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U.K. Breaks with Trump on Iran; Kamala Harris Will Take Executive Action on Gun Imports; Leaked American Airlines Confrontation with Boeing. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 15, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That is very different, of course, than what the Pentagon says. So the Pentagon pushed back in a very public way yesterday. The U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the area, putting out a public statement that the British general's remarks run counter to the threats that they see. The British MOD responding this morning, defending their man.

You know, is there an easy answer to this? No. Everybody's going to try and wiggle out of it, but it does add to the skepticism about all of this.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: That's a remarkable disagreement. So the State Department, now taking these steps to warn Americans in Iraq currently, and to warn others not to go to Iraq. Why is it taking this step now?

STARR: Well, what officials are telling us is, they've been working on the statements and the paperwork. I mean literally the bureaucracy catching up with what the Pentagon, what the State Department says is the reality on the ground.

But, look, you're already seeing some of America's allies, including the British, react to this. The Spanish pulled out of a naval operation. They pulled away from that aircraft carrier on its way to the Persian Gulf, saying they did not sign up for such an aggressive stance. The Germans, saying that they are going to temporarily suspend their training of Iraqi forces inside Iraq.

A lot of skepticism because while the allies have been briefed about the threat, the Pentagon, the Trump administration, not making the threat public.

SCIUTTO: Final question here. You have reporting that the Trump national security team has now been briefed by the Pentagon on a plan, at least an option to send more than 100,000 U.S. forces to the Middle East, a level we have not seen since, really, the peak of the Iraq occupation and invasion. How serious an option is this?

STARR: So understand -- everyone should understand. What they're talking about is if there was a decision that you needed to slow down Iran's nuclear program because of the threat, because Iran was engaging in some kind of breakout activity, accelerating their nuclear program, what would it take for the U.S. military to slow that down?

The option on the table, more than 100,000 troops. Because the assessment is, you would first have to take out Iran's missiles, its attack boats, its air defenses, airfields, all the things that could stop the U.S. military from getting to that nuclear program.

But, you know, look, it would take months for that kind of buildup. It would be no secret. The Iranians would see it coming. It would be a very serious matter. No indication that President Trump is embracing that option at this point.

SCIUTTO: Yes. President who, you know, up to this point has been only reducing rather than expanding the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with David Rohde. He's CNN Global Affairs analyst and executive editor of "The New Yorker" website.

So, David, an option to slow down Iran's nuclear program, that sounds to me remarkably like a war.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. And then this is sort of a manufactured crisis. Iran's nuclear program has been slowed down. They are abiding by the agreement --


ROHDE: -- that they reached with the U.S., the Obama administration and other countries. They're not doing this. This is all coming from the Trump administration.

I'm not saying Iran's perfect and it's a dictatorial regime and there's tremendous problems with what they've done. But, you know, there is no evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb right now.

SCIUTTO: So you have a disagreement here now, between the U.S. and the U.K. who, by the way, share the same intelligence. There's Five Eyes, five U.S. allies that basically have an open book in terms of intelligence. And yet they're very publicly disagreeing as to whether there is a new threat from Iran threatening U.S. forces, which U.S. officials of the Trump administration have publicly advertised as justification for this buildup. What's -- who do we trust?

ROHDE: It's -- well, it's an extraordinary moment. I mean, we have been so close to the British. We've -- they were together, they were together actually during, you know, the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush. So I think this shows the credibility problem of the Trump administration.


ROHDE: All these years of sort of, you know, false numbers about how little NATO is contributing in terms of, you know, their spending. All the disagreements --


ROHDE: -- about trade, all this exaggeration. The Europeans sort of aren't going to take it. As Barbara mentions, the Germans are pulling out of things, the Spanish have pulled back. So they do not trust this administration.


ROHDE: And this is a -- I think, you know, a fair thing, given the false claims that have been made --

SCIUTTO: Should the --

ROHDE: -- against the Europeans.

SCIUTTO: -- should the American people trust the administration on this? Here's a president who has -- I mean, he summarily withdrew troops from Syria, although he back-walked that. He did it by tweet. He's talked openly about taking troops out of Afghanistan as well.

And now, again, very -- there's a reason this leak is coming from the White House, to say, "Well, we actually could send 100,000 troops in there." The president said on the way out of the White House yesterday, "Well, I might even send more." Is that something Americans at home should believe?

ROHDE: Well, I think Americans can judge for themselves. They should pay very close attention. You know, we lost thousands of young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. This could be a third major war in the Middle East.

We're less dependent on Middle Eastern oil now, but if there were any kind of armed conflict, oil prices would go up worldwide and that would damage the U.S. economy.

[10:35:05] So I'm not going to tell people what to think. The American people are very smart. But these are very serious allegations and very, you know, serious things that are being talked about.

