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EARLY START

GOP Senator Says He's a No on Witnesses; U.S. State Department Warns Against Travel to China; Dems Make Last-Minute Pitch to Iowans; Brexit Day in United Kingdom. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 31, 2020 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:00]

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday. We made it. 30 minutes past the hour here in New York.

And this morning it looks like President Trump is all but off the hook in the trial to impeach and remove him for abusing his power. Senator Lamar Alexander says he is a no on new witnesses and documents. The late-night announcement from the retiring Tennessee Republican concedes the president's conduct was wrong, but he says it's not up to the Senate to act. That means a Senate vote today on whether to subpoena witnesses is likely to fail.

JARRETT: Most Republicans have coalesced around Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's argument. He says allowing witnesses would cause a long delay and basically have no effect on the outcome. Assuming Republican leaders block new evidence, sources say they will press late into the night and early Saturday morning to get that final vote and acquit the president. All this means President Trump will likely head into the 2020 election unrestrained.

Congressional reporter Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we got the statement from Lamar Alexander and he is a no. That means that he's going to vote against moving forward on witnesses and documents and that could mean the swift end to the president's impeachment trial.

He says this. "I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense. The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.

"The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make the decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday." So what that means is that the votes are simply not there at the

moment to move forward on impeachment documents and probably will not be there tomorrow, assuming there's nothing that happens to break a potential tiebreaking vote if it does come to that because looking at the math here there are 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats. Two Republicans are expected to vote for moving ahead.

They need -- Lamar Alexander is a no, so the only person who there's still a question about is Lisa Murkowski. And if it's 50-50, she votes -- decides to vote with the Democrats, does the chief justice vote to break a tie?

The expectation here is that it's not going to happen, which means that if he doesn't break a tie and she's a no, then even if she votes for it, that means that the president's impeachment trial could be over.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Manu. Thanks for that.

The decision by Senator Alexander against calling witnesses drew a predictably partisan response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it -- I think it reflects what a lot of Americans believe and it certainly reflects what a lot of Senate Republicans believe, which is this may have been inappropriate. Had this -- had the Democrats not overreached and perhaps brought censure as a vote to the Senate, maybe we would have voted for this. They went too far and tried to remove him in an election year. It doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

That's a principle thing for him to say. You may disagree with it but it's a principle thing for him to say and it's the view that a lot of Americans also hold.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Look, it was Donald Trump, who as a candidate, said I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone dead and get away with it. Sadly, predictions of his unrestrained behavior from his campaign are coming true. And while I understand some of my Republican colleagues may like the results of his policies or may agree with some of his initiatives, you certainly can't think it's good for the American people or our standing in the world or rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The first sign of how Senator Alexander might vote came during the final hour of the Senate question and answer session. He and Lindsey Graham asked the president's lawyers whether the allegations made by John Bolton if true would still not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

JARRETT: It is now virtually certain John Bolton will not testify in the impeachment probe, but the former National Security adviser is talking behind closed doors. According to CNN affiliate KXAN, Bolton is defending the Trump administration officials who did testify in the impeachment hearings. At an event in Austin, Bolton told guests, quote, "All of them acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistent to what they thought our policies were." He says members of the administration should feel they're able to speak their minds without retribution.

The White House has been trying to keep Bolton quiet both by pushing against witnesses and trying to blocking the release of Bolton's upcoming book claiming it contains classified information.

ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight, the State Department advising Americans not to travel to China over concerns about the coronavirus. That means the U.S. is now classifying travel to China as dangerous as North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Somalia, though for a very different reason.

The State Department warning hours after the first person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S. and the World Health Organization declaring a global public health emergency, not because of the outbreak in China but out of fear it could spread to countries that do not have the ability to contain it.

[04:35:10]

There are now just over 9700 confirmed cases in mainland China. That's a spike of almost 2,000 from just a day earlier. There have also been 213 deaths, and the global isolation of China stretches into another day.

CNN's David Culver live in Beijing with the very latest in this -- the sort of, this quasi quarantine of this huge country. It's just remarkable to see each day the steps they're trying to take.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mainland China, Christine, becoming more and more isolated with each passing hour it seems. We talked about even Russia closing its border on the far eastern side. Hong Kong, there's calls there in the territory for people to shut down and seal off the border to mainland Chinese, and it's also being reflected around the world even.

