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Biden Defiant Amid Democrats Uproar Over Segregationist Remarks; Senator Booker Demands Biden Apologize Over Segregationist Remarks; Investors Optimistic About Fed Rate Cut as Early as July. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:01] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The country says it does not want war but it is ready for war.

The U.S. says the drone was hit by a missile in international airspace and a critical place right over the Strait of Hormuz disputing Iran's reports that the aircraft was actually over Iran at that point. That's the same stretch of water where two tankers were attacked last week.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: To be clear, this is not a small drone. The Global Hawk is nearly 50 feet long, has a swing span of 130 feet. That is equivalent to a Boeing 757 commercial aircraft. It is the largest drone aircraft in the United States arsenal.

We are covering this from Washington and from Tehran. Let's begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

This was flying very high. It's a $150 million aircraft. What can you tell us about how it was taken down and whether there's any precedent for this.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, Jim, good morning. The Pentagon is calling this an unprovoked attack in international airspace. It may be an indication, another indication of Iran's improvement in its surface-to-air missile targeting and precision capabilities, so that is going to be something that is very worrisome that Iran would have this capability.

This drone's mission is intelligence gathering, and clearly it is part of the U.S. effort to keep its eyes and ears on Iran right now to see if they're moving their forces around, to see what they may be up to. This is drone that can stay up in the air for some 30 hours and survey thousands of square miles in that time. So this is a very important asset to the U.S. military. But it may be interesting to pause for a minute and think about what Iran has been doing.

There have been drone attacks, no pilots at risk. They're not attacking manned U.S. aircraft, and these tanker attacks but attacks above the waterline on these tankers to minimize the chance that they would sink. So they're causing plenty of damage but Iran is stopping short right now of directly attacking any assets that would involve injury to U.S. troops in the region. They are not going after U.S. forces in the region at the moment, and that may be a very important message.

There are a lot of people who increasingly think this is about Iran trying to pressure the U.S. to ease up on the sanctions and that all of this is message sending by Tehran. But make no mistake, it's a very dangerous business and at any point the danger is that one side or the other could miscalculate.

HARLOW: Yes, exactly. All right, Barbara, stay with us.

Let's bring in Frederik Pleitgen, our senior international correspondent.

You have the unique view because you are again this morning on the ground in Tehran. So what is the government saying in Tehran? And I'm very interested in just how the Iranian people are responding.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iranian people, of course, are very concerned about the rising tensions, Poppy, between the U.S. and Iran. I've been speaking to folks really over the past couple of days. Now a lot of them said, yes, of course, they are quite concerned that this could descend into some sort of war between the U.S. and Iran. Of course all of them we always have to keep in mind are very much suffering under the economic situation as well.

And I think one of the things for many Iranians right now that they're thinking about is the fact that they don't really see any way out of this. They don't see these two countries, these two governments coming closer together to try and better the situation for the folks here living on the ground. But it's very interesting, guys, to just hear what Barbara said because I think it's something that we picked up on here from what the Iranians were saying as well.

They gave a very detailed rundown over what they said that this drone did after it took off, which is something I've never seen before from the Iranian side. They said it took off shortly after midnight then made its way into the Persian Gulf area, into the Strait of Hormuz area. They says it masqueraded its transponding equipment, which I'm guessing it means that it turned its transponder off, or tried to do something else of that nature. It said then made a turn towards Iranian airspace, violated Iranian airspace and was then shot down by Iranian air defense system somewhere over the south of Iran, south of the Strait of Hormuz.

That's some detail that I really have never heard from Iranians before which could indicate what Barbara was saying that their capabilities to track U.S. aircraft and also of course fire at them with their air defense missiles might indeed be improving considerably. The Iranians have said that for them this is an absolutely red line.

I want to read to you a statement from the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the unit that shot down this drone. This is the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and he said and I quote, we have no intention to fight any countries, but we are completely ready for war. What happened today was an obvious sign of this accurate message. So the Iranians obviously making very clear that what they did today was an absolute message to the United States, guys.

HARLOW: Wow.

SCIUTTO: Quite a message. Not clear there's precedent.

Joe Johns is at the White House.

