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Pompeo: President Trump Does Not Want War With Iran; Barr's DOJ Intervenes To Keep Manafort From Going To Rikers; Amazon Condemns Congresswoman For "Starvation Wages" Comment; Alex Jones Hit With Sanctions By Judge In Sandy Hook Lawsuit. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 18, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning that President Trump is resisting being pushed into a military conflict, telling his national security advisers that he's not interested into wading into another conflict in the Middle East.

This as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is at Central Command headquarters today in Florida, talking about the recently announced deployment of yet another 1,000 American troops to the Middle East and what kind of message that's meant to send to Iran's leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been engaged in many messages, even this moment right here, communicating to Iran that we are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Those 1,000 U.S. troops are being deployed after last week's attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman near the strategic shipping lane, the Strait of Hormuz, which the U.S. blames on Iran.

CNN National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood joins me now.

Kylie, Pompeo there talking about deterrence. He has, in the past, said that all options are on the table including military. So does it sound like he's backing down, or is the military option still there?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. So just over the weekend, about 48 hours ago, he came out and very bluntly said that military action was still on be the table. And then we hear him today down at Central Command saying Trump does not want to go to war.

What happened in that period is that, number one, the administration, as you said, has sent a thousand U.S. troops to the region to back the military forces that are already there to help defend against Iranian aggression.

But we've also seen an interview from President Trump that came out, and he said he, first of all, would put a question mark to the idea of going to war with Iran over the international oil supply. But he would consider going to war with Iran over the nuclear side if they develop their nuclear weapons.

So what's important there is to watch what happens over the next week, 10 days or so, because Iran has said that they plan to breach some of the controls of the Iran nuclear deal and start producing some low enriched uranium that they weren't allowed to with the controls that the deal put in place.

MARQUARDT: Right. The President has been notoriously consistent on increasing America's military engagement around the world, often times at odds with some of his senior-most advisers, but the rhetoric is still quite strong here.

ATWOOD: Yes.

MARQUARDT: The 1,000 troops only going to raise the temperature there, so we have to imagine that the pressure is only going to keep building between the U.S. and Iran for now, right?

ATWOOD: Interestingly enough, too, it will keep building as we see this rhetoric coming from lower officials, right? So the Secretary of State in the U.S. pushing up some of the rhetoric. And also, some of the commanders of the IRGC in Iran are also saying that confrontation is more possible.

So even though the leadership is saying they don't want war -- we see that from Iran and the U.S.

MARQUARDT: Right, yes.

ATWOOD: At the working level, it seems like they aren't totally quitting it when it comes to what they're saying about the possibility of conflict.

MARQUARDT: And there are hawks on both sides who would, perhaps, like to see that happen.

ATWOOD: Right.

MARQUARDT: Kylie Atwood, we know you'll stay on that, thanks very much.

ATWOOD: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right, some good news today for President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. It now looks like he won't be going to New York City's most notorious prison, thanks to an unusual move by the Justice Department. We'll talk about who intervened in a rescue from Rikers?

[15:33:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUARDT: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort woke up in a different prison this morning. He has been transferred to a federal facility in New York City to await his trial on New York State corruption charges.

A source told CNN that New York prosecutors wanted Manafort moved to the infamous Rikers Island prison. But that may not happen, thanks to the Department of Justice here in Washington.

Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen has intervened, sharing a letter with Manhattan's District Attorney Cyrus Vance that was sent to the Bureau of Prisons by Manafort's lawyer. That letter asked for Manafort to remain in federal custody in Pennsylvania where he's currently serving time due to health reasons. Rosen's letter to D.A. Vance asked Vance to weigh in on where Manafort should be held.

Harry Litman is a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and a former U.S. Attorney. Harry, how unusual is this for the DOJ to step in on behalf of a single federal inmate, especially one who is as high profile as Paul Manafort?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: And at the level of the Deputy Attorney General, I wouldn't say unusual, Alex. I would say unheard of, literally unprecedented.

And by the way, this is the first day that the Deputy Attorney General is on the job, so it's very likely it is not even his decision. It was something that was -- he was sort of instructed to do. It's almost impossible to account for other than as a result of some kind of political intrusion, which makes it worrisome.