Mainland Chinese nationals who are traveling and perhaps from Hubei Province, in particular, the epicenter of this outbreak, they are receiving increased discrimination. There are reports that they're being ostracized in many places and being stranded, simply left behind, in countries that they may have been traveling to. And we're hearing the Foreign Ministry here is actually working to get flights out to other countries so as to bring those Chinese nationals back to mainland China.

Meantime the social media aspect of all of this is starting to play out in the United States where you are, Christine, in particular. We're starting to see surfacing of fake news to so to speak. Officials are warning of pamphlets that are going out showing CDC logos, World Health Organization logos, suggesting that there are outbreaks within even California, as well as Arizona. They're warning that these are not true, it's false information and they're advising folks to be really mindful of that as it's going out.

Meantime here in China, I can tell you, Christine, there's also kind of concern over how this is being reflected to the Chinese people, meaning how official state media is portraying this. Some of it is a little bit distinct from reality, meaning they're focused more so on the containment effort and the strengths of President Xi Jinping and putting up these two hospitals, for example, in two weeks rather than stressing the dire need and the shortages that we are seeing and we're hearing about, talking to folks who are on the ground within the epicenter of all of this -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. David Culver, thanks for that.

You know, Laura, it's so interesting because in the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 there was criticism of Chinese authorities for again showing some things and not others. And also downplaying the severity of it. It's not a free press in China so that could be difficult in terms of transparency. It's really critical to get it right this time.

JARRETT: Yes. And obviously people just want answers but some things we just don't know yet.

ROMANS: Yes.

JARRETT: All right, well, just three days to go until the Iowa caucuses. And with four senators off the campaign trail serving as jurors in the impeachment trial the remaining candidates are taking advantage of the opportunity for a little face time with Iowa voters in the final hours.

Jeff Zeleny has more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, three days to go before the Iowa caucuses open the voting in the Democratic primary fight. Candidates are fanning out across the state making appeals to voters. Joe Biden making an appeal that he is the strongest candidate to take on President Trump. He sharpened that argument on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Welcome to Donald Trump's world. Up is down, lies are the truth, allies are enemies. Everything is through the looking glass.

Ladies and gentlemen, on November, America will have a chance to answer the question, does the character of a president matter? Yes or no?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But his rivals also making some of the same arguments. Pete Buttigieg said it's time for something new. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders also pressing their case. The question here is turnout. How many Iowans will come out on Monday

night in caucus? There are 1700 precincts across the state. Those are small town meetings, if you will, where Iowans come together and make their preference known.

Now, in the final weekend push here, all candidates coming back to the state, including those senators who have been stuck in the impeachment trial. Clearly too close to call, but we will be looking Saturday night at "The Des Moines Register"/CNN poll to see who is leading the way.

It is all about organization and turnout as we're nearing the end of the beginning of the 2020 voting -- Christine and Laura.

ROMANS: All right, Jeff Zeleny.

Nobody knows Iowa better than Jeff Zeleny. And I got to tell you --

JARRETT: Or you.

ROMANS: It's really exciting. I mean, the caucus process is so exciting. I mean, just think in three days the first votes will be cast in the 2020 election.

JARRETT: We've finally made it.

ROMANS: All right, a major transformation on the geopolitical stage. The United Kingdom no longer a part of the European Union. What it means inside and outside the borders. CNN is live in the U.K.

[04:43:46]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. The trade war with China taking a very big toll on farm country despite President Trump's billion-dollar bailout, multibillion-dollar bailout. Farm bankruptcies jumped 20 percent last year. 20 percent. That's the highest levels since 2011. That's because of the great recession.

Wisconsin, America's dairy land, saw the most bankruptcy filings last year. Trump's multiple trade wars creating a great deal of uncertainty about agriculture markets. China retaliated against Trump's tariffs with tariffs on a range of American goods. Soybean exports stopped for a year, prices plunged, soybeans piled up in storage.

To make up for some of those loses, the president spent $28 billion to bailout farmers. That farm bail out twice the size of the 2009 auto bailout. The phase one deal with China has eased trade tensions for now. Beijing promised to step up purchases of American farm goods, pledging to buy about $32 billion more than it did before the trade war began, but those purchases might not make up for all the losses and analysts are skeptical those numbers can be met.

JARRETT: Mixed emotions on this historic day in the U.K. Brexit has officially arrived. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time the United Kingdom will no longer be a member of the European Union.

