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EARLY START

U.S. Navy Secretary Fired Over Secret Talks with White House; WAPO: White House Review Shows Extensive Effort to Justify Trump's Decision to Block Ukraine Aid; Giuliani Associate Willing to Testify Nunes Met with Ex-Ukrainian Official to Get Dirt on Joe Biden. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2019 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Media company --

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Gave me what's making that stick.

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KAITLAN COLLINS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: You've got to love Kate McKinnon --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: I love it.

COLLINS: EARLY START continues right now. Escalating turmoil between the White House and the Defense Department. A top official fired over a secret proposal on a war crimes case.

Newly uncovered documents show the White House trying to justify withholding that military aid to Ukraine after the president gave the order.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good, and now, he's taking on him.

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ROMANS: Mike Bloomberg enters the 2020 race, he calls Donald Trump an existential threat. But is it too late to mount a challenge?

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COLLINS: And it was a pretty historic night for Taylor Swift. We'll tell you what she won at the American Music Awards. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, I'm Kaitlan Collins.

ROMANS: Nice to have you here --

COLLINS: Thanks for having me --

ROMANS: In from Washington. I'm Christine Romans, it is Monday, November 25th, it is 5:00 a.m. in the east. A secret proposal for the White House costing a top Pentagon leader his job. The forced departure of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer highlights an extraordinary dispute over the handling of war crimes charges against Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

Now, many at the Pentagon think that the president's involvement in punishment for Gallagher and other service members could undermine military discipline.

COLLINS: On Thursday, the president tweeted, "the Navy will not be taking away Gallagher's Trident Pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs." Navy Secretary Spencer pushed back saying, I don't interpret the president's tweets as a formal order. That despite the fact that the president's tweets have dictated policy in the past, and the White House has said they should be considered official statements. Spencer said on Saturday, he had no plans to resign from his job.

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RICHARD SPENCER, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: Contrary to popular belief, I'm still here, I did not threaten to resign. But let us just say that we're here to talk about external threats and Eddie Gallagher is not one of them.

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ROMANS: On Sunday, Gallagher went on "Fox" and attacked his own superiors.

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EDDIE GALLAGHER, SPECIAL WARFARE OPERATOR, NAVY SEAL, UNITED STATES: This is all about ego and retaliation. This has nothing to do with good order and discipline. They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted. Now, they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank.

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ROMANS: Pentagon turmoil has created three competing narratives here to explain why Spencer is stepping down. National Security reporter Ryan Browne explains.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Kaitlan. Now, the Pentagon issuing a statement, saying that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired because he had had secret talks with the White House about the fate of Gallagher, who was due to face a review over allegations of misconduct, including posing with a picture of a corpse while serving in Iraq.

But that review was going to go ahead, but the Pentagon claiming that Spencer had come to a secret deal with the White House where Gallagher would be allowed to retain his status as a Navy SEAL upon departing the Navy.

Now, we've also heard two different explanations. One from President Donald Trump who tweeted after Spencer's firing was announced that he had been disappointed with how the Navy had handled the Gallagher case. And then Spencer himself writing a letter and saying that, he, in fact, was removed from his post because he was unwilling to follow an order that he thought was unethical.

That he said be believed in the need for good order and discipline within the military, saying, that's what set us apart from our adversaries. Spencer had been a long-time senior member of the Pentagon, had come in the earliest days of the Trump administration, had kept a relatively low profile and even served as acting Secretary of Defense for a brief time.

So, a very major development at the Pentagon as the White House's review of the high profile Eddie Gallagher Navy SEAL Case leads to the firing of the top -- the Navy's top civilian. Back to you, guys.

COLLINS: That is so extraordinary, Ryan, thank you for that. But now to the impeachment front, a confidential or a not-so confidential White House review of the freeze in military aid to Ukraine has uncovered hundreds of documents, and they've revealed extensive efforts to justify President Trump's actions after the hold was already in place.

They also show there was a debate involving the acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney over whether the delay was even legal. It's not clear whether these records pose any legal problems for the president, however, but they could be pretty embarrassing. Let's get more now on all of these developments from our Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Kaitlan. The White House has been conducting an internal review of President Trump's decision last Summer to withhold nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine. Now, according to "The Washington Post", that review is turning up hundreds of documents that suggest that White House officials and officials in the Office of Management and Budget were working to draw up a legal justification for that move after the fact.

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Again, this reporting suggests that this was yet another instance of a scramble by officials to essentially catch up with another one of President Trump's decisions. The Office of Management and Budget, though, is denying that anything improper took place. Here's a statement from a spokeswoman for the office of Management and Budget, Rachel Semmel.

She says, "to be clear, there was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld in order to conduct the policy review." "The Washington Post" also highlights an early August exchange between the acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, in which Mulvaney asked for an update on the legal justification.

Now, two senior administration officials tell me that, that doesn't mean that Mulvaney was seeking to change that justification or that one wasn't already in place. Christine, Kaitlan.