MARQUARDT: Well, actually, Manafort's attorney did admit to CNN that the Attorney General's involvement was, as he put it, super unusual. But it's his job, the lawyer said, because the A.G. does have custody of federal inmates. Do you agree with that?

LITMAN: Well, it's certainly his job. Lawyers do it all the time, and maybe it gets to the level of the U.S. Attorney who, all the time, says, I'm -- I have fielded requests like this on dozens of occasions. Look, the best I can do is maybe make some kind of request to the Bureau of Prisons, which totally decides this.

[15:40:09] Here you have the Department of Justice, in the person of the Deputy Attorney General -- I can't emphasize how high up that is -- basically intervening to push against the state authorities who have made the entirely routine request that Manafort be housed in Rikers Island, which is well known to be a not very fun spot to be imprisoned in although he would have been in protective custody.

This is a huge solid on behalf of DOJ to Manafort. And of course, it seems to communicate the DOJ, which before had been the worrisome force for Manafort.

MARQUARDT: Right.

LITMAN: What would Mueller say is, they -- he's now got a friend there.

MARQUARDT: Right. LITMAN: And why does he have a friend there? Well, presumably

because he has friends in very high places now including the Oval Office.

MARQUARDT: Yes, and that's a good point. President Trump repeatedly, throughout Manafort's judicial proceedings, praised him for being loyal, unlike others like Michael Cohen who is also in prison now. And that, of course, begs the question, why do you think Manafort is so important to the President?

LITMAN: Well, I can only think of one reason, and that is, he has information that he has, to date, withheld or sort of been cute about that would really be inculpatory of Trump, and he has basically played it tough.

Of course, another way of putting that is he has made it very difficult for the Department of Justice to prosecute serious crimes. That would normally be something the Department of Justice wouldn't take kindly to, and it wasn't when Mueller was running an investigation. Now, it seems we've had a reversal of fortune and pretty much everyone is arrayed in Paul Manafort's favor, notwithstanding his having been convicted of extremely serious federal crimes.

MARQUARDT: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Harry Litman, thanks as always for your expertise.

LITMAN: Thank you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Now, coming up next, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez is on the attack against Amazon for what it pays to its workers. But the company has been firing back. We will break down the numbers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:47:18] MARQUARDT: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is, once again, taking on Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. In an interview on Sunday with ABC's "This Week," the freshman Congresswoman from New York was asked about the more progressive economic system that she champions when she said that any economy that cultivates billionaires like Bezos is immoral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: If his being a billionaire is predicated on paying people starvation wages and stripping them of their ability to access health care, and also if his ability to be a billionaire is predicated on the fact that his workers take food stamps so I'm paying for him to be a billionaire, I don't --

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that's why he's a billionaire, because he pays his workers starvation wages and --

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it's certainly a part of the equation when you have a very large workforce and you underpay every single person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Starvation wages. Now, Amazon is firing back, saying in a statement, quote, these allegations are absurd. Amazon associates receive industry leading pay, starting at $15 an hour. Amazon prepays 95 percent of continuing education tuition costs through its Career Choice program for associates who want to pursue in-demand careers.

Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political commentator.

Catherine, thanks so much for joining me.

Amazon's main headquarters, as we know, is in Seattle. That's an expensive city. They have people all over the country. What do you think of Ocasio-Cortez's accusation there that these wages which, as Amazon mentioned, start at $15 are starvation wages?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: So I think the first thing I need to do is make a disclosure, of course, right? "The Washington Post" is personally owned by Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, and he is CEO of Amazon.

But as to your specific question about this critique of Amazon, I think the thing to keep in mind is that this kind of critique was arguably true at one point. That the people who worked at Amazon did not make very much money, particularly relative to other kinds of opportunities they might have had. But as you just read aloud, Amazon now pays a $15 an hour entry wage. They do offer benefits to their workers.

And I think one thing that, you know, those on the left need to keep in mind is that they need to update. If their goal is to shame companies into raising workers' wages, which may or may not have been what happened here, if they don't update, if they continue to shame those same companies even after they have done the things that have been asked of them and they're still being shamed for their past behavior, what incentive would they ever have to cave in the future?

