukraine official who overheard the phone call between Sondland and President Trump at an outdoor tavern. That phone call which he testified behind closed doors and rather explicit detail in terms of what was said has now become central to the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. That will come on Thursday. But as I said, it will be a long week, so be ready -- guys.


BRIGGS: We follow that pro tip, Phil Mattingly. We got snacks, baby, for that long week. So, thank you, Phil.

Some of that explicit firsthand detail was revealed overnight in newly released transcripts. David Holmes testified last week he heard Sondland tell President Trump Ukraine was prepared to move forward with the investigations he was demanding. A State Department official says he was taken aback by the conversation and a lack of operational security. He told investigators, quote: I've never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language.

ROMANS: Holmes also described how Ukrainian officials repeatedly pressed for a meeting at the White House because it would lend credibility to their administration, especially in the eyes of the Kremlin. He says the Ukrainians saw it as a setback when President Trump agreed to meet with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20.

Holmes also admits telling friends about the Sondland-Trump call but insists he didn't go into detail. And that could be ammunition for Republicans since it raises questions about how much internal government information Holmes shared.

BRIGGS: A transcript of State Department official David Hale's testimony was also released overnight. He says it took him two days to find out who was holding up military aid to Ukraine. Hale testified: I wanted a name of a named person who was saying this is the president's wish. I never got that response until the deputy small group meeting on July 25th in which OMB stated on the record that it was the president through the Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.


ROMANS: White House officials are looking at moving some of the impeachment probe witnesses out of the White House and back to their home departments.

Like many White House national security and diplomatic staffers, several of these witnesses including Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, they are on loan to the White House, they are assigned to the White House. Sources tell CNN President Trump has repeatedly suggested them, even as his advisers warned that firing witnesses could be viewed as retaliation. In fact, the president has implied on Twitter some have been fired, though, they all still have their jobs.

BRIGGS: Same day the president suggested he may testify in the impeachment inquiry, we learned the House of Representatives is investigating whether he lied to special counsel Robert Mueller. The president only provided written answers to Mueller's questions in the Russia investigation. House lawyers now say they need access to grand jury material following a series of revelations at Roger Stone's trial. Former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates testified Stone and Mr. Trump talked about information that was coming. That could help the campaign. But the president told Mueller he did recall discussing WikiLeaks with stone.

ROMANS: The Supreme Court pressing pause on a ruling that would hand President Trump's financial records to a House committee. Without the order by Chief Justice John Roberts, the accounting firm Mazars was under orders by a lower court to turn over eight years of personal and business records by tomorrow. And in unrelated major ruling late Monday, a federal judge ordered a

two week grace per of House Democrats request the president's tax returns under a New York law. The case is one of four in federal courts where the house is seeking Trump's financial records.

BRIGGS: To 2020, and Pete Buttigieg taking a critical pitch for black voters to black voters. A new CNN poll puts Mayor Pete Buttigieg clearly on top in an overwhelmingly white Iowa. But the latest Quinnipiac poll in South Carolina shows zero support among black voters.

In Atlanta, ahead of tomorrow's debate, he spoke to students at historically black Morehouse College.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Try not to get too caught up in poll numbers, but I did have a chance to look at the one you're mentioning, and I think I saw a strong majority of black voters in South Carolina still say they have not formed an opinion or haven't heard enough to form an opinion at all about my candidacy, all the more indication that it's so important for us to do this engagement.


ROMANS: Buttigieg just released a $500 billion college affordability plan that would make public college free for households earning $100,000 a year. Bernie Sanders wants to wipe out all college debt. Elizabeth Warren wants to wipe out most of it.

The New York Fed says U.S. student debt climbed last quarter to $1.5 trillion. And in that New York Fed data, an interesting number jumped out at me, 11 percent of loans are 90 days late or more, 11 percent loans are 90 days late or more.

BRIGGS: Massive problem. Hopefully, the candidates have all the plan for.

Ahead, he's been the president's punching bag for years but the Fed chair went face-to-face with the president yesterday. What happened behind closed doors?



ROMANS: The Trump administration upending 40 years of U.S. policy on Israel. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the U.S. has determined West Bank settlements do not violate international law. This major reversal risks America's decades-long role as a neutral broker in the region. Pompeo claims the move has actually though increased the likelihood of a Middle East peace settlement.

CNN's Oren Liebermann standing by live in Jerusalem with the latest.

Is there any suggestion that this move makes Middle East peace more likely?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. And when he made his announcement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo basically said, look, previous policy hasn't worked. So, this is trying something new and different. And yet, it all does is enraged Palestinian leadership more, further distanced the administration from the Palestinians and makes it harder to engage on the peace plan that we're not waiting for I think more than two years at this point. So, in terms of the peace plan, we'll see where that goes.

But should this be a surprise from the Trump administration? No, probably not. This is the direction they've been moving in for quite some time.

It was a while ago that they decided they weren't going to call the occupied West Bank occupied any more. The, one of the leader of the peace team said they didn't want to refer to settlements in the West Bank as settlements. He prefers to call them cities and towns and residences, all in a movement and essentially a position to effectively normalize Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And this is just a continuation of that.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately started celebrating and put out a thank you statement to the Trump administration for making the announcement and we saw that Israel's right-wing was jubilant over the announcement as were advocates of the settlement movement.

Who is the biggest winner here when it comes down to it? Well, that's President Donald Trump. This speaks right to the heart of his evangelical and religious voters for which the issue of Israel is a key issue.

