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Iranian Official: U.S. And Iran Headed Toward Confrontation; Trump Falsely Denies Existence Of Dismal Internal Polls; Buttigieg Cancels Today's Events After Police Shooting; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Not Ready To Endorse 2020 Candidate; Dems Investigate Kushner Over Role In Trump Fundraising. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There were a number of people now more than 10 that have been arrested. Police were looking for several other fugitives and they say when they catch this mastermind that he is going to jail, and they said that prosecutor here said that once that person is in custody that he could expect to not see the sun for the next 40 years.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Patrick Oppmann, I appreciate that update. Ortiz continuing to recover in Boston.

Top of the hour, I'm Ana Cabrera in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with us this Monday. We begin with the growing tension between the U.S. and Iran. Just moments ago, a senior Iranian official telling CNN the U.S. and Iran are headed for a confrontation.

In an exclusive interview with our colleague, Christiane Amanpour, the Iranian ambassador to the U.K. made that ominous warning, the dire prediction comes a the U.S. blames Iran for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran denies that claim, even as the U.S. says it has video evidence. And now President Trump's national security team is considering sending additional troops to the Middle East in response to the tanker attacks.


HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.K.: We are heading towards a confrontation, which is very serious for everybody in the region.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You believe a military confrontation?

BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know a military or maybe partial --

AMANPOUR: I mean (INAUDIBLE) also said -- yes, partial. (INAUDIBLE) also said that potentially strike -- limited strike on a target in the Persian Gulf.

BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know about the strategy of the U.S. on this. But I am sure that this is a scenario that some people are very forcefully working on it, that they would drag the United States into a confrontation. I hope that the people in Washington would be very careful not to underestimate that Iranian determination that they if would be wrongly entering into a conflict, they would be very sorry about that.


CABRERA: Adding to the strain, today Iran announcing a major escalation of its nuclear program. Iran's atomic agency says it is ramping up production of its low-grade uranium. But doing this increasing production and stockpiling this material would be a violation of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, an agreement that the Trump Administration has worked for the past year to dismantle.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is in Tehran. Fred, what more did we hear from that Iranian official?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPNDENT: Well, Ana, one of the things he was saying, something we've been hearing from other Iranian officials as well, he believes that there are some in the Trump administration who might want an armed conflict with Iran. The folks at the -- the people -- the folks in Iran here keep mentioning, for instance, national security adviser, John Bolton, but then also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

But the Iranians continue to say they believe that President Trump himself does not want an armed conflict with Iran, but what the Iranian Ambassador to the U.K. there told our own Christiane Amanpour, is he said that the Middle East is the land or the territory of unintended consequences. Which means that the Iranians believe or fear that the two nations could slip into some sort of major conflict.

It was very interesting to hear some of the messaging we've been hearing out of Iran throughout the course of the day. Despite that evidence presented by the U.S. a couple of days ago of that Iranian boat going up to one of those tankers there in the Gulf of Oman, the Iranians continue to flatly deny they were behind it.

A senior Iranian general came out a little earlier today and said, look, the Iranian military is so strong, that if they wanted to close the Strait of Hormuz, they would close the Strait of Hormuz and he said they would do it publicly and not through secret attacks like the ones we saw on those tankers.

So the Iranians with some pretty bellicose rhetoric. At the same time, you're absolutely right. The fact they are now ramping up their nuclear program, again, scaling down some of their commitments to the agreements, of course, that also fans things here in the greater Middle East. The Iranians, we always have to point out, are saying they still want to abide by the nuclear agreement, but they do say that within ten days they will have crossed the threshold for the amount of low-enriched uranium they're about to have, Ana.

CABRERA: Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thank you.

Last summer while speaking at the annual VFW (ph) convention in Kansas City, President Trump had this message for the crowd. What you're seeing, what you're reading is not what's happening. That's a direct quote. And now as the president prepares to formally launch his re- election tomorrow night, he is hoping that supporters will take that message to heart. The reason? Polls that show his plan for another four years is running into a Joe Biden-sized roadblock.

In fact, states like Michigan and Wisconsin, he's under water. But the president isn't buying it. Even though those polls were leaked from his own campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: Well, I don't believe those polls. There's no way he beats me in Texas.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: But even your own polls show you're behind right now, don't they?

