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Soon Pompeo Will Meet with Putin Amid Tensions with Iran, Trade War with China; White House Reviews Plan to Send 120,000 U.S. Troops to Middle East; Trump Warns Iran over Reports of Sabotaged Ships; A.G. Barr Working with Heads of CIA, FBI, DNI on Review on Origins of Russia Probe; Hearing Underway on House Subpoena for Trump's Financial Records; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Discusses Legal Fight to Get Trump's Financial Records, A.G. Barr Appointing Prosecutor to Investigate Russia Probe Origins, U.S. Sending Troops to Middle East. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 14, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:14] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

China bites back. Tensions with Iran burn hotter. And the White House is now reportedly reviewing plans that would deploy more than 100,000 troops, U.S. troops to the Middle East. That is the dangerous and high-stakes backdrop for a critical face-to-face happening right now in Sochi, Russia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting at any moment now with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The highest- level meeting between the two countries since Trump and Putin sat down together in Helsinki. We expect to see them before cameras at any moment. What will they say? We'll bring you that as soon as we get it.

CNN's Matthew Chance is standing by in Moscow. Michelle Kosinski is at the State Department. Let's get to them.

Matthew, what are you hearing there? What's expected to come out of this meeting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo struck a very conciliatory tone when he makes his initial remarks, having first arrived in Sochi, that town in southern Russia where he'll be meeting in the next few minutes, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. He said Russia and the United States essentially don't have to be adversaries on every issue. There are areas of differences, but he would look at areas like counterterrorism, arms control, where there could be areas of overlap and areas of agreement. What he didn't mention are some of the big outstanding issues like the Russian attempts to meddle in the U.S. election in 2016. The fact that issues like Venezuela and Syria, the two countries are miles apart and on opposite sides of the conflict.

The biggest issue on the agenda today, the issue of Iran and the growing military and political and nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Islam republic is an area of deep disagreement between Moscow and Washington. The Russians are close allies of Tehran. They provide them with diplomatic support, economic support, even nuclear technology for their nuclear reactor. And they're deeply suspicious about U.S. intentions in the region. They believe the United States wants to topple the Iranian regime and replace it with a pro-Western, pro-American government that would be less sympathetic to the Kremlin point of view. They're bitterly opposed to any suggest of that. They're united with Iran in the sense they fight shoulder to shoulder with them in Syria, backing their joint ally in Syria, Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president. They're both, of course, under U.S. economic sanctions. And they're fundamentally opposed, both of them, Russia and Iran, to the expansion of Western and specifically American power. It's a tough job driving a wedge between Moscow and Tehran at this stage.

BOLDUAN: Which lays out why it's all the more interesting to see what could come out of the meeting.

Michelle, especially in terms of from the U.S. side. What are you hearing are the goals or expectations coming out of the meeting between Pompeo and Putin?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: There aren't a lot. The State Department was asked about possible deliverables, what solid gains can come out of the meeting. They were pretty broad and kind of vague. Just the ability to speak at a high level and to, as the State Department put it, have a frank and open, candid discussion about all of the issues affecting these two countries. So the State Department doesn't really mince words about how many differences there are. And they like to position Pompeo in some ways as the anti-Trump on this. He's going to be the one who is going to bring up the problems that the U.S. has with Russia and the deep rift.

Remember, it was only days ago at the U.S. said that Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela was about to leave the country and he was ready to get on a plane and go but it was Russia who convinced him to stay. So the State Department said absolutely Pompeo is going to bring up that. He's going to bring up Ukraine. He's going to bring up election meddling. He's going to bring up Americans detained in Russia. So he's the one who's doing bring up all of these problems. They also emphasized the U.S. has exacted costs from Russia on these things.

The problem is, does any of this ever do anything to change Russia's behavior. No. And also, you hear sometimes a very different tone from the president of the United States. And that is the relationship that the Russians look to and rely on. But they're probably going talk about the next Putin/Trump meeting, which could happen in a matter of weeks in Japan. That would be something that they could build towards.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Michelle laid it out great. Expectations and kind of what, I mean, maybe, I guess, we say what they are all up against in trying to accomplish anything in this meeting this morning. Really interested to hear what comes out of it. Michelle is going to stick around as that happens.