ROMANS: All right, Jeremy at the White House, thanks for that. The White House officials named in those e-mails include many who have not testified in the impeachment hearings. Also on the no-testimony list, former National Security adviser John Bolton. House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff says he won't go to court to force Bolton to testify, but Schiff urges Bolton to follow the lead of his former staffers and speak.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): He did not choose to come in and testify, notwithstanding the fact that his deputy Fiona Hill, and his other deputy, Colonel Vindman and Tim Morrison and others in this National Security Council have shown the courage to come in. He will have to explain one day if that -- if he maintains that position.

Why he wanted to wait to put it in a book instead of tell the American people what he knew.

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ROMANS: Democratic aides in the house are spending Thanksgiving week preparing their report, spelling out the case for impeachment. Chairman Schiff is leaving the door open to more hearings or depositions, but he says Democrats will not wait months while the administration stalls.

COLLINS: His counterpart Devin Nunes is the Republican who led the party through the impeachment hearings, he may have been directly involved in the effort to get dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. A lawyer for Lev Parnas who was one of those two indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani says his client is willing to testify before Congress and ready to reveal that Nunes met last year with a disgraced Ukrainian prosecutor. Nunes says the allegation is false, but he's not saying much else.

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MARIA BARTIROMO, ANCHOR, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: Bottom line, were you in Vienna with Shokin?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Yes, so, look, Maria, I really want to answer all of these questions. And I promise you, absolutely, will come back on the show and answer these questions. But I think you can understand that I can't compete by trying to debate this out with the public media --

BARTIROMO: Right --

NUNES: When 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.

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COLLINS: Now, that prosecutor he is alleged to have met with, Viktor Shokin was ousted in 2016 under pressure from western leaders for not prosecuting corruption cases.

ROMANS: All right, major gains for pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong elections. What it means for the protest movement. CNN is live in Hong Kong.

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COLLINS: With only ten weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Michael Bloomberg is officially and finally in the race.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good. And now, he's taking on him.

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COLLINS: You see there, he's trying to lay out this moderate vision and labeling President Trump an existential threat. After ruling out the run earlier this year, the billionaire New Yorker reversed course because he doesn't think that any Democrat in the race is good enough to beat Trump.

Bloomberg is spending at least $37 million on TV ads over the next two weeks. The former New York City mayor is trying to build support in states that hold primaries on Super Tuesday which in this year falls on March 3rd. But those voters may not be onboard. A recent "CBS" poll shows only 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters through Super Tuesday would even consider Bloomberg.

ROMANS: All right, another tragedy in the world of Korean pop. Twenty eight-year-old K-pop star Goo Hara was found dead in her home in Seoul on Sunday. Police now say they have found a note in her living room, police presume this to be a suicide note. Last May, she was found unconscious in her home after posting good-bye on Instagram.

Hara recovered from that incident, but it renewed the debate over the pressure facing K-pop stars. Two of them have died of apparent suicides since 2017.

COLLINS: Over the weekend, there was a stunning landslide victory for those pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong's district council elections. Voter turnout was historic. And the question now, though is going to be at these months of violent anti-government protests are going to stop to allow the new government to implement reforms.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground in Hong Kong. Nick, what can you tell us about the latest developments of what's going on there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can't at any way mistake this election victory, 90 percent of the seats going to pro-democracy forces and a 70 percent turnout. Numbers frankly almost hard to believe. But a show of how after months of protests here that disrupted the economy, calls for recession, damaged so much of this city still finding large amounts of popular support.

Now, I should point out, that these are seats for local council that are being voted upon, and not individuals necessarily have a great say in the political life, and how Hong Kong is run, have to do with trash collection in various parts of local administration. But as being seen as kind of a referendum and how these protests have gone.

And overwhelmingly, despite the disruption they've caused, Hong Kong was on their side. Now, regardless of that, we are still trying to work out whether or not it causes peace to reign like we've seen in the past days. And one of the key flash points, Kaitlan, is Poly University here. This is where there were scenes of extraordinary violence about a week ago, yet, there are still dozens or so, possibly just 20 students and protesters holed up inside there.

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There's been not a single teargas canister fired, and in the lead-up to the election. Just people were concerned it may disrupt the vote. What we're seeing today though is counselors going in there and trying to get those remaining protesters out, but also a wide call here for the police. You can see them behind me to pull away, to get out of this particular area. That's simply not going to happen.

So, the question now is whether or not that sense of a mandate from this extraordinary electoral victory causes the protesters to feel emboldened and trying to achieve more of their aims or whether it leads to further calm as they feel they have the moral high ground. The police calm here, a brief flashpoint, but still possibly, a tense night ahead, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: What a pointed rebuke of Beijing also. But please, keep us updated if anything changes as you're there monitoring the developments overnight.

ROMANS: All right, 15 minutes past the hour, it was rainy and it was ugly, but the Patriots outlasted the Cowboys in Foxborough. Carolyn Manno has details and in BLEACHER REPORT next. Good morning.

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ROMANS: All right, good morning. The story in the stock market has been resilience, but there are still so many open questions about the U.S.-China trade war. Will there be a phase one deal before tariffs, new tariffs December 15th? Will it be signed maybe in the beginning of 2020 if they can't get a deal this year?