TRUMP: No, my polls show that I'm winning everywhere.


[15:05:05] CABRERA: In a follow-up tweet, the president said it is too early to focus on polls and he called them fake. But CNN has learned that behind the scenes, the president is angry. He is insisting the numbers are wrong, and now several campaign pollsters have been shown the door. CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us no.

Kaitlan, why is the president flat out denying the polls?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mainly because they became public. Now the recent sources have told us that the president erupted at several of his campaign officials not only at the polls saying that he wants newer polls done, but also because they became public. And he's asking who leaked these numbers to the media.

Now, these numbers, we should note, first came out several weeks ago, and CNN and other outlets reported on them. And when we did, the Trump campaign did not deny them or their accuracy, but downplayed them and said essentially what the president was arguing in his tweet there, that it's too early to tell.

But now that we've seen the president become engaged by the coverage of these numbers, of these polls inside his campaign that showed him trailing people like Joe Biden in those states that are going to be key to his 2020 victory, that's when the president got angry and that's when the campaign started making moves.

Cutting ties with these 30 pollsters, all of whom who worked on the president's 2016 campaign, but because they want to tighten the circle because they're so frustrated, that not only that these general numbers were leaked, but the details were also revealed to reporters.

So now we've got the president angry about these numbers and, of course, Ana, this comes as the president is getting ready to head to Orlando tomorrow, where he is going to officially launch his 2020 bid. This is a move that is going to be a rally like you've seen the president do already several times this year, but his campaign is hoping to use this to distract and draw some of that attention away from the Democrats that these internal campaign poll numbers show him trailing behind.

CABRERA: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

Michael D'Antonio is a Donald Trump biographer and the author of the "Truth About Trump". He is also a CNN contributor.

Michael, President Trump is telling supporters, the polls are fake. And yet his campaign manager doesn't deny the numbers, just says they're old. Why not just say, these are all old, things have changed. Why can't Trump do that?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Well, there are so many reasons why he wouldn't be straightforward in this matter. For one, he never likes to admit he's down at all. He wants once famously said he that he didn't understand why people talked about their humble beginnings and then ran for president. He would rather talk about being a winner at the start of life and then being a winner all the way through.

So this idea of being the come back kid or the underdog never appealed to him. So he's going to resent that notion getting out there. But he also, I think, is afraid that these were polls that would suppress the enthusiasm of his supporters.

He imagines they want to be with a winner too. And if they see reporting that, well, the president's own campaign feels that he's behind, they may lose some enthusiasm, lose that energy that he wants to carry through to 2020.

CABRERA: And so they decide to fire these pollsters. Not necessarily because they think the numbers are wrong, but because there was this leak, I can't imagine them taking that same course of action if these numbers were fantastic and were leaked to the media. If you're a member of his campaign and you have bad news, what do you do? Are people just supposed to withhold bad news?

D'ANTONIO: Boy, this has always been a conundrum for people who worked for the president. And it was a problem for people who worked for him when he was a private businessman. He is famous for not liking bad news. And he gives people an assignment, he says go out and succeed and don't come back to me until the job is done.

Well in this case, he's given people an assignment to make a campaign work for him. He doesn't want them to come back and say, well there are any problems, because that might indicate he's got problems. So, they're in a no-win situation. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. So they I --


D'ANTONIO: -- think go to the press and leak in order to get the information through to him.

CABRERA: You spent a lot of time interviewing Trump for your book. Just take a look at this strange moment from his interview with ABC.


TRUMP: At some point, I hope they get it, because it's a fantastic financial statement. It's a fantastic financial statement. And let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer.


TRUMP: I don't like that. You know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your chief of staff.

TRUMP: If you're going to cough, please leave the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you get a shot of -- I'll come over here.

TRUMP: You just can't.



TRUMP: OK. Do you want to do that a little differently then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we just change the angle. Yes. Thank you.

TRUMP: So at some point -- so at some point, I look forward to, frankly -- I'd like to have people see my financial statement.


[15:10:10] CABRERA: There's so much in that moment. Did anything there surprise you or is this just Trump, the TV producer, upset he's being interrupted mid sound bite?

