Return to Transcripts main page


WSJ: Intel Suggests U.S., Iran Misread Each Other's Actions; Flynn to Mueller: People Tied to Trump, Congress Tried to Obstruct; Trump Businesses Show Mixed Results in Financial Disclosure; Democratic Hopefuls to Campaign This Weekend; Pete Buttigieg Wields His Military Credentials. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the escalation between the U.S. and Iran one big misunderstanding.

[05:59:33] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: U.S. officials have images. They assess shows that Iranian freighters are carrying missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we going to war with Iran?


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They dropped the ball on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People connected to the Trump administration reached out to Michael Flynn even after Flynn was cooperating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They know that the president is being investigated for obstruction. He was trying to influence Flynn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're stalling, and this is part of the directive to stonewall the Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're more interested in subpoenas than solutions.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday. It really is.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is really Friday. And the very last show we will do on this set.

CAMEROTA: That's right. It's a sentimental day here. This is the last show here at the Time Warner Center, and we will be moving. So make sure you tune in Monday for a very, very big, flashy new studio. BERMAN: And watch to the end of this show, because it's going to be

like Pete Townsend and Keith Moon with The Who at the end of the concert.

CAMEROTA: We're going to break everything.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Destroy it?

BERMAN: This desk is getting flipped over.

CAMEROTA: That's awesome.

All right. Meanwhile, there's a big question this morning. Are the tensions between Iran and the U.S. all a result of a misunderstanding? According to "The Wall Street Journal," U.S. intel shows that Iran's leaders believe the U.S. was planning to attack them, prompting Tehran to prepare to strike back, and the U.S. believed Iran was preparing to attack them.

The U.S. claims to have images showing Iranian commercial vessels carrying missiles, but CNN has not reviewed the intel. Nor have we been provided any proof of that.

So could it be a misreading of the intelligence that has led both countries to the brink of some sort of conflict?

BERMAN: Also new this morning, possible obstruction on line one. The president's former national security adviser, convicted felon Michael Flynn, says that people connected to the president, or Congress, contacted him to discuss his involvement in the Russia investigation in a way that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation.

This is according to a previously redacted legal filing by the Mueller team just made public. And new overnight, a federal judge is considering releasing a voice mail recording of at least one of these conversations. It does beg the question, among many questions, who in Congress was trying to influence Flynn's testimony?

Let's begin our coverage, though, with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House, which could be a very dangerous misunderstanding with Iran, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think you're right, John. This was an extremely risky situation, arguably the trickiest since the president took office with the U.S. pulling people out of embassies, sending in a strike group.

And what it highlights is how military intelligence gets analyzed when the actors are the United States and Iran, and the dangers that one party or the other might misread the signals.


JOHNS: Were the U.S. and Iran on the brink of a conflict because of a misunderstanding.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): I think the intel may be accurate, but the unanswered question, again, is are they reacting to our assertions of action in the Middle East? Or are we reacting to them?

JOHNS: Sources now tell "The Wall Street Journal" it could be both. One interpretation of U.S. intelligence suggests the U.S. and Iran may have misread each other's actions.

Iran's leaders believed the United States was planning to attack them, prompting Tehran to prepare for possible counterstrikes.

We're learning new details about the intelligence that escalated tensions. The United States claims to have images of Iranian commercial vessels it believes are carrying missiles.

CNN has not reviewed the intelligence that led to the U.S. assessment, and the government has provided no proof the ships are carrying hidden missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are we going to war with Iran?

TRUMP: I hope not.

JOHNS: After days of heated debate inside the White House, President Trump is trying to cool tensions with Iran. "The New York Times" reports Trump told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan he does not want to go to war.

Privately, sources telling CNN Trump is growing increasingly frustrated over the public perception his national security team is leading him into an armed conflict; the president denying infighting and insisting he's in charge.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's only one person that was elected to make those decisions. And that was the president. He'll be the one that decides.

JOHNS: Sources tell CNN, President Trump is also privately grumbling to outside advisers about his national security adviser, John Bolton. Bolton's hawkish reputation and push for a regime change in Iran are concerning U.S. allies. Congressional leaders getting their first classified briefing on Thursday.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And the responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war. So I hope that the president's advisers recognize that they have no authorization to go forward in any way.

JOHNS: Lawmakers are demanding answers.

GRAHAM: There are a lot of senators feel like they're in the dark, and they dropped the ball on this.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: OK. So maybe it was all just a big misunderstanding, but one thing is clear: it's not ironed out. Yet, the president has said he wants to talk to Iran. Iran's foreign minister says he's not ready to talk -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all that background from the White House.

