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Navy Secretary Fired Over Secret Talks With White House; White House Review Shows Effort To Justify Trump's Decision to Block Ukraine Aid; Michael Bloomberg Enters 2020 Presidential Race. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 25, 2019 - 05:30   ET




TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER, ARTIST OF THE YEAR, AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS: -- the thing that has been a constant in my life.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's the record fifth time Swift has won Artist of the Year at the AMAs.

EARLY START continues right now.

Escalating turmoil between the White House and Defense Department. A top official fired over a secret proposal on a war crimes case.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And there are newly uncovered documents that show the White House was trying to justifying withholding that military aid to Ukraine after President Trump gave the order.


BLOOMBERG AD: Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good and now he's taking on him.


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

Good morning, everyone, this is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

COLLINS: And I'm Kaitlan Collins. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

Today we're covering a secret proposal from the White House that is costing a top Pentagon leader his job. The forced departure of the Navy secretary Richard Spencer highlights this extraordinary dispute that's been playing out over the handling of war crimes charges against Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Many at the Pentagon think the president's involvement in punishment for Gallagher and other service members could undermine military discipline. ROMANS: On Thursday, Trump tweeted the Navy will not be taking away Gallagher's Trident pin. That's 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." Now, that's despite the fact the president's tweets have dictated policy and the White House has said they should be considered official statements.

Spencer said Saturday he had no plans to quit.


RICHARD SPENCER, THEN-SECRETARY, U.S. NAVY: Contrary to popular belief, I am 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.


COLLINS: One day after Spencer made those comments, Gallagher, himself, went on Fox News and attacked his own superiors.


EDDIE GALLAGHER, U.S. NAVY SEAL SPECIAL WARFARE OPERATOR: 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.


COLLINS: Now, all this turmoil at the Pentagon has created three competing narratives trying to explain why Spencer is stepping down.

Our national security reporter Ryan Browne tries to explain.


RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Kaitlin.

Now, the Pentagon issuing a statement saying that Navy Sec. 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 of allegations of misconduct, including posing with a picture of a corpse while serving in Iraq.

Now, 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 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 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 he 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 longtime senior member of the Pentagon and had come in in the earliest days of the Trump administration and had kept a relatively low profile and even served as acting Sec. 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.


ROMANS: All right, Ryan, at the Pentagon. Thank you for that, Ryan.

We'll have more on that and the latest impeachment news. Plus, new health concerns for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She spent part of the weekend in the hospital.



COLLINS: There were more developments in the impeachment inquiry over the weekend.

A confidential White House review of the freeze on military aid to Ukraine has uncovered hundreds of documents that reveal that extensive efforts to justify President Trump's actions after that hold was already in place. They show there was a debate involving the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney over whether the delay in the military aid was even legal. Now, it's not clear whether these records pose any kind of legal threat to the president, but they could be pretty embarrassing.

More now from Jeremy Diamond, our reporter at the White House.



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 facts.

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.

Joining us this morning, Princeton University historian and professor, Julian Zelizer. He's a CNN political analyst. And we are living through history every day, so we're so glad we have you here to help us start the week.

All right, the list of those who have not testified in the impeachment inquiry -- you know, the vice president; Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff; these folks in the -- in the OMB. It's a huge list.

And, Adam Schiff -- Congressman Schiff really encouraging Bolton on that list, in particular, to testify. So many of his aides already have. They've laid this out. He wants to hear from Bolton and urged him over the weekend to do so -- listen.


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, Col. Vindman, and Tim Morrison and others on the 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 telling the American people what he knew.


ROMANS: They're not going to take him to court. It would take months in legal proceedings to get him there --


ROMANS: -- but he's urging him to do so.

Who would you like to hear from on that list? Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton? Who would be at the top of your list?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, CO-AUTHOR, "FAULT LINES: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1974": All of the above. I mean, Mulvaney, Bolton, even Pence. These are key figures -- Bolton no longer in the administration -- who are big gaps in the record. And the administration, other than Bolton, is essentially stopping them from testifying.

And, Schiff has a timetable problem -- it's the election -- and so he's worried that if this gets tied up in the courts this will drag on endlessly. But those are key figures.