D'ANTONIO: Well, one thing that did surprise me was that the president was so dismissive of Mick Mulvaney. You know, if someone had done that to me, I don't care if he is the president or my boss and done it in public and it got out over the news media, I would be very upset. I might even think about resigning. Because that was the kind of thing you would never expect someone to do to a person who is serving them as chief of staff. So that was a surprise.

The rest of it, where he's essentially an actor directing himself in his own movie, that's classic Trump. You know, he's always been the one who wants to write the script. He would like to set the camera angles. If he could do the sound, he would do that part too. So, that's very consistent with who he is. He's very sensitive to that image and the picture that's going to go out to the world.

CABRERA: Clearly comfortable on camera. I mean he knows the lingo. It's like, OK, take two, here we go. And they're back in action.

D'ANTONIO: Exactly.

CABRERA: Michael D'Antonio, got to leave it there. Thank you. Good to see you.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Today the past of Democratic candidates are colliding at an event. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, he will not be among them. We'll tell you why.

Plus, just in, front runner Joe Biden insisting that he could win several states in the south if he is the Democratic nominee. We'll discuss that.

And hear the amazing story of an 11-year-old boy protecting his family's home as he stops a home invasion with a machete. Details, just ahead.


[15:16:47] CABRERA: Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is off the campaign trail today, cancelling events to deal with a deadly police-involved shooting in South Bend, Indiana, the town where he serves as mayor. And CNN Business and Politics Reporter, Vanessa Yurkevich is in South Bend.

Vanessa, Buttigieg has come under criticism in the past for his response to police-involved shootings there in South Bend, and now getting closer scrutiny obviously because he wants to be president. Is he doing anything differently this time around?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Hi, Ana. Yes, he is. We know today the mayor has been meeting privately with community leaders and activists, coming on the heels of this police- involved shooting that left one man dead early Sunday morning. He's been identified as Eric Jack Logan, a resident here in South Bend.

Now the mayor was scheduled to be in New York this evening for an event, but he cancelled that in order to fulfill his mayoral duties here in town. He had a press conference very late last night at about 10:00 p.m., because he says he wanted to be able to speak to the community early. He says it's something he has failed to do in the past.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN) PRESEDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've had prior cases of use of force incidents and officer-involved shootings where I hesitated, frankly, to get in front of cameras, because we didn't know very much, and it was out of our hands.

But what I learned, what I was told by people in the community, is that it is important to open channels of communication to try to be clear on where the city is, even if we don't find ourselves in the position to be able to say or do much right away.


YURKEVICH: We know that the mayor met with the victims' family after that press conference, and there is a candlelight vigil scheduled for 8:00 p.m. This evening. The mayor will not be there, and it is also unclear, Ana, how long the mayor does plan to stay here in South Bend. We know he has a couple fund raisers scheduled for tomorrow in California, but it is yet to be determined whether he will be heading out to those events. Ana?

CABRERA: All right Vanessa, Yurkevich, thank you for that reporting.

Now here's some indication of how fast freshman Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen in Democratic cycles. According to several reports, president candidate, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders really, really want her endorsement. If a nod from AOC is so coveted, her appearance on one of the Sunday shows may be a little concerning to the Biden campaign.

On ABC's "this week," Ocasio-Cortez showed clear discomfort when she was asked about Joe Biden's history of being a little too touchy- feely. And here's that exchange.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC ANCHOR: So Joe Biden appears to be the front runner in virtually all the polls. Do you think he has sufficiently answered the accusations from women who accused him of inappropriate touching? Does -- in short, does he get it?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: I think that's something that he has to kind of show the electorate. I think that -- I -- you know, I think that it is an issue where there is a struggle, I'll be completely honest. I don't think that he has -- I wouldn't say that it is an incredibly severe -- like, I don't think that voters think that he is necessarily guilty of sexual misconduct or anything like that. But I do think that there may be some discomfort.