SCIUTTO: Let me talk to you about another issue, and that is Russia. So in the midst of this, and Trump taking on China, trade war, et cetera with enormous economic consequences, a buildup to the possibility of war, it seems, with Iran.

With Russia though, which is -- has a whole host of malign activities against the U.S., the president dispatches his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, there, to look for a path to better relations. Explain that disconnect.

ROHDE: It's -- again, it's puzzling. I'll leave it up to viewers to decide, but you know, Russia is helping North Korea violate its sanctions. It's helping prop up Venezuela. And the worst actor -- well, one of the worst actors in Syria is Russia. Russia has helped Iran in Syria. So I don't understand what great alliance we're going to get from Russia.

And I think if you look around the world, all these countries -- Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela -- they're going to wait out this president. They want to see if Donald Trump gets re-elected or not. And the president kind of flailing around and looking for a deal here or trying to force an issue, it's not going to work. I think all these governments are going to wait. They want to see if he'll still be in office for another four years.

SCIUTTO: Is the president making the country less safe by not being willing to publicly confront Russia and take definitive steps to counter Russia?

ROHDE: In terms of election interference, yes. I don't think -- I think he is making us less safe in the long term because he's not achieving anything. There is no new deal with Iran. There is no deal with North Korea. There is no trade deal with China. It's a lot of noise.


ROHDE: And so he's now been in office, you know, for three years. It'll be four. People can judge themselves about, you know, what he's achieving. But I don't want to be too alarmist about what's happening.

SCIUTTO: Dave (ph), let's not be too alarmist. We've got to -- we've got to get through the day. David Rohde, thanks very much as always.

ROHDE: Thank you. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Right now, presidential hopeful Kamala Harris is speaking to voters in New Hampshire -- just a little bit of an important state in 2020 -- as recent polling shows she has some serious ground to make up there. We're going to have a look at the 2020 presidential race. That's next.


[10:41:42] SCIUTTO: This morning, presidential candidate Kamala Harris is laying out big plans for gun legislation at a town hall in New Hampshire. Just moments ago, the California senator told those voters that she could resort to executive action to get things done.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's look at the fact that there are four million assault weapons in the United States, which were imported here from foreign countries. So I am also prepared -- and I'm announcing it for the first time today, here with you -- to take executive action to ban the import of assault weapons into our country.


(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

So, Jeff, first, on this gun legislation. Gun legislation ranks pretty high in polls of Democratic voters for voting issues going into 2020. So I imagine this is going to be demand we see from all the 2020 candidates. What are they going to do about it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it definitely is a central issue, a central theme that all Democratic presidential candidates have been talking about. But Senator Harris definitely has been taking the lead on saying what she will do by executive action.

Of course, she's a member of the Senate. She hasn't been around that long. She wasn't there when the Senate failed to pass gun legislation in the wake of Newtown, but she has been around in recent years, and saying that there isn't much action, in fact any action, on Capitol Hill in the House or the Senate. There's not been a will to get, you know, what broad sections of Americans support. So she's saying that she will take executive action after 100 days after being elected.

Now, many other of her fellow Democratic presidential candidates -- Corey Booker and others -- are also introducing sweeping gun legislation. We've not heard as much from this from the frontrunner in the race, Joe Biden. Of course, he was part of that push for gun legislation in the wake of the Newtown shooting years ago in the Obama administration.

But he is, you know, is going to be releasing proposals on that as well, Jim. But it's just one of many things that probably is uniting these Democratic presidential candidates more than dividing them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. President Obama famously put it in Joe Biden's hands, weeks after --

ZELENY: Indeed.

SCIUTTO: -- and then the question was, did they wait too long. And of course, couldn't get something through. I mean, we've sort of --

ZELENY: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- been down this road so many times.

Biden predicted that Republicans will have, in his words, "an epiphany," start working with Democrats only once Trump is out of office. Some have reacted to that with a little bit of derision, perhaps skepticism as well. What have you been hearing from lawmakers in reaction?

ZELENY: Well, Jim, that definitely points to one of the dividing lines -- perhaps generationally, just in terms of how Washington, perhaps, worked when Joe Biden arrived in Washington, you know, more than four decades ago, and how it works now.

He describes, on the campaign trail, that President Trump is an aberration in this moment of the Republican Party. And he's said that, you know, there is still possibility for consensus to people -- to work across the aisle. Of course, he remembers many examples of that from his time in the Senate.

But other Democratic presidential candidates believe, you know, that this is a moment -- that Donald Trump is not an aberration at all. He is, in fact, the face of the new Republican Party. So they are working much more to sort of go around Republicans, and there's much less talk of working across the aisle.

So it is just one of the stylistic, I guess, differences, if you will, Jim, that Vice President Biden is employing. He believes that, you know, there is a need for consensus, and in fact an urging, you know, a calling of the country, if you will, for normalcy in Washington.

