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Ambassador to E.U. Sondland Testifies Today; Fifth Democratic Debate Tonight in Atlanta; Epstein Guards Charged; Small World, Relatively Speaking; Carmelo Anthony Makes His Return to the NBA. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired November 20, 2019 - 04:30   ET




DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: He's the ambassador with firsthand knowledge of the president's actions. What will Gordon Sondland say about the Ukraine pressure campaign when he testifies publicly today?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Ten Democrats on stage for their fifth debate tonight. How this showdown is different, less than 11 weeks to the Iowa caucus.

BRIGGS: Two guards now facing charges for lapses the night Jeffrey Epstein died on their watch. What they're accused of doing instead.


TOM HANKS, ACTOR: It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day --


ROMANS: The resemblance is uncanny and there -- I don't know, maybe there could be a reason. Are Tom Hanks and Mr. Rogers related? Distantly.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Four-thirty Eastern Time.

Two great movies this week, "Frozen" and "Mr. Rogers."

ROMANS: Yes, "Frozen" is not on my list, but you'll let me how it is.

BRIGGS: Oh, yeah, three boys.

All right. We start --

ROMANS: The like the first --

BRIGGS: It was a good one. He is the man with a firsthand knowledge of events that brought us to this historic moment to the impeachment hearings. Gordon Sondland faces hearings this morning with the president's future possibly in his hands. Evidence so far all points to Sondland as the witness who could tie the president directly to the campaign pressuring Ukraine to investigate 2020 rival Joe Biden.

ROMANS: The E.U. ambassador's testimony follows a long day of hearings that culminated in one of the Republican's own witnesses essentially turning on them. Former Ukraine special envoy, Kurt Volker, acknowledged some of his closed-door testimony had been less than fully informed.

What he didn't realize then, he understands now.


KURT VOLKER, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR UKRAINE: Since I gave my testimony on October 3rd, a great deal of additional information and perspectives have come to light. In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company Burisma as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.


BRIGGS: One key change in Volker's re-election was connected to Sondland. Last month, Volker denied investigations ever came up at a July White House meeting. But yesterday, Volker recalled Sondland did bring up investigations with a top Ukrainian official, which Volker says everybody thought was, quote, inappropriate.

ROMANS: Multiple Republican sources tell us they're most worried about what Sondland will say today and whether he'll turn on the president.

Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, if you paid close attention to Tuesday's testimony, you may have heard one name come up repeatedly who wasn't actually testifying, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. He has been at the center of much of the impeachment investigation up to this point. He testified behind closed doors in a deposition then had to amend that testimony. That amendment seeming to make very clear that not only did he tie U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to the idea of investigations into the president's opponents, but he actually presented that to Ukrainian aids at his side bar meeting on September 1st, when the vice president was in town.

Then you actually pay attention to the other depositions that were going on. Multiple administration officials talking about how Sondland had repeated contacted with President Trump. How Sondland touted his ties and close contacts with White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. And you recognize that in terms of witnesses, there may be no one bigger than Gordon Sondland. He was at the center of everything the administration was doing through their quote/unquote irregular channel, outside of the normal channels.

Now, there have been questions about his testimony, there have been contradictions in his testimony, at least the depositions behind closed doors. All of those are going to be have to be answered. The real question, though, is, what is he actually going to say when he gets in front of cameras?

I've talked to members on both sides of the aisle, and the reality is, nobody really knows. That's unsettling for Republicans who are hoping at some point he would be a big defender of the president. They don't know what's coming. Democrats feel like he could be a big witness for them. But based on his closed door deposition and the changes to that, they don't know what's coming either.

It will be a nail-biting moment, not just for the White House, not just for Republicans, not just for Democrats, but pretty much everybody watching, because this is an individual that knows what happen and can say explicitly whether or not he was operating at the direction of the president and whether or not anybody else was, as well.

So, this will be a big day -- guys.


BRIGGS: Sure will, Phil. Thank you.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified in the morning impeachment session on Tuesday. The director of European affairs for the National Security Council says he went straight to NSC lawyers to report the Trump/Zelensky call. He told lawmakers he considered President Trump's demands, quote, inappropriate. In one tense exchange, it appeared the Republicans were trying to unmask the whistle-blower.

Watch what happened when Vindman was asked if he spoke to anyone about the Trump/Zelensky conversation.


LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL'S EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent and an individual from the office of -- an individual in the intelligence community.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): What -- as you know, the intelligence community has 17 different agencies, what agency was this individual from?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If I could interject here. We don't want to use these proceedings --

NUNES: It's our time.