How watered down will the deal be? And can President Trump rebrand a deal that involves say soybean purchases in exchange for dropped tariffs? Can he rebrand that as a win for Americans? Here's what Trump said Friday on "Fox".

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great.

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ROMANS: Really, the largest in history? Markets doubt that, but they want something, despite the trade war, the economy remains strong. Couple of reasons for that. The Fed has cut rates three times, there's a $4 trillion Fed balance sheet right now, swelled by -- remember that emergency funding to cushion the money markets and keep short-term lending smooth.

Outside of manufacturing, the overall economy is fine and stronger than struggling economies in Europe and Asia. Taking stock, the big picture of this holiday week, this is the best year for tech stocks in a decade, the S&P 500 up almost 24 percent this year. Still, trade remains, Kaitlan, the biggest risk to outlook.

COLLINS: Always has been --

ROMANS: Yes --

COLLINS: For some time. The 49ers made a statement on Sunday night by dominating the Packers.

ROMANS: Carolyn Manno has more in this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT", hi Carolyn.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Hey, good morning. The Niners have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.

COLLINS: Yes --

MANNO: I like it, they've been proving doubters wrong all season long. Did it again last night. There're certainly no exceptions. Dominant defense. It was on display. They were all over Aaron Rodgers from the start forcing a fumble on the opening drive, the first of five sacks on the night.

Rodgers had one of the worst nights of his career, throwing for just 104 yards. Jimmy Garoppolo on the other hand, and the Niners offense took control from there. He was nearly perfect, hitting a wide-open George Kittle for a 61-yard touchdown. Kittle so tough playing through injury. San Francisco rolls a huge win, starting a rough three games stretch as they travel to Baltimore and New Orleans in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, a rainy, nasty, windy Foxborough, proving to be too much for the Cowboys. Special team star Matthew Slater with a big blocked punt late in the first quarter. That would give Tom Brady and company a short field, and the future hall of famer certainly knows what to do from there. Brady throwing the only touchdown of the game to rookie N'Keal Harry, the Pats' defense continuing to shine, as well, holding the Cowboys without a touchdown for the first time this year, 13-9, the final as New England improves to 10-1.

Washington rookie Dwayne Haskins picked up his first NFL win as the starting quarterback on Sunday. But it took him a minute to find out he had done that after leading Washington to a game-winning field goal with 16 seconds left. His defense intercepted the ball late in the games' final seconds. So, the quarterback so hyped up about this, everybody was going nuts that he decided to go take a selfie with a fan in the front row.

He missed the final snap of the game. Backup, Case Keenum took a knee to run out the clock instead. They couldn't find him -- Haskins was criticized after the game, he said he thought the game was over and that it certainly won't happen again.

And Thanksgiving started early for this Bears' fan who miraculously managed to sneak an entire pumpkin pie and a can of whipped cream into Soldier Field during the Giants game. This is a guy after my own heart, Bears come in 4-6, so knew will come for food, right? That's understandable, game extra sweet. Chicago managing the win as well. But I love that.

I don't know how he managed to get an entire pie --

ROMANS: That would be tough --

MANNO: Into Soldier Field --

COLLINS: That would be tough.

MANNO: You can't even bring a purse into Soldier Field --

ROMANS: No --

MANNO: As a woman, but --

ROMANS: That would be tough.

MANNO: A can of Reddi Whip as well to boop. Good for him --

ROMANS: Now, they're going to add that to the list of things to look for at the gate.

MANNO: Bringing though when you're early --

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ROMANS: Exactly, all right, no green to have because that's too much like Lambeau Field, you know, nothing green, nothing green at Soldier Field.

MANNO: That's true.

ROMANS: All right, nice to see you guys.

MANNO: Good.

COLLINS: OK, he refused to follow the president's order by tweet. And now, a top official is out of a job because of a secret proposal with the White House on a war crimes case. We'll have more for you on that after the break.

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COLLINS: Police in the U.K. have arrested a man who aimed an anti- Semitic rant at a young Jewish boy and his mother on the London underground.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people are pussies, they're trying to take our heritage. And they're trying to tell me that it's --

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COLLINS: Now, that viral video shows the man threatening fellow passengers who tried to intervene, including a woman wearing a hijab. The mother of the two told Britain's press association, she knew she had to confront him, she said, "I know what it's like to be in that situation, and I would want someone to help me." Anti-Semitic incidents have spiked 10 percent in the U.K. this past year.

ROMANS: All right, Taylor Swift making history at the American Music Awards.

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ROMANS: She shattered Michael Jackson's record for most all-time wins at the AMAs. She now has 29. Swift was also honored as artist of the decade. And now she did not directly address the public feud with her former record label which kept her from playing some older music, but she said this after winning the night's biggest prize, artist of the year.

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TAYLOR SWIFT, AMERICAN SINGER: The last year of my life has had some of the most amazing times, and also some of the -- just like hardest things I've gone through in my life, and not -- a lot of them are things that haven't been public. And I wanted to thank you so much for being the thing that has been a constant in my life.

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ROMANS: It's the record's fifth time Swift has won artist of the year.

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