There are also new details emerging today about attempts to block Michael Flynn's cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This raises more questions about potential obstruction from President Trump's team.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill for us with more -- Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we knew the details from Michael Flynn were peppered throughout the Mueller report. But now we are learning that at least one of those examples, a potential obstruction of justice from the president, came directly from a voice mail that Michael Flynn handed over.


FOX (voice-over): Newly unsealed court records show that convicted former national security advisor Michael Flynn informed Robert Mueller's investigators that people connected to the Trump administration or Congress contacted him multiple times, potentially attempting to obstruct the investigation.

Mueller wrote, those people "could have affected both Flynn's willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation." Flynn giving Mueller's team a voice mail from President Trump's personal attorney to Flynn's lawyer.

He says, "If there's information that implicates the president, then we've got a national security issue. We need some kind of heads up." And reminds Flynn's lawyers of Trump's fondness for his now-convicted adviser.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): I think it's very clear that this further supports the urgent need of the committee to hear from Mr. Mueller directly to get the fully unredacted report and all of the supporting materials.

FOX: In the Mueller report, he indicates the voice mail could have obstructed the investigation. But he "could not determine whether the president was personally involved."

Meantime, the White House continues to stonewall efforts by House Democrats to look into possible obstruction. White House counsel Pat Cipollone called the congressional probes "an attempt to harass political opponents."

In a new letter to Cipollone, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says, "Your failure to comprehend the gravity of the special counsel's findings is astounding and dangerous." REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The president's posture now is making it

impossible to rule out impeachment or anything else. This flies in the face of 200 years of history and would go -- if accepted would go a long way toward making the president, any president, a dictator.

FOX: But Attorney General Bill Barr appearing to back the White House and Republicans in the House, who are calling to investigate the origins of the Mueller probe.

BILL BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason, we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power. I'm not saying that happened. But I'm saying that we have to look at that.


FOX: And another very important deadline up here on Capitol Hill, House Ways and Means Committee chair, Richard Neal, had subpoenaed the IRS and the Treasury Department for six years of the president's personal and business tax returns. That deadline is today.

Of course, we don't expect them to hand over the president's tax returns any time soon -- John.

BERMAN: No, certainly not. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thank you very much this morning.

Tepid reviews at best for President Trump's plan to reform legal immigration, calling for changes that would favor young, educated immigrants instead of those with family ties to the United States. But lawmakers on both sides say it is likely dead on arrival. The new plan spearheaded by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, calls for a system favoring skilled, financially self-sufficient immigrants who learn English and pass a civics exam.


TRUMP: Under the senseless rules of the current system, we're not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated No. 1 in his class from the finest colleges in the world. We discriminate against genius.


BERMAN: One of the president's biggest supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham, says the proposal is not designed to become law. He says it's more about party unity heading into 2020.

The president's plan also does not propose any legal status for DREAMers, young immigrants brought to the United States as children. Democrats say that requirement -- that is a requirement for any immigration plan.

The top Republican in the House says he opposes Alabama's new restrictive abortion ban. GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says the law should include exemptions for rape and incest. The bill was signed into law by the state's governor on Wednesday. It is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Senator Susan Collins called the Alabama law, quote, "terrible." Collins, whose vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh virtually assured his appointment to the Supreme Court, said she does not believe the conservative-leaning judge would uphold Alabama's bill.

BERMAN: We're learning this morning that Wal-Mart, America's largest retailer, is warning that the president's tariffs on China will likely mean higher prices for customers.

Wal-Mart's CFO did not say which items will be more expensive, but he did say the company is developing strategies to try to mitigate cost increases and working with suppliers to manage the prices. Analysts say the retail giant imports about a quarter of its merchandise from China.

CAMEROTA: Today is the deadline for the Treasury Department to turn over the president's tax returns to House Democrats. Meanwhile, we are learning more about just how much the president profited last year.

CNN's Cristina Alesci joins us with more. He made a lot of money, Cristina.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: He did, but this is a far cry from a -- from a full picture of the president's finances. This is top-line. So President Trump reports top-line numbers without backing out expenses. So it has the effect of making the numbers look largely -- larger, perhaps, than what he actually pocketed.

CAMEROTA: These are financial disclosures, not tax returns.

ALESCI: Exactly. So we'll get to that in a second, but the financial disclosure forms do give us this top-line picture, and based on that, we can see that his income actually declined slightly last year from $450 million to $434 million.