SCHIFF: I know, but we need to protect the whistle-blower. Please stop --


ROMANS: The White House using a taxpayer-funded Twitter account to attack Vindman. The West Wing slamming the decorated Iraq war vet while he was testifying. The account quoted the lieutenant colonel's former boss, Tim Morrison, who testified, he had concerns about Vindman's judgment.

Then, the president retweeted a misleading post from his social media director that questioned Vindman's loyalty to the U.S.

The president said this yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vindman, I watched him for a little while this morning, and I think he -- I'm going to let people make their own determination, but I don't know Vindman. I never heard of him. I don't know any of these people.


ROMANS: In his opening remarks, Colonel Vindman delivered an emotional message to his father, who brought his family to the United States from the Soviet Union decades ago. Vindman told him, do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.

BRIGGS: The president of Ukraine making a rare public comment about the impeachment hearings. Fred Pleitgen spoke with Zelensky. Fred joins us live from Kyiv.

Fred, good morning. What'd you hear?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Dave. You know, one of the things that you could hear from President Zelensky is he's really been trying to lay low as far as the impeachment hearings are concerned, and generally the events leading up top impeachment hearings, as well.

The Ukrainians have acknowledged that they need bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. In fact, I was at another event yesterday where they flat-out said, one of the things that's been good for them over the past couple of years is the fact that they had both parties behind them, because, of course, they had that conflict going on with the Russians and Russian-backed forces in the east of the country.

And so, we were at a press event yesterday with President Zelensky and he actually didn't want to answer any questions. But then I asked him whether or not it was true that he was ready to move forward with an investigation to Burisma, and that's when he came back and became quite emotional.

Here's what he had to say.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma. We have our country, we have our independence. We have our problems and questions.


PLEITGEN: So the Ukrainians there saying they really don't want to talk about this issue that much anymore.

Again, as we've been saying, they've been trying to lay low. They've been trying to speak about this as little as possible, but always knowing that they really need that support from both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C. if they're going to keep up and maintain their fight that they have obviously involved in the east of this country.

The Ukrainians really trying to not get involved too much. They're not trying to get on the bad sign of anyone. But as you can see, also very much, Zelensky put in a very difficult position by President Trump and by President Trump demanding those investigations from the Ukrainians -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. Very reliant on that bipartisan support here. Fred Pleitgen, nice job. Appreciate it. Live in Kyiv this morning, thanks.

ROMANS: Democratic presidential candidates fight face-to-face to hold or take the lead at the fifth Democratic debate tonight in Atlanta. High stakes even higher with less than 11 weeks until the Iowa caucuses. There will be greater focus on Mayor Pete Buttigieg who is now leading the field in the latest CNN/"Des Moines Register" Iowa poll as well.

This will be the first debate since Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan to pay for Medicare-for-All, a plan Joe Biden called mathematical gymnastics.

BRIGGS: Two prison guards have been charged with covering up their failures on the night Jeffrey Epstein died at a New York correctional facility. Tova Noel and Michael Thomas are accused of falsifying prison records. Court documents show the two repeatedly failed to complete required counts of prisoners. Prosecutors say they were shopping online and napping when Epstein apparently took his own life. Both officers pleaded not guilty and were released on bond.


JASON FOY, TOVA NOEL'S ATTORNEY: It is our hope that we'll be able to reach a reasonable agreement in this case. If we cannot, after we review the evidence, we'll be prepared to defend them in this case moving forward. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Epstein was being held at the Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.

ROMANS: The tariff man is back.


TRUMP: China is going to have to make a deal that I like. If they don't, that's it. If we don't make a deal with China, I'll just raise the tariffs even higher.


ROMANS: A new tariff threat as talks between the U.S. and China stall. U.S. and Chinese trade teams spoke last week and both publicly used the very same word to describe the state of play, constructive. But both sides are still divided on core issues.

Beijing wants all current tariffs on Chinese exports rolled back. The U.S. wants promises on agriculture purchases, intellectual property protections, and enforcement. There is intense pressure on both sides to sign some kind of deal, and in a stop to that December 15th round of new tariffs on consumer goods made in China.


Now, the difficulty in achieving even a narrow deal underscores just how far apart the two sides are on the broader trade agreement.


All right, ahead, his mother died after a year's long battle with cancer. Now, his teacher stepping up to offer him hope and a home. A story you don't want to miss.