[10:45:16] SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, there is. The trouble is, it seems that both parties see each other that way.

ZELENY: Right.

SCIUTTO: Beto O'Rourke, doing a little bit of cleanup, I suppose you could call it, on "The View," saying that this famous cover story in the "Vanity Fair" magazine, in his words, was a misstep, saying it gave the perception of privilege. Is he successfully turning that around now, after what's been a little bit of a disappointing start for him?

ZELENY: We'll see if he does turn that around. It certainly is in the middle. You can see and watch this shift in his strategy that he's really having, Jim.

He essentially started out running as though he was, you know, replaying and reacting on a larger stage. His Senate run in Texas, where he narrowly lost last year to Ted Cruz, having town hall meetings, going around, you know, jumping on counters.

Now, he is being much more restrained, I guess, if you will. He's wearing a jacket. He's not climbing on people's counters. And he is expressing regret for, you know, essentially coming off as arrogant in that "Vanity Fair" story.

We'll see how voters react to him. I think we should always remember, it is very, very early. Voters are just taking their measure, in some respects aren't even tuned in yet. But it's one of the reasons he is stepping out.

He has been kind of in his own shell, here. It's one of the reasons he's doing more interviews, and of course will be doing a town hall with Dana Bash here in Iowa next week on CNN.

But we'll see how the voters react to him. There's no doubt at all that Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, crept into the lane that Beto O'Rourke had, and he's run with it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. ZELENY: So campaigns, though, are not always a straight line, Jim.

There are people who surge and fall back. So way, way, way too early --


ZELENY: -- to suggest that Beto O'Rourke cannot get a second look.

SCIUTTO: And a lot of debates to come. First one coming up in July, of course. And those can create moments both good and bad --

ZELENY: In June.

SCIUTTO: -- for candidates. June, exactly. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

ZELENY: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Lawmakers are grilling the FAA acting administrator on Capitol Hill over the Boeing 737 Max plane as we're learning that pilots actually confronted Boeing over how that controversial system, weeks after the first crash and before a second one. We'll have that story coming up.


[10:52:18] SCIUTTO: Right now, the acting administrator, the FAA, is facing a true grilling on Capitol Hill. This, over how the Boeing 373 Max jets were certified, and how the FAA plans to make sure the American-built plane can safely fly again, after two deadly crashes.

Meanwhile, CBS News has obtained audio of American Airlines pilots confronting a Boeing official about that very plane, the 373 Max. That confrontation happening just weeks after the deadly Lion Air crash. Of course, the first of two deadly crashes, four months before the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We flat out deserve to know what is on our airplanes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, BOEING: I don't know that understanding this system would've changed the outcome on this.


SCIUTTO: Those are U.S. pilots, keep in mind, challenging Boeing. Seems like they were blindsided by the problems that brought down these planes. CNN's Tom Foreman has been following this. Good morning. This really fights Boeing's story here because from the

beginning of this, it's created a lot of questions, narratives. Said, "Well, foreign pilots, they're not as good as U.S. pilots, maybe it's their fault," et cetera. This seems to tell a different story.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And this really is, Jim, the crux of this whole debate. Don't forget this. Through all of this hearing today, don't forget. This is the question. There is a new system, an advanced system on these jets which, in both instances, seems to have been related, according to investigators, in causing the plane to nose down in a way that the pilots could not control it.

Boeing says, "Yes, it was an advanced system but the training of the pilots was such that they should have been able to handle this even if they didn't know the particulars." And others say, "No, it was too powerful. It was too new." That was the problem. And that really was the tone set when this hearing kicked off. Listen to two of the members, right away, what they had to say.


REP. SAM GRAVES (R-MO): Pilots trained in the United States would have successfully been able to handle this situation.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-OR): It wasn't even in the manual, that this automated system existed. Wasn't in the manual. Now that's odd because the pilots were the redundancy. How the hell are you the redundancy if you don't know something?


FOREMAN: The first one there was Representative Sam Graves, Republican from Missouri. He's a pilot. The second, Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon. All of that's flying at the FAA acting director right now. He says until they get answers, the planes will stay on the ground.

SCIUTTO: So that's a key question, there. How long to get those answers? I mean, this is costing Boeing a lot of money. A lot of airlines depend on these jets, although several airlines, I understand, have cancelled orders. How long are we looking at here for recertification?

[10:55:00] FOREMAN: In terms of days or weeks or months? We have not the slightest idea. We have a philosophy that was forwarded by the head of the -- the acting head of the FAA, where he basically said, "Look, we're going to go through all the steps. We're going to check it all out. And then we will decide when these planes go back in the air."

But that doesn't really answer the question. The question is, "Where are you in that process? And what will constitute restored confidence, not merely in this aircraft but in Boeing, in the flying community and among the regulators who are supposed to be watching all of this?" -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Tom Foreman, good to have you on the story. Thanks very much.

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