What this form also shows is individual properties and how they've performed. So, for example, iconic Mar-a-Lago declined slightly to $27.2 million from $25 million. And his iconic D.C. hotel, which is also very controversial, pretty much stayed flat.

And to your point, we do not have exactly how much he pocketed last year, because that would be on his tax returns, which he's refusing to turn over. What this also doesn't tell us is how much taxes he paid, and it doesn't give us any insight into any tax avoidance strategies that he would be using.

CAMEROTA: But $434 million, is that typical for a president to make in one year?

ALESCI: Again, this is not exactly what he pocketed, it's not exactly what he brought home.

CAMEROTA: Still, it's just -- at one point, it's such a stunning number.

ALESCI: It is. It is.

CAMEROTA: We don't know what -- here out of the White House.

ALESCI: It is a stunning number, but we all know Trump has a proclivity to overestimate and, you know, overexaggerate how much he's -- he's made, so, you know, it is a lot of money. But we're not sure quite how accurate it is in terms of profit.

CAMEROTA: Got it. We need more information.


CAMEROTA: Cristina Alesci, thanks very much. One programming note: Erin Burnett investigates how President Trump and his family do business. So tune in tonight for a CNN special report, "The Trump Family Business." It airs at 9 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

BERMAN: All right, CNN goes one on one with Pete Buttigieg on the campaign trail. What he is saying about his military service. This is the first time he's talked this in depth about that. Why he says it sets him apart from some of his competitors for the nomination. That's next.


[06:17:02] CAMEROTA: Looks like a big weekend ahead for the 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Former Vice President Joe Biden will hold a rally in Philadelphia as Senator Bernie Sanders heads south.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is live in Washington with more. What are we expecting, Arlette?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, with the three weeks of his presidential campaign behind him, Joe Biden is now turning to a new phase of the campaign. And that starts in Philadelphia.

His campaign has announced that the headquarters for their operation will be based in the city. And tomorrow, he'll be holding a kickoff rally there in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a state that Democrats lost to Donald Trump back in 2016 and one where Biden sees an opening.

He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was the senator right next door in Delaware for 36 years.

And there's a Quinnipiac poll that was released earlier this week that showed Biden in a head-to-possible matchup with President Trump, beating him 53 percent to 42 percent. His campaign has placed a lot of emphasis there in Pennsylvania in these early weeks.

Now, Biden is also leading most all of his Democratic rivals in polls, as well, including Bernie Sanders, who's going to be on a tour of his own this weekend. He's going to be fanning out across southern states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, which has really become a focal point for Democrats over the past week, as they signed an anti-abortion bill law in that state.

And Bernie Sanders is trying to make inroads in these southern states, where he really struggled back in 2016. He's going to be announcing an education plan in South Carolina, where he's trying to get more support from African-American voters this time around -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Arlette Saenz for us in Washington. Arlette, thanks very much.

New this morning and first on CNN, presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, opens up about his military service. Buttigieg often discusses serving in Afghanistan while he's on the campaign trail, but the 2020 hopeful rarely explains why he enlisted.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny asked him.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's one chapter of his life that Pete Buttigieg often turns to.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As somebody who served in Afghanistan --

When I went overseas --

When I was packing my bags for Afghanistan --

ZELENY: The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, deploys his military service as both a sword and a shield. Whether taking questions about his experience or quieting anti-gay protesters, Afghanistan is also his answer.

BUTTIGIEG: It's one more reason why it might not be a bad idea to have somebody in the White House who actually served.

ZELENY: His time as an intelligence officer in the naval reserves and a six-month deployment to Afghanistan makes his already gold-plated resume shine even brighter.

Yet Buttigieg rarely talks about why he joined the service after graduating from Harvard and studying as a Rhodes scholar. Turns out it was 2008, and he was volunteering for the Barack Obama campaign in Iowa, where he said he saw many young people signing up for the Army or National Guard.

[06:20:00] BUTTIGIEG: I might have dragged my feet on that forever, if I hadn't had that experience in Iowa and just realizing that some communities were almost emptying out their youth into the military, and some were barely serving at all.

ZELENY: Now he's one of three presidential candidates who served in America's longest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan --

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Aloha! ZELENY: -- joining Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Seth

Moulton. After five years of reserve duty, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, just as President Obama was announcing a troop withdrawal.

Military records reviewed by CNN show Buttigieg was part of a unit assigned to identify and disrupt terrorist finance networks. It was largely a desk job at the Bagram Air Base, but he also worked as a driver and armed escort.