ROMANS: Breaking overnight, two U.S. service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. According to a statement from U.S. forces Afghanistan, the cause of the crash is under investigation. Now, preliminary reports do not indicate it was caused by enemy fire.

The names of the fallen service members have not been released. The U.S. has about 12,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan.

BRIGGS: The Pentagon says Turkey's attack on Kurdish forces after the U.S. pulled out of Syria has allowed ISIS to regroup and potentially launch new attacks abroad. A new report from the Defense Department inspector general paints a damaging picture of president Trump's decision to abandon America's Kurdish allies. The I.G. says Turkey is unlikely to fight ISIS, despite its public pledge to do so. The Pentagon spokesman tells CNN that training for Kurdish forces,

which had been suspended, has now resumed. The I.G. also says the recent death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi will have little effect on the group's ability to make a comeback.

ROMANS: An abrupt end between talks between the United States and South Korea. The U.S. wants Seoul to pay more to keep U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula. Negotiations broke off when President Trump hiked the price tag for 2020 by roughly 400 percent.

The chief U.S. negotiator claims South Korea's proposals were not fair and equitable. Mr. Trump's $4.7 billion price tag infuriated the South Koreans who have faced 24 missile launches this year from North Korea. On Monday, the North announced it is no longer interested in useless meetings with the U.S. That came one day after President Trump tweeted "see you soon" to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

BRIGGS: A white Georgia teen now faces attempted murder charges after police say she planned a racially motivated attack on a black church. They say the 16-year-old took significant steps over several weeks as she planned to attack Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Georgia, with knives. Police say it was thwarted Friday when a student overheard her talking about the plan and alerted school officials.


JAY PARRISH, CHIEF OF GAINESVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT: She's a racist. I can promise you, we have valid evidence now that, I don't know how she's felt in the past, but that's somehow she feels at this point. Reading those details, they're just sickening. It's just very sickening.


BRIGGS: Police believe the girl acted alone and that no other churches are at risk. They say they are not aware if she has an attorney.

We'll be right back.



BRIGGS: After waiting for more than a year, Carmelo Anthony finally made his NBA return last night to the Portland Trail Blazers.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

BRIGGS: Hey, man.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys. You know, Carmelo Anthony was abruptly cut by the Rockets early last season, never found a home and for a while there, it looked like his days of playing in the NFL were over. But the Blazers signing the ten-time all-star to help with their injury-depleted roster.

Melo stepping right into the starting lineup. He made his first shot, which was a three. The rest of the night, a relative struggle. Melo making just four of 14 shots for ten points. He had five fouls and five turnovers, as well. The Blazers would lose to the Pelicans in this one, 115-104.

Now, Melo's buddy, LeBron, having a much better night. LeBron doing it all against the Thunder. Right before the half, LeBron running the break, throwing down the alley-hoop. And in the fourth quarter, the LeBron running the old pick and roll with Anthony Davis. And with that assist, LeBron had a triple double on the night. LeBron the first player in NBA history with a triple double against all 30 NBA teams.

The Lakers win 112-107. They had the best record in the NBA right now at 12-2. It's certainly happy times at Staples Center once again. Everyone was having some fun, including Gronk and James Gordon. They joined the Lakers girls for a performance at halftime.

I wonder how much practice this took. Venus Williams also a Lakers girl for a night. She was in one of the routines as well, doing a great job out there.

But all the dancing not even the highlight of the night. Check out 10-year-old Max. He was taking part in the half minute to win is contest. Max hit eight shots in a row to score 30 points in the contest.

Guys, talk about not being scared by the moment. And he was hitting NBA threes. Those are no joke.

What an awesome performance. At the end, he gets a high five. At the end, McGee walked over and gave him a high five, guys. I think JaVale McGee was shocked, because he couldn't have even done that well in the contest.

BRIGGS: I was going to say, Max, beyond LeBron James, who on the Lakers' roster could pull that off right now?

BRIGGS: I mean, it was moving and hit every single shot he took except for that final fade away. Super impressive.

Talk about that moment on the floor at Staples Center. It's impressive.

ROMANS: Love it!

BRIGGS: You like Gronk or James Gordon!

SCHOLES: I think Gronk is impressive.

ROMANS: I think they all are very brave. I love Venus Williams.

BRIGGS: Good stuff. Thank you, man. We needed that.

Ahead, a true giant among celebrities now headed to China. Four-year- old Bei Bei, the national zoo's beloved giant panda, left the nation's capital Tuesday on his own specialized FedEx transport dubbed the Panda Express. Bei Bei was born at the zoo in 2015.