One big topic in the meeting, as we discussed, is Iran. Here is the dramatic development on that front today. The "New York Times" is reporting that the acting defense secretary last week presented a plan to the president's top national security aides that would send up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to face down the threat from Iran. That is a huge number. We're talking approaching the troop level size of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The plan was presented as part of a response if Iran attacked U.S. forces or if it ramped up its work on nuclear weapons. The president hasn't been asked about this yet, as we're just learning of it, but here's what he said yesterday about the threat from Iran.


[11:05:34] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake, if they do anything. I'm hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.


BOLDUAN: Let's go to Iran. Senior CNN international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is there.

Fred, I heard the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations tell John Berman this morning that the intel is suggesting Iran planning an attack on U.S. forces is fake intelligence. That's what the ambassador said. What are you hearing there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. That's exactly what the Iranian officials are saying as well. Quite interesting because they seem to have two lines. On the one hand, you have Iranian politicians, like the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who came out not too long ago, and he basically said that he believed that the U.S. was unnecessarily escalating the situation here with Iran. He said that Iran does not want an escalation, but that Iran would definitely defend itself.

Then you have some pretty bellicose rhetoric coming from Iranian generals, especially from the Revolutionary Guard, which is, of course, the elite wing of Iran's military. They have been saying for quite a while that if there's an escalation with the United States, they could hit American military installations in the Middle East and also hit American aircraft carriers as well. One of the things, of course, they keep talking about is their ballistic missile program and a lot of the ballistic missiles they have. It's interesting because, earlier today or late yesterday, the commander of Iran's Navy came out and said the deployment of the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" to the Persian Gulf, is theatrical, as the Iranians put it, and that the Iranians would be ready to defend themselves if, indeed, there was an escalation with the U.S.

So you certainly feel the tensions really ramping up here between the U.S. and Iran. The Iranians saying they don't want any sort of escalation, but you hear strong words, especially coming out of the Iranian military that we're hearing here on the ground -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nothing theatrical about what's at stake when these tensions are rising between the two countries.

It's great to see you, Fred.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.

One more place folks are keeping a close eye on is the Strait of Hormuz, a key strategic shipping lane in the Middle East between Iran and the UAE. Just this weekend, four ships were targeted near there. The United Arab Emirates is describing that as a sabotage attack. Right now, there are many more questions than answers about what really happened and what does it mean in the midst of all this.

CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is there near the Strait of Hormuz.

Nic, how does this play into, as everyone is laying out, the already escalating tensions between Iran and the United States right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's deeply troubling. Iran is blaming others. They're saying they're not responsible. Suspicion here, so far unsubstantiated suspicion so far. Believes Iran or its proxies at least were responsibility because intelligence that the Emirates had and had shared with U.S. officials, and it was also a U.S. concern as well going into the weekend that the Iranians or their proxies could target maritime shipping, civil civilian shipping in the gulf behind me. At the moment, it really plays into those tensions because there are suspicions but no proof. What the Emirates here are saying is that they think the attack, what they actually describe as sabotage, but when they describe it as they do as a rocket or missile strike, it sounds more like than an attack, is what they say caused this damage. I have talked to experts who have shared pictures from when we went out to have a look at the damage yesterday, and they think that mines potentially could have been used to blow holes in these ships.

The clear message, whoever did it, is that they can cause trouble. These were pinprick strikes. They didn't aim to sink the vessels. But it plays into all those tensions as the United States continues to ramp up its naval presence here, and if you will, brush the dust off planning for a potential movement of what the "New York Times" is reporting potentially could be as many as 120,000 U.S. troops into the region if Iran was to attack U.S. forces.

BOLDUAN: Great way of putting it, brushing the dust off a plan like that.

Nic, I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Now to Washington for us. We have breaking news out of the Justice Department this morning. CNN has learned that the attorney general, Bill Barr, has ramped up his probe into the origins of the Russia investigation. A source now says that Barr is working closely with the heads of the U.S. Intelligence Community on this investigation.

[11:10:12] This reporting coming from CNN's Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department. Let's get over there.

Laura, please tell us, what are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, we're learning that a far broader, more significant review is taking place. As we know, the attorney general has expressed his concerns about surveillance on the Trump campaign, saying he wants to know -- he wants to get to the bottom of whether spying was properly predicated. It's a controversial term, of course. Democrats have lambasted him for it. Republicans and the president have praised him for it.