[04:45:02]

CNN's Nic Robertson live in Sunderland, England where the cabinet meets today.

Nic, what's the mood there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know it's really interesting. I talked to one man here and he said yes, fantastic, he's really happy. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, bringing the cabinet up here to Sunderland but a lot of people are shrugging their shoulders and saying, why is he coming. And you know, it depends. If you voted for Brexit then this is good day. If you didn't, then not so much.

And if you're part of the younger population for 3 1/2 years, you didn't get to vote, they're not particularly happy with it either. It's their futures that are at stake here. So the prime minister is bringing the cabinet up to Sunderland. It's 240 miles north of London. The northeast of the country, a sort of rustbelt town, if you like. Big on ship building, big on the coal industry in the past. All of that is gone.

Relies a lot on a major car plant here, the Nissan car factory. Bad news for the prime minister yesterday that the British motor industry is 11 percent down on production over last year and 20 percent down of that Nissan factory here that the company last year said they might even have to shut it completely if there were a hard Brexit. So the prime minister is coming here at a time when the experts are saying the motor industry is really suffering because of Brexit.

He is coming here he says because he wants to level up the economy between the south of the country and the north of the country. The south does so much better. And he's coming here as well because Sunderland was the first place in the country to actually vote for Brexit. Everyone voted of course on the same day 3 1/2 years ago, but here they counted the vote the fastest.

So the prime minister really coming to this city for that reason. But I think a lot of people are going to just see it as theater, and everyone knows that there's still 11 months of tough negotiation to really settle what Brexit's all about and figure out the new deal with the European Union going forward.

JARRETT: It's hard to believe 3 1/2 years ago but it's officially done.

Nic, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. The Pentagon raising again the number of U.S. service members with traumatic brain injuries from that Iranian strike at an Iraqi airbase earlier this month. The military now revising the number up to 64 from 50 earlier this week, 34 just last week. About 40 of those service members have returned to active duty. Medical assessments on nearly 250 others at the base are still ongoing. Last week before the numbers were released President Trump downplayed

the severity of the injuries. The president said he does not consider potential brain injuries as serious as physical combat wounds.

JARRETT: And it appears that the Taliban and other anti-government forces are ramping up their attacks in Afghanistan as the U.S. considers reducing its presence in the region. A new report from the government watchdog group for Afghanistan reconstruction says the more than 8200 attacks during the last three months of 2019 marked a record high. The U.S. is mulling a plan to pull more 3,000 soldiers from the region. That would still leave approximately 8600 troops on the ground.

ROMANS: The White House has named its next target for environmental deregulation, birds. The Trump administration proposing to end criminal penalties for companies whose operations accidently kill migratory birds. The change to the Obama era interpretation would impose criminal sanctions only for intentionally injuring birds. Wildlife groups attacking the change, and Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen says it could allow big corporations to, quote, "get off scot-free," when oil spills and other commercial disasters cause the massive loss of birds.

JARRETT: God, I remember all those pictures from the BP oil spill.

ROMANS: I've heard the president be concerned about birds when he's talking about wind turbines but not here.

All right, a strong earnings report sends Amazon stocks soaring. CNN Business has the details next.

[04:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JARRETT: A Connecticut man charged with killing his estranged wife has died by his own hand. His attorney says Fotis Dulos died Thursday in a New York City hospital following a suicide attempt at his home. The 52-year-old was rearrested earlier this month and charged with capital murder and kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of his wife Jennifer. She went missing last May. Her body has not been found.

ROMANS: The racing world is mourning the death of NASCAR driver John Andretti, the nephew of racing legend Mario Andretti, losing his battle with colon cancer he's been fighting since 2017. Andretti raced all types of cars but spent most of his time in NASCAR's top series. He won twice in 393 races. Andretti Auto Sport mourning him as man with a genuine spirit of helping other first and himself second. John Andretti was just 56 years old.

JARRETT: Delta Airlines spending millions to replace the uniforms that many employees complain are causing health problems. More than 500 employees, most of them flight attendants, filed a federal lawsuit against Lands' End which makes the uniforms. They complain the garments cause voice and breathing problems, blisters and rashes, blurred vision and other issues. Delta and Lands' End both say testing showed the uniforms are safe but the airline is replacing them anyway starting in late 2021 with interim clothing available in May.