[15:50:02] So I think that's something that we need to keep in mind as we critique these kinds of companies, that if they do better, if they do offer, in the case of Amazon, more than their competitors do, if they do offer the minimum wage -- the minimum wage that many on the left are calling for as a federal legally binding wage floor, that you can't keep criticizing them for things that were the case, you know, maybe five, 10 years ago.

MARQUARDT: And really, Catherine, the main critique of Amazon is that they put all sorts of shops out of business, most notably mom and pop stores. You do have a new op-ed out today about how the President's escalating trade war could hurt the retail business.

RAMPELL: Yes. So retail has been in a crisis for a while now, right? They have had lots of different struggles, starting with, in the case of the mom and pops, you know, getting displaced by the big box stores.

Now, the big box stores are in trouble as well, in part because they have been displaced by e-commerce, by companies like Amazon. They've struggled to adapt. Malls were arguably overbuilt over the last several decades. And so we've seen a lot of stores closing. We've seen something like 160,000 jobs lost in this industry since January of 2017.

These are long-term structural trends, which is why Trump's trade war, his escalation of the trade war, is particularly ill-timed because just as this industry is going through this very painful restructuring, he -- Trump is basically raising their costs by saying, OK, consumer goods coming from China are now going to go up by 25 percent. These companies already have pretty razor-thin profit margins as it is.

MARQUARDT: Right.

RAMPELL: They are already struggling.

MARQUARDT: Right.

RAMPELL: You could imagine that this is stressing that at exactly the wrong time.

MARQUARDT: All right. Catherine Rampell, thanks very much.

Our breaking news in the case against a right-wing conspiracy theorist being sued by the families of Sandy Hook victims, what a judge just decided about Alex Jones.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:57:33] MARQUARDT: Just in to CNN, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who is being sued by the families of the Sandy Hook massacre for his claims that the 2012 shooting was staged, he's been sanctioned by a Connecticut judge. The unusual ruling comes after attorneys who are representing several Sandy Hook families filed a motion asking the judge to review footage of Jones blasting one of the attorneys on his Webcast.

CNN Business Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy joins me now.

Oliver, what does that mean that he's been sanctioned by this judge, and what is the status of those lawsuits against him?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, perhaps Alex Jones now regrets peddling this baseless conspiracy theory, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Right.

DARCY: A Connecticut judge just sanctioned him in the case of the Sandy Hook families filing a lawsuit against him. And the sanctions mean that Jones can no longer pursue special motions to dismiss this case moving forward. So it's going to move forward. Probably around November 2020 is when the trial is going to take place, and Jones can no longer file those special motions to dismiss the case.

What happened here is a little confusing, so bear with me. But Jones went on his Friday broadcast, his Friday show, and accused the Sandy Hook lawyers, the lawyers representing the Sandy Hook families, of planting child pornography in a trove of documents that he had turned over to them as part of the discovery process in this lawsuit. Now, of course, those lawyers denied doing so, and they said they contacted the FBI when they discovered the child pornography in these documents that Jones had given them.

And then they also went a step further. They filed a motion on Monday asking the judge to review Jones' broadcast on Friday accusing them of this heinous crime. The judge reviewed that footage and, just moments ago, issued a ruling. She called the behavior from Jones indefensible, unconscionable, and possibly criminal. She then leveled those sanctions, which also include awarding the Sandy Hook attorney's -- attorneys' fees in this case.

And the trial looks like it's going to move forward. Jones, for those who don't know, of course, is being sued by Sandy Hook families for suggesting or actually stating that the shooting was staged back in 2012, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, Oliver Darcy in our New York bureau, thanks very much.

DARCY: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And as we close out this hour, we have live pictures of Air Force One as President Trump prepares to leave the White House and head to Florida -- Orlando, Florida -- for his official 2020 re- election campaign kickoff rally. He may answer questions from reporters on his way out of Washington as he so often does. If so, we will bring that to you, live.

[16:00:05] And that'll do it for me. I'm Alex Marquardt.