COLLINS: Yes. So, Devin Nunes is Adam Schiff's counterpart in all of this. And, of course, now he's being accused of meeting with Ukrainian officials, something that he's kind of denying -- not really denying. Listen to how he's denouncing these reports on Fox News.



REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Yes. So look, Maria, I really want to answer all of these questions and I promise you I 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 -- trying to debate this out with the public media --


NUNES: -- when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.


COLLINS: OK, so he's not explicitly denying it there and if this is true that would essentially put him squarely at the middle of what they were investigating this past week -- what all this testimony was about meeting with these officials.

If it is true -- and right now, we're still waiting for confirmation on it -- do you think this could prompt some kind of ethics investigation into Devin Nunes?

ZELIZER: Well, sure -- the House Democrats can trigger that. He didn't answer the question. He can answer the question. There's nothing preventing him from doing that.

And it's a big problem to have the ranking Republican --


ZELIZER: -- be part of the story he is investigating undermines that part of the response from the GOP. Not that anything's going to happen -- we've seen this before -- but I wouldn't be surprised if there's an Ethics Committee investigation.

ROMANS: You've written about the -- about the GOP strategy --


ROMANS: -- and we've seen them embracing conspiracy theories -- giving oxygen to conspiracy theories -- something you can imagine the Grand Old Party doing in the past -- and really criticizing any kind of criticism of the president is somehow unpatriotic.

It reminds me -- you're the historian. Teddy Roosevelt said in 1918, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public."

What has happened to the Republican Party in its response here to this impeachment proceeding?

ZELIZER: Well, look, it's fierce partisanship. The Republican Party prioritizes partisan power over everything and you have to understand that principle to understand what they're doing.

They will throw everything out. They will do whatever is necessary to protect the president and to protect their party in Congress. And that stands above governance, it stands about every other principle at this point.

And they have a very narrow majority.


ZELIZER: This is a party that doesn't have a broad majority so they're almost doubling down to protect what they have.

COLLINS: And it will be fascinating to see how they respond to this Navy secretary story over the weekend, which is one of the wildest stories we've seen in some time coming out of this White House. He's not being fired by the Defense secretary because of this secret proposal he made to the White House over Eddie Gallagher and this case, though publicly he was saying the president should not get involved.

Of course, the president has been pretty involved. You saw him tweeting just yesterday giving a different reason than the Defense secretary --

ROMANS: Right.

COLLINS: -- gave for why the Navy secretary had to go.

So do you think that there is this chance that the president is alienating members of the military by intervening in these cases and how they're -- the justification and the potential punishment is carried out? ZELIZER: Well, I'm sure he is, not just with Gallagher but with Ukraine. I think most of this is going to stay quiet. Military officials are not very eager to go out in public.



ZELIZER: But in this case you have someone, it seems at least, making a step on principle because of frustration. I'm sure this is there. From the military to national security hawks they don't like what's going on. But again, military officials tend to be quiet on this political issue.

ROMANS: It does tell -- also show you how the president and his advocates use Fox News --


ROMANS: -- to advocate policy and how -- I mean, if you're the Pentagon you must be watching what's playing out on Fox News and wondering how that's going to reverberate.

COLLINS: And the Eddie Gallagher thing has been squarely committal of that. He goes on T.V. to make his case to the president and that's really why people inside the White House who have spoken with Trump tell us that's right at the forefront of his list and that's why he's been so protective of him because he's seen him make these arguments for several months.

ROMANS: And the president -- and the president likes how he performs on T.V., and so that resonates to him policywise.

All right, Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst --

COLLINS: Thank you.

ROMANS: -- nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

COLLINS: There are just 10 weeks to go to the Iowa caucuses but Michael Bloomberg is just now getting in the race officially.


BLOOMBERG AD: Mike Bloomberg became the guy who did good and now he's taking on him.


COLLINS: He's laying out a moderate vision there and labeling President Trump an existential threat.

Now, he ruled out a run earlier this year but the billionaire New Yorker has reversed his course mainly because he doesn't think there are any Democrats in the race right now who can beat President Trump.