Why the timing? Well, first, Netanyahu himself is in serious political trouble right now and this is a boost for him. Second, this seems a slap in the face to the E.U. whose court of justice just ruled that settlements, goods and products produced in settlements have to be labeled as made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, instead of made in Israel.

So, this is the administration saying we're not going in that direction. Meanwhile, as has happened so often with the administration announcement, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian territories, America stands on its own here.


Europe saying they're not changing their policy, still abiding by international law which considers the West Bank occupied territory.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: The U.S. is ratcheting up its sanctions against Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the U.S. will end a waiver on sanctions related to Iran's Fordow nuclear facility effective December 15th. Tehran recently restarted uranium enrichment at the underground site.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Right amount of uranium enrichment for the world's largest state sponsor of terror is zero. There's no legitimate reason for Iran to resume enrichment at this previously clandestine site.


BRIGGS: Iran hid Fordow from U.N. inspectors until it was exposed in 2009. European countries have been trying to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but Tehran has been stepping back from it since President Trump ordered the U.S. out of the pact last year.

ROMANS: The president had a cordial private meeting with the Fed chief. A guy he publicly bashes. This unannounced meeting is the first between Trump and the Fed chair Jerome Powell since February. The Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin was also there. You know, Trump has called Powell loco, a bone head, a bigger enemy of America than China.

Love to be a fly in that meeting.

Just last week, he said this about the Fed chief he appointed.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We all make mistakes, don't we? Not too often, we do make them on occasion.


ROMANS: Yes, the president actually admitted a mistake and it was Jerome Powell. And he said Trump pressures Powell to slash interest rates, even calling for negative rates breaking Fed precedent. The Fed is not a political institution and Jerome Powell doesn't -- you know, is not there to advance the president's re-election efforts.

The president tweeted that the two discussed interest rates at the very good and cordial meeting. However, the Federal Reserve had its own statement. It issued a statement that Powell told Trump the Fed will continue to set interest rates based on nonpolitical analysis. The Fed also said the meeting came at the president's invitation.

The Central Bank has cut interest rates three times this year in an effort to shield the economy from a downturn, ironically a downturn because of slowing global growth and grinding effect of a trade war.

BRIGGS: A trade war of his own.


BRIGGS: What's the ice breaker there when you call someone all those things? Yes, I mean --

ROMANS: I don't know. I mean, loco, bigger enemy to the American public than China I think is a pretty big insult.

BRIGG: Hey, Jerome.

ROMANS: It seems like Jerome Powell -- he's a numbers guy. He's a data guy. I think that -- I mean, I'm impressed being able to do your job every day with, you know, some of these --

BRIGGS: Absolutely. To your point, though, love to be a fly on the wall in the conversation.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: Scary scene in Illinois as a truck goes flying towards a state trooper and a driver stuck on the road. How this ends, next.



ROMANS: Right about half the schools in Indiana closed today. Teachers from 147 districts are demanding pay raises and better funding for public education. Thousands of teachers plan to protest at the capital. That means thousands of students will be out of class.

"The Indianapolis Star" reports schools that cancel class will have students complete their assignments from home. Last week, the state superintendent said her central focus is on student learning and school improvement.

BRIGGS: Chick-fil-a is changing its approach to charitable giving. The restaurant chain has been criticized for donating to Christian groups with anti-LGBTQ views. Now, it plans to give to a smaller number of organizations with a focus on education, homelessness and hunger. Chick-fil-A says its foundation will donate over $9 million to those causes next year. The company is not ruling out support for faith based charities moving forward.

ROMANS: The state of California is using Juul for marketing vape products to teenagers, and failing to warn about potential health risk. The lawsuit comes just days after Juul announced a $1 billion recovery plan. It includes cuts to its marketing budget. The company has already announced plans to stop selling most flavor pods to appeal to younger users.

Two Washington state counties and a local school district also sued Juul for targeting minors. No comment yet from Juul.

BRIGGS: A man and a woman shot and killed in a Walmart parking lot in Duncan, Oklahoma. Police say the gunman turned his weapon on himself after a bystander with a firearm confronted him. The incident has everyone in the community shaken.


CHIEF DANNY FORD, DUNCAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: With the history, in the last several years, a lot of impact. It makes people very fearful. Puts everybody on edge, puts the schools on edge, hospitals, businesses. Everybody is on edge.


BRIGGS: Police confirm the victims knew the suspect but they cannot detail the nature of the relationship. No shots were fired inside the store.


ROMANS: Wow. Now that's a close call. Illinois state police called it a miracle on ice. This happened November 12th. Roads still icy after a storm. Two troopers were there helping to change a tire and they saw this skidding truck.

They yanked the car's driver into the ditch. Officials say the truck flew right over the driver and barely missed the troopers.


BRIGGS: Doctors said a boy with a rare disease wouldn't live past his 2nd birthday. So, a Chicago suburb held a parade in Nash Stineman's honor when he reached his 3rd birthday. More than 100 trucks, jeeps and cars drove down the family street to celebrate. Nash has a rare neuromuscular disease, which affects breathing and the spine.

Instead of getting candy at the parade, Nash got banana pudding. It's the only food he eats by mouth because he's fed through an I.V. His mom called it a magical day.

ROMANS: Happy Birthday, Nash Diamond and to his family and parents who, you know, it's so hard for the past few years.

BRIGGS: Nice gesture.

Just ahead, just the start of a very big week, four top officials testify today in the impeachment probe. A new revelation from a diplomat in Ukraine make him critical for Democrats.