I'm now learning that actually the CIA Director Gina Haspel as well as the director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the FBI director are all helping Barr, along with a U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham. We have been reporting on that since last night. And they're all working very collaboratively. I'm told Barr has actually known Coats and Haspel for years. His first job was actually in the CIA. So they're all working on this interagency effort together, something very serious -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Laura. Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, President Trump's battle with Congress is getting an important day in court. Right now, a judge is hearing arguments over a House subpoena for the president's financial records. We're at the courthouse with the latest. That's coming up.

Plus, President Trump says the trade war with China could be over in a few weeks. But do American companies have that much time? We'll take a look at one small business that's already feeling the crunch.

We'll be right back.


[11:16:27] BOLDUAN: President Trump's battle to keep his financial records secret is facing its first big test right now in federal court. A judge will be deciding if the accounting firm that worked with the president in years past must comply with the congressional subpoena and turn over eight years of the president's financial records to the House Oversight Committee. Both sides are in court right now.

CNN's Sara Murray is outside that court, D.C. District Court, and is joining me now.

Sarah, what is happening in the courtroom today? What are you hearing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. Things are already in motion. If you were hoping that the judge would make a decision from the bench today, I'm sorry to disappoint you. He's announced, at the beginning of this hearing, he's not going to be making a decision on this. He said it would be too hasty to make a ruling from the bench today on something so substantial. But he has tried to fast track these proceedings. And today, they're already digging into the meat of these arguments, essentially why Congress believes they have a right to look at these financial documents and what the president's issues are with handing it over. The president's lawyers are arguing we shouldn't have to hand these over to Congress to investigate for the sake of investigating. They should be looking for something in specific. And the judge is really trying to dig in with Trump's lawyers about what exactly President Trump objects to, what he thinks Congress' role is in these investigations, and why he's been so resistant in handing over these financial documents. And of course, Kate, you know this case is so important because we have seen the White House and the president at every turn says, no, no, I'm not going to comply with Congress's request. This is the first time we have a judge weighing into this fray and, at some point, making a decision only not today.

BOLDUAN: Sarah, if this judge can establish that when it comes to the president's motivations, when it comes to trying to block any of this stuff coming forward, he would be answering a question on multiple fronts, on multiple investigations, if the judge could establish that. We'll see as this continues. Very important first day.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Sara. Thank you very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, of California. He sits on the House committee, the committee fighting to get the president's financial records in court.

Congressman, thanks for joining me.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Kate, thanks for having me on.

BOLDUAN: Sara gave us the latest update on how things are going. We're not going to get a decision today, but they're in court today. If the judge, in the end, doesn't rule in your favor, instead siding with the president, blocking you from getting these documents, what do you do?

KHANNA: Well, we would appeal, but I don't anticipate that to be the case. I appreciate that the judge is fast tracking that. I have actually great confidence in the judiciary. And the case law is on our side. The president is suing in his personal capacity, and he doesn't understand that when he's the head of the executive branch, he doesn't have the same expectation of privacy as ordinary citizens, that Congress has a right to get this information, to see if there are conflicts of interest, to see if he's been paying his taxes the way every American citizen does.

BOLDUAN: I hear that you're confident you'll eventually get the documents. But just last week, I believe, the court finally settled the subpoena fight over Fast and Furious documents between then a Republican Congress and a Republican House and Attorney General Eric Holder. This is now years later. Why do you think any of your efforts are going to move any faster?

KHANNA: First, the stakes are higher. There wasn't a special counsel such as Bob Mueller in the Eric Holder case. Here you have 10 obstruction of justice potential charges outlined to the Congress. I think the courts understand that the stakes are enormous for this country, and they're going to move with greater speed. Second, the Obama administration, yes, they did push back in Congress, with fairness, they did. But they didn't push back with a blanket no. Here, in the Trump administration has refused to even accommodate any requests. I think judges are going to be more likely to push them to make some accommodations.

[11:20:20] BOLDUAN: That is that. And there's also this. CNN is learning the attorney general, who is assigning a new federal prosecutor out of Connecticut to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation. Investigate the investigators, as we have heard. This is the third review of its kind.