He's spending at least $37 million on T.V. ads over the next two weeks. The former New York City mayor is trying to build support in states that primaries hold on Super Tuesday, which is going to be on March the third this year.

The question is whether those voters are on board. You look at this recent CBS poll, it shows only 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters through Super Tuesday would even consider voting for Bloomberg.

ROMANS: All right, some breaking news. Uber will be stripped of its license to operate in London. The region's transit and taxi regulator says Uber will have its license revoked when the current one expires tonight.

The regulator says Uber is not fit and proper to hold a license, citing a pattern of failures that placed passenger safety and security at risk. Breaches included unauthorized drivers exploiting vulnerabilities in the app.

London is one of Uber's biggest markets. Uber calls the decision extraordinary and wrong and says it will appeal the decision. Uber is allowed to keep operating in London, though, through the appeal process.

We'll be right back.



COLLINS: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is home from the hospital and feeling much better after the 86-year-old Supreme Court justice was treated for chills and a fever at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Friday night. She just returned to the bench days earlier after being treated for a stomach bug.

Ginsburg is a four-time cancer survivor with a lengthy history of medical issues. In August, she was treated for pancreatic cancer.

ROMANS: A new report overnight. The White House asked Sen. Lindsey Graham to block a resolution designating the mass killing of Armenians during World War I genocide. Axios reporting the move was likely a bid to avoid angering Turkish President Recep Erdogan during his trip to Washington this month.

Graham tells Axios, quote, "It would have been poor timing" and he's trying to salvage the relationship.

The administration is trying to avoid criticizing Turkey's human rights record while it presses Ankara to give up a Russian-made air defense system.

COLLINS: The suspect in the fatal shooting of a beloved Alabama sheriff is the son of a sheriff's deputy in another county. Eighteen- year-old Chase -- William Chase Johnson was taken into custody Sunday just hours after the shooting of the Lowndes County sheriff. That sparked a nation -- a statewide manhunt after Sheriff "Big John" Williams was responding to a call at a gas station when he was gunned down.


SGT. STEVE JARRETT, MONTGOMERY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Many of you know "Big John" Williams. He was a wonderful man. Everybody in law enforcement knew him. If you've ever met him you'll never forget him.


COLLINS: William Johnson was arrested without incident when he returned to the same gas station where that shooting took place.

ROMANS: An Ohio woman's quick thinking 911 call to order pizza alerted authorities to domestic violence against her mother. 911 dispatcher Tim TenEyck says when he fielded the call he assumed someone had dialed the wrong number, but he soon realized it was a plea for help.


TIM TENEYCK, 911 DISPATCHER, OREGON, OHIO: You called 911 to order a pizza?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh, yeah, apartment (bleep).

TENEYCK: This is the wrong number to call for a pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no -- you're not understanding.

TENEYCK: I'm getting you now.


TENEYCK: I got it. Is the other guy still there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yep. I need a large pizza.

TENEYCK: All right.


ROMANS: When police arrived they arrested Simon Lopez on domestic violence charges.

TenEyck says in 14 years, he never received a call from someone using coded language.

COLLINS: The Spanish fashion house Loewe is apologizing for selling a clothing ensemble that resembles concentration camp uniforms in the Holocaust. The company has removed the product line from its Web site, insisting that it was unintentional. But this isn't the first time that the brands have come under fire for selling clothes that seem to invoke the Holocaust. Another Spanish fashion house, Zara, apologized in 2014 for selling a striped t-shirt bearing a yellow star, which resembled the uniforms worn by Jews in concentration camps.


ROMANS: The pilot of a small plane is rescued after the plane got tangled in power lines and was suspended upside down in rural Minnesota. The Scott County Sheriff's Office says the Piper Cub hit a cluster of power lines on Saturday. Once the power line was shut off, the pilot, 55-year-old (sic) Thomas Koskovich was rescued. He was not injured.

COLLINS: Strong winds this week could ground those iconic giant character balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The balloons can't be flown when the winds top 23 miles per hour and wind gusts are expected to exceed 34 miles per hour. The National Weather Service is forecasting 39-mile-per-hour wind gusts and it appears that New York City officials are going to have to make that call on Thursday. The last time that the parade's balloons were grounded because of inclement weather was 1971.