BUTTIGIEG: Look, it's not like I killed bin Laden, right? I don't want to overstate what my role was, but it certainly was something that was dangerous. You know, people that I knew, unfortunately, were attacked.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you think you would be able to make this run as credibly without this military service?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think at a moment when, obviously, people are looking for contrasts, it helps me demonstrate the difference between how I'm oriented and how the current president is.

ZELENY (voice-over): Jason McCrae still remembers the day he met Buttigieg at their training in South Carolina. He didn't know the man assigned to be his battle buddy was also an Indiana mayor.

JASON MCRAE, SERVED WITH PETE BUTTIGIEG: One of my early members is he had an ear bud in, and he was learning a language. I think it was Dari. Certainly, I don't remember other folks that were picking up a language at that point in time.

ZELENY (on camera): But he was interested in Afghanistan and was studying and consuming everything about it?

J. MCRAE: Yes, for sure.

ZELENY (voice-over): A dozen people who served alongside Buttigieg in the reserves and in Afghanistan, who spoke to CNN, described him as mature and, yes, ambitious, but several said he was hardly alone on that front.

J. MCRAE: To go through a deployment in Afghanistan, it was probably less dangerous ways to check the box.

ZELENY: McCrae and his wife, Sue, are watching their friend's campaign from afar with interest.

SUE MCRAE, WIFE OF JASON MCRAE: When I first met Pete, it was just a wife going to say good-bye to my husband, and we just happened to meet a battle buddy.

ZELENY (on camera): So Buttigieg mentions Afghanistan at virtually every stop on the campaign trail. He does say it's time for a new U.S. policy there, noting that soldiers enlisting now were not even born at the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

As for his own enlistment here in Chicago in 2009, he said he was not doing that with politics in mind. He said you never know if military service will be politically popular or not.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Chicago.


CAMEROTA: OK. That was really insightful. I mean, we don't hear him talk much about -- I didn't know the background of his military service. That was really helpful.

BERMAN: I didn't know the origin story. I didn't know that it was while he was in Iowa watching other people enlist, that that somehow was what inspired him.

CAMEROTA: What he did there, exactly, that was really interesting.

All right. So is a misreading of intelligence leading to a standoff with Iran? The revealing report as the tensions rise.


[06:27:10] CAMEROTA: "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the U.S. and Iran may be misreading each other. "The Journal" says leaders in Tehran thought an attack from the U.S. was coming, and they began preparing for a counter-strike.

The U.S. thought Iran was preparing an attack, and that led the Trump administration to boost their military presence in the Middle East.

Joining us to talk about all of this and more, we have Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary; Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post"; and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and author of "Obama, The Call of History," which we'll discuss more in a moment.

Joe, obviously, there's always misinterpretations. The fog of war, et cetera, et cetera. Is there something -- is this -- is this how it works in the White House, that sometimes there are misunderstandings or can be, or is this team around the president particularly ill- equipped to interpret the signs, because, as we know, John Bolton is inclined, heavily, one way, and Patrick Shanahan doesn't have a lot of experience --


CAMEROTA: -- or any, in the military?

LOCKHART: I mean, you do -- administrations that are fully competent do sometimes misread the situation, but this is endemic in this administration, where there doesn't seem to be a full-blown policy process that looks at all of these things.

You know, if you look at any issue, it seems like there's -- there's one person whispering in the president's ear, you know, on immigration, it's Stephen Miller. On trade, you know, it was Peter Navarro with a hard line. Here it's John Bolton. And what you miss when you skip the process is you sometimes fall into

these dangerous situations, where someone's agenda is driving it, rather than the intelligence. And the president has neither the respect for the intelligence process, I think, or the attention span for the intelligence process, to actually be the leader of this.

So he gets led around, and he'll wake up, you know, one morning and say, "How did we get here? I'm angry at John Bolton." Well, he's the president.

BERMAN: You know, Peter Baker, your friend Maggie Haberman over at "The Times" is reporting what the president is really angry about is the reporting that's out there suggesting that John Bolton is somehow manipulating the president or pushing things without the president's knowledge.

I mean, the question is, is does John Bolton have the authority within the administration to get the United States to do things that the president doesn't want to do? How much tension is there, really?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, there's nothing that gets under the president's skin more than the idea, certainly the public perception, anyway, that he's being led around by the nose by -- by advisers.

And of course, we remember that the first set of national security advisers in this administration were often characterized as restraining the president's more bellicose instincts.

Here, you have the opposite, where, in fact, it's the president who's the one kind of putting the brakes on things. He's the one behind the scenes, you know, making light of Bolton, saying, if it were up to John, we'd be in four wars by now.