[15:20:14] CABRERA: CNN Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz is here. OAC says she's not endorsing anyone right now. It's so early, obviously. She said she would go on and endorse Biden if he becomes the nominee. But the Biden camp can't feel good about how she answered that question.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Congresswoman Ocasio- Cortez has certainly become an influential voice in the Democratic Party, especially within progressive circles. And you've seen Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren really try to work with her on policy to try to get some of that shine that she brings to many of her issues.

But then you've already seen some tensions playing out between Ocasio- Cortez and Joe Biden. You'll remember right after he got into the race, she took a veiled swipe at him, saying we don't need a middle ground approach to climate change. Biden pushed back, saying maybe she wasn't talking about him, that he has been very active on climate change.

But in that exchange, she did say that she could support him, potentially, as the nominee if that's the position that he gets. But that she also went to talk about enthusiasm, and saying that they need progressives, really want a candidate that's going to excite the base and bring voters out.

And so that's a question that some people do have about Biden. But when Biden and his team is banking on is perhaps the Democratic Party isn't as far left as some in the party believe it to be.

CABRERA: Let me ask you about something just happening in Washington moments ago. Joe Biden at this event, and a number of other candidates speaking out in D.C. He pretty aggressively announced he plans on winning the southern, aka typically red states. He talked about Georgia and North and South Carolina, even said he thinks he can win Texas and Florida. If he is the nominee. I mean, is this him basically looking right past the Democrats and directly at Trump?

SAENZ: Well, I think Biden went on to also say this is a marathon, it's a long ways away. But he certainly is trying to frame this campaign as one between himself and the president. And all of those states that he listed are typically red states. They all went for Donald Trump back in 2016. South Carolina is a state where Biden thinks he holds a particular influence. He's been a figure there for years in politics.

There was a recent poll down in Texas that actually found Biden leading Trump right now, so that could be one of the figures he's pointing to. Though it's certainly very, very early. Perhaps a little too early to tell whether one, he's going to be the nominee or two, can actually pull off wins in states like Texas and South Carolina and Georgia, which has been trending more democratic at times.

CABRERA: All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Just in, why Democrats want the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner investigated for possibly breaking the law.

Plus, a new report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and why the pilot is at the center of one theory.


[15:27:42] CABRERA: Two House Democrats accuse the president's son- in-law, Jared Kushner, of violating a statute that prohibits him from engaging in political activity in his official role as White House adviser. Congressman Ted Lieu and Don Beyer are now calling for a federal watchdog to investigate whether Kushner is in violation of the Hatch Act.

Citing a "New York Times" report that Kushner has been involved in fund-raising for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign. Larry Noble is here, he is former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.

Larry, what is legal and what isn't legal when it comes to someone in Kushner's position? LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION:

Right. Well, the Hatch Act is an 80-year-old statute that prohibits federal employees, except for the president and vice president, from doing political activity on government time or using government resources for doing political activity.

So if Jared Kushner is helping the campaign now, which he apparently is, and wants to of some control over the fund-raising of the campaign, and he's doing it on government time, then he may be in violation of the Hatch Act, a serious violation.

And so this is something that needs to be looked at. He can't just run the campaign from his office in the White House.

CABRERA: So, it is OK for someone in the White House to be involved in campaign financing or fund-raising, as long as it's after hours?

NOBLE: Well, it has to be after hours, has to be on their own time. They cannot use their official position to do it. They cannot talk -- he cannot talk about, you know, his position as adviser to the president. And, you know, frankly, it's difficult. Usually what happens in these cases is the person leaves the government service and goes over to the campaign. And that is normally what you're supposed to do. But, you know, Trump has shown already that he's not going to follow any of the normal rules.

CABRERA: And, in fact, he also has found -- we have seen with Kellyanne Conway who was found in violation of the Hatch Act and still has a job he's not going to take the recommendations of the people who investigate somebody for the Hatch Act violation. So, is it even worthy of an investigation if the outcome is the same, regardless of the findings?

NOBLE: Absolutely. You know, we cannot let Trump's disregard for the law or the people working for him, disregard for the law. You know, Kellyanne Conway said, you know, tell me when they sentence me to jail. You know, we can't let their disregard for the law change our norms.

The fact is, government employees right this moment are following that law. They know that they have to follow that law. And that they cannot do any campaigning or do any campaign activity while they're working for the government, while they're on government time.