A 5-year-old boy was thrown -- who was thrown from a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America in Minnesota is back at school and walking perfectly again. The boy, identified only as Landry, loves going to kindergarten, according to his family. When he left the hospital in August he had a pronounced limp from a broken femur and an open abdominal wound.

The man who threw that boy off the balcony, 24-year-old Emmanuel Aranda of Minneapolis, pleaded guilty to attempted premeditated first- degree murder. A judge sentenced him to 19 years in prison over the summer.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour.

Let's get a check on "CNN Business" this Monday morning -- the holiday week.

Taking a look at markets around the world you can see optimism there and it's reflecting on Wall Street as well. Futures up a little bit this morning here. It wouldn't take much to set records early this week in stock markets if this optimism holds.

Markets bounced back Friday after both President Trump and President Xi of China expressed optimism about a phase-one trade deal. The Dow up about 100 -- or 89 points there. Look, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq finished slightly higher, but all three averages fell for the week. Still, as I said, stocks are not far below the record highs they'd hit last week.

It's a short trading week on Wall Street. Markets are closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and will close early on Friday. A big deal to tell you about this morning. Luxury giant LVMH adding the iconic blue box to its portfolio. LVMH and Tiffany announced today that LVMH will buy the Manhattan jeweler for $135 a share, valuing Tiffany at about $16.2 billion. This is one of the largest deals in the history of the luxury sector.

LVMH's deep pockets could help Tiffany make a turnaround after a rocky few years and help its effort to better connect with millennial consumers.

All right, Anna, Elsa, and Olaf have grabbed another record for Disney.




ROMANS: "Frozen 2" brought in an estimated $127 million at the box office this weekend, the highest-grossing debut ever for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

You know, Disney has had five films this year bring in a record billion dollars at the box office -- "Avengers: Endgame," "Toy Story 4," "Lion King." "Frozen 2" could be number six. And the success comes at the perfect time. The North American box office is actually down about seven percent compared to last year.

COLLINS: "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" tackled the president's views on impeachment and the latest Democratic debate with some surprise guests over the weekend.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, PORTRAYING PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": It's so great to finally meet you for the first time, by the way.

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR, PORTRAYING GORDON SONDLAND, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Oh, oh, oh, right, right, right, right. Keep the quid pro quo on the low-low -- got it.

BALDWIN: No quid pro.

FERRELL: Oh, there definitely was.

KATE MCKINNON, CAST MEMBER PORTRAYING SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": I got mom hosting Thanksgiving energy. I'm a little overwhelmed because I thought 10 people were coming and now there's 30 million. But I promise dinner will be ready if you just get out of the kitchen and stop asking questions.

LARRY DAVID, ACTOR PORTRAYING SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": And I'm very proud of the fact that I was the first heart attack patient to show up to the emergency room in a city bus. WOODY HARRELSON, ACTOR PORTRAYING JOE BIDEN, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": I see the faces you all make when you -- when I talk. You're scared -- scared I'll saying something off-color or even worse, on- color.


FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR PORTRAYING MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Well, I tipped the doorman $30 million. I'd love to see those Trump supporters come up with a conspiracy theory about a Jewish billionaire with his own media company. Good luck making that stick.


ROMANS: Very funny. If you missed it, it was funny this weekend. Nice to see you.

COLLINS: I love Larry David.

ROMANS: You're back tomorrow, right?

COLLINS: Yes, thank you for having me.

ROMANS: OK, good. Absolutely --

COLLINS: Thanks.

ROMANS: -- and we had a lot of fun. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

COLLINS: And I'm Kaitlan Collins. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Navy Sec. Richard Spencer forced to resign for going outside the chain of command.

GALLAGHER: They could have taken my Trident any time they wanted and now they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank.

COLLINS: "The Washington Post" reports that an internal review shows and extensive effort by the White House to justify President Trump's decision to block Ukraine aid.

DIAMOND: The Office of Management and Budget is denying that anything improper took place.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They didn't hear anybody say bribery, no; extortion, no; quid pro quo, no.

SCHIFF: It's really not contested what the president did.