As part of an agreement with the Chinese government, all giant panda cubs born at the zoo move to China when they turn 4.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Taking a look at markets around the world, negativity here, mostly over concerns about that trade deal with China. On Wall Street, futures also leading down just a little bit. It was a mixed day for stocks on Tuesday. The Nasdaq managed a record high finish. But the Dow ended 102 points lower, dragged down by weak sales from Home Depot.

The home entertainment retailer also cited concerns about tariffs, and the U.S./China trade war. The S&P 500 also down just a little bit.

Major averages, though, are really near to territory we've never seen before. Investors will pay very close attention to any new developments that could point to a potential deal. The president has said he is willing to put more tariffs on China if he doesn't get what he wants.

Home Depot spent big money to sell products online, but it doesn't look like it's working. That stock fell 5 percent after its third quarter sales fell short of investor expectations. The decline will only put a small dent in what has otherwise been a solid year, though, for Home Depot. It lowered its sales outlook, citing those concerns about lumber prices and worries about tariffs and the trade war with China hurting consumers.

Kohl's is also struggling. Profit there fell 24 percent in the third quarter. It slashed its outlook heading into the holiday shopping season, a sign that its makeover and its partnership with Amazon may not be working just yet.

One week after its launch, some Disney Plus customers are saying they've been locked out of their accounts. Disney Plus itself does not appear to be hacked, but customers' credentials were stolen in other security breaches. Many people use the same email log-ins and passwords for multiple accounts and when they signed up for Disney Plus, they used something they've used elsewhere.

So, what should you do if you think you've been hacked? Change your password and use a different password for each account. Disney says it take's user's data very seriously.

BRIGGS: A Massachusetts teacher has opened her home to one of her students after his mother recently died of cancer. Jake Manning has Down syndrome. Kerry Bremer met Jake and his single mother, Jean, more than four years ago and says fell in love with him instantly. Knowing Jean had terminal breast cancer, Kerry spoke to her husband and kids and then made jean an offer.


KERRY BREMER, JAKE'S GUARDIAN: If you need a backup plan for Jake, then our family is happy to make him part of our family. And she said, I'll sleep better tonight than I've slept in a long time.

JAKE MANNING, STUDENT: My mom went to heaven.

BREMER: She's your queen angel mom.

MANNING: Always in my heart. She meant so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She did. Do you love her so much? Yes.

Thank you.


BRIGGS: Warms your heart.

On Wednesday, Jean Manning passed away and Jake joined his new family. Friends of Jean Manning have set up a GoFundMe page to help support Jake and the Bremer family.

ROMANS: All right. Tom Hanks' new movie role hitting closer to home than he ever imagined.


HANKS: It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine?


ROMANS: Hanks plays the iconic Mr. Rogers in the upcoming film "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." And it turns out the actor and the late children's TV star Fred Rogers, they are actually related. This is according to a discovery made by It's something hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were surprised to learn.


HANKS: All of this just comes together.

RITA WILSON, ACTRESS: This is crazy!

REPORTER: Did you have any idea?

HANKS: Well, I would like to see if Johnny Depp is related to Fred Rogers. Can you find out from


ROMANS: According to Ancestry, Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers are sixth cousins. They share the same great great great great great grandfather who came from Germany to America in the 18th century. I don't know how close that is. Is five greats, is that close?


ROMANS: I don't know, I could be related to Mr. Rogers.

BRIGGS: Maybe we're related to Mr. Rogers.

ROMANS: I would like to be related.

BRIGGS: Would you see that or "Frozen" first?

ROMANS: I will see is that first.


ROMANS: "Frozen" will have to -- "Frozen" is the second one.

BRIGGS: Double feature!


Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

Here's "NEW DAY." Happy Hump Day.


BRIGGS: In just hours, Gordon Sondland will testify publicly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to prove to be one of the most damaging witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of us are out to get Ambassador Sondland. We just want the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the time of the call on 25th, how its exposure would play in Washington's political climate. My fears have been realized.

TRUMP: What's going on is a disgrace and it's an embarrassment to our nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe the messages being conveyed by Mr. Giuliani were a problem. They were at variance with our official message to the president was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a very good day for the truth and a very good day for the president of the United States.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings. It is Wednesday, November 20th. It's 5:00 here in New York.

And really, this is easily the most anticipated and unpredictable day of the impeachment hearings. Call it the Gordon problem. That is how Trump administration officials, people on the inside referred to the millionaire ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, the Gordon problem.