ROMANS: Severe rain and thunderstorms today and tomorrow from the Gulf Coast up to the Mid Atlantic.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the weekend forecast.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Laura and Christine. Here is the law pressure system responsible for the wet weather across the southeast. By the way, we could get some light snowfall across the higher elevations near the Appalachian Mountains. Cloudy day across the Great Lakes.

[04:55:00]

I think we'll sneak away with a dry Friday but thing are going to change abruptly across the northeast. More on that in just one second.

Here's our high res forecast radar imagery across southern Florida. Look at how this line of thunderstorms develops into Friday and Saturday. Of course lots of activity taking place in and around the greater Miami metro region in anticipation of the Super Bowl weekend. You can see the chance of severe weather on Friday and Saturday, but I'm happy to report that I think we'll clear things up nicely by game day and bring back sunshine just in time for the Super Bowl kick off which is taking place by Sunday evening.

Look at the rainfall moving up the East Coast, the Mid Atlantic into New York late tonight and into the early parts of your Saturday morning. Talking about temperatures, there's a big warmup in store for much of the East Coast.

Back to you.

JARRETT: We'll always take a warmup.

A surprise gift for a middle schoolteacher in Nebraska from his students. Tray Payne's Nike basketball shows were stolen from his classroom two weeks ago, so a group of his students pooled their money to replace them. His reaction was just priceless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TREY PAYNE, MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER: Oh, my knees. Oh. Are you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to make me cry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Payne says the gift is much more than a pair of shoes. It's about doing things to build up everyone around you.

ROMANS: And that is a great lesson for middle school.

JARRETT: Yes. ROMANS: Great --

JARRETT: It's great to see the students do it on their own.

ROMANS: Love it. Love it.

All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Friday morning. Let's look at markets around the world with mixed performance here. On Wall Street take a look at futures at the moment down a little bit. You know, stocks managed some small gains on Thursday. The Dow closed up about 125 points. The S&P 500, the Nasdaq finished slightly higher.

New data shows the economy under President Trump has been strong but not electric. The economy grew 2.2 percent last year. That is the slowest pace since 2016.

All trans investment in Juul is not paying off. It reported a $4.1 billion loss in the fourth quarter. The maker Marlboro Cigarettes blamed the loss on the growing number of legal cases against Juul. "The New York Times" says cases against Juul have increased more than 80 percent since the end of October. All trade now values at stake in Juul at $4.1 billion, that is a huge write-down from the $12.8 billion it paid in December 2018. That will go down as one of the worst investments -- corporate investments in history.

Amazon stock on fire here, reported a $3.3 billion profit for the four quarter. Amazon's profit was widely expected to be weighed down by its continued spending to make one-day shopping standard for its prime customers, but you know what, that spending apparently is paying off. A record 150 million people now subscribe to Prime. Fulfillment costs were up 21 percent in the quarter.

One portfolio manager said that is sign Amazon is doing a good job managing these expenses. Amazon plans to invest a billion dollars to further expand one day shipping. And let me just give you a sense of probably who was the biggest winner in the economy yesterday. His name is Jeff Bezos. That pop in the stock after that great earnings report, after hours, properly added about $13 billion to his net worth cementing him as the world's richest person.

JARRETT: Hey, something tell me he'd doing OK.

ROMANS: Yes.

JARRETT: Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day. For our U.S. viewers EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: The impeachment trial all but over. A key Republicans said Democrats, well, they proved their case, but it's not enough to remove President Trump.

JARRETT: And do not travel to China. A dire warning from the State Department after coronavirus was declared a public health emergency.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett. ROMANS: We made it, it's Friday. I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday,

January 31st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. The Iowa caucuses are on Monday, just three days until the first votes are cast in 2020.

The U.S. Constitution, this country's founding documents, says Congress can impeach and remove the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Evidently pressuring a vulnerable ally to investigate a political rival and withholding military aid to get it done does not count.

A late-night announcement from retiring Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander concedes the president's conduct was wrong but he says it's not up to the Senate to act. That means a Senate vote today on whether to subpoena witnesses is likely to fail.

JARRETT: Most Republicans have coalesced around Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's argument. He says allowing witnesses would cause a long delay and have no effect on the outcome. Assuming Republican leaders block new evidence sources say they will press late into the night and early Saturday morning to get that final vote and acquit the president. All this means President Trump will likely head into the 2020 election unrestrained emboldened.

Congressional reporter Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we got the statement from Lamar Alexander and he is a no. That means that he's going to vote --

[05:00:00]