I want to play for you what the former -- and our viewers, what the former FBI counsel, James Baker, who was there when the investigation was launched, how he responds to any suggestion that they did anything inappropriate. Listen.


JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI COUNSEL: It's preposterous. It's preposterous. I was there. I was the general counsel of the FBI. I didn't see any coup. I didn't see any attempted coup. I didn't see any conspiracy to commit a coup. There was nothing that was going on like that. And I have said before, I would have stopped such a thing. I would not have allowed such a thing to go on. I would have found a way to bring that to light, to the appropriate authorities and prevented that.


BOLDUAN: With all of that, Congressman, do you still welcome a new review under the attorney general, Barr, if it ends any questions about the beginning of the Russia investigation once and for all?

KHANNA: If they want to do a review, they can do a review, but it's a total distraction. I wish the entire country could hear Jim Baker, the general counsel of the FBI. He's made it abundantly clear the investigation had nothing to do with the dossier. It, frankly, had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. It was on actionable intelligence from foreign ambassadors concerned that our democracy was under threat from foreign interference. And guess what, they turned out to be correct. Bob Mueller concluded that there was sweeping and systematic interference from the Russians. Jim Baker and the FBI should be applauded for the counterintelligence investigation that they undertook. The entire country should celebrate the FBI's work. And this is a total distraction that Bill Barr is trying to undertake.

BOLDUAN: You called it a distraction, but do you see reasoning behind the attorney general launching a review?


With this in mind, while the inspector general of Justice is still conducting his own investigation on this very same thing. I mean, the I.G.'s review has been going on for more than a year.

KHANNA: And the I.G.s are typically very, very capable. We have had I.G. audits of defense contracts. They do a thorough job. I don't think there's any need for an additional review. I think Bill Barr is being political. He's trying to draw a false moral equivalence. There's clear evidence of misconduct by the president. What Bill Barr is saying is, no, there was misconduct by the FBI. The American people aren't going to buy it.

BOLDUAN: You think with this move -- since the I.G.'s review is still under way, you think that exposes the attorney general of this being a purely political move?

KHANNA: I do. I think, especially when you look at the pattern of conduct, his usurping the Mueller report and giving a selective summary, his line to House and Senate committees. Now his asking for a review about the investigators. It's like you're asking for a review of the people who caught the bad guys. The people are smart in this country. They're going to see through this. What we really need is for Bob Mueller to testify in front of Congress, to tell the facts, and let the American people understand the gravity of the interference that took place.

BOLDUAN: And let us see if that happens. No date yet scheduled.

You also, though, really quickly, you also sit on the Armed Services Committee. What do you think of the reporting coming out of the "New York Times" that the acting defense secretary has presented a possible plan to top national security officials that could send as many as 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East in the face of the threat from Iran? This would be, of course, if Iran would launch an attack, it would be a response to an attack from Iran or them accelerating their work on nuclear weapons. What do you make of it?

KHANNA: Kate, I'm deeply concerned. The last thing this country wants is another failed endless war. That's an opinion, not just among Democrats but among many of my Republican colleagues. A war with Iran would be catastrophic. It would cost --


KHANNA: -- $3 trillion to $5 trillion.


KHANNA: I would oppose any of it. Yes.

BOLDUAN: But if Iran, if this had to be predicated, this move, had to be initiated, if Iran would launch an attack on U.S. forces or U.S. troops. If that was kind of, if that was the bar, would you -- if that would happen, which would be a major escalation if that did, would you support a move in response of 120,000 troops going over there?

KHANNA: Well, it depends. It's a hypothetical. What I don't support is the aircraft carrier going there. I don't think there's any need to increase the tensions. And the administration, it seems like, is almost increasing the risk of confrontation. And I certainly don't support them taking any action without coming to Congress, without having a debate, and without having congressional authorization. I do not support 120,000 troops going under any circumstance without first coming to Congress. And I can't see a scenario where that kind of war and entanglement would be justified.

[11:25:26] BOLDUAN: Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thank you for coming on.

KHANNA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us still, an incredible woman making a real difference in the lives of teens trying to escape violence and gangs in Chicago. Her name is Diane Latiker. She's one of our "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE." That's next.