And, Joe, there seems to be contrast between the statements of Secretary Pompeo, Tom Cotton, a Republican senator who's been pushing very openly for military action here, military response, and the president.

[09:05:05] The president told "TIME" magazine, "I wouldn't say that," when asked if he was considering military action against Iran. Do you sense that there is a split within this administration about how forcefully to respond here?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you this, they're certainly putting out mixed messages as you indicated right there, Jim, and talking privately to people who are knowledgeable about the situation and it's pretty clear that one of the justifications for the administration trying to downplay all of this is in their view the belief that Iran's provocations including the attacks on the tankers in the Gulf recently have been essentially motivated by a willingness to try to affect the oil markets. And they haven't done a very good job of affecting the oil markets at least so far.

The president even last night on his favorite TV channel was playing down concerns about Iran. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: As you look at the geopolitical work- up there, Iran, Russia, China, tell me your concerns.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry about a thing. Everything's under control. And right now they've got problems.

HANNITY: Will you say they'd never get nukes?

TRUMP: But we'll see what happens.

HANNITY: They'd never nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: I would say if I were you, don't worry about a thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So nothing substantive today out of the White House. They have been deferring to the Defense Department on information. Also important to point out that the administration has announced that it's sending 1,000 more U.S. troops to the region. So put that together with the president saying there's nothing to worry about. Back to you. SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: OK. Thank you all for the great reporting, Barbara Starr, Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran, Joe Johns at the White House.

Let's bring in retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Good morning to you, sir. It was not --

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: It was not long ago last month, May 13th, the president said about Iran, quote, "If they do anything they will suffer greatly. Now we hear from Centcom as Barbara just reported that this was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset.

So what are the range of options for the United States now? Right? What is a proportional response to this?

MARKS: Well, clearly the United States never takes options off the table, and they have a host of things they could do. I would think within reason the United States could conduct a very limited, very precise strike against the firing battery that was responsible for taking down that global hawk surveillance aircraft, unmanned aircraft.

The good news obviously is that it's 150 bucks, but nobody was in it. So I mean, that's kind of the cost of doing business, which is why we have really developed that technology. So to your point they could go take the firing battery out. Very precise, very limited strike and do not at the same time demonstrate any other capabilities that would give the Iranians alert or pause or concern that there was something else that we were going to try to do. So very limited strike.

SCIUTTO: But --

HARLOW: I mean --

SCIUTTO: General Marks, that's a limited strike that would be on Iranian territory.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Right?

MARKS: Sure.

SCIUTTO: The firing battery would be --

MARKS: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Inside Iran's borders here and then when you put that together with -- listen, this is the largest drone in the U.S. arsenal. He has no pilot in front here but as you said $150 million, we looked to see if there was a precedent for shooting down a drone of this size and couldn't find one. I mean, those two things here. The shoot down plus firing back on Iranian territory --

HARLOW: Sounds like a lot. Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- sounds remarkably dangerous.

MARKS: Well, it is remarkably dangerous and it's very provocative. Let's agree if we can. Look, my view of Tehran, if their lips are moving, they're lying. So how they reconcile what the positioning, what the -- you know, the geopolitical -- I'm sorry, the geo- positional data on that UAV was, I discount that. The United States has indicated there was an international space, let's agree that that's where it was.

HARLOW: OK.

MARKS: They struck and they took down and whether they said they did it or not, we can attribute to the fact that the UAV went down as a result of their actions. So the United States, look, rule number one always when the United States deploys is to provide forced protection for those that are in region, that are deployed, that are at risk. That's rule one. Rule two is de-escalate. Let's put the intellectual before the physical. Let's figure out what's going on. And so rule three, there's always a rule three. If rule two doesn't work, we're going to crush you.

So there's legitimate concern about a strike on Iran against that very specific firing battery but the Iranians were very provocative and took down a U.S. aircraft albeit unmanned. That's a distinction without a difference, let's be frank here. Unmanned, took it down in international airspace. So we have options. You asked the questions where the options.

HARLOW: So --

MARKS: There it is.

HARLOW: So, Spider, to you. Let's say -- play this out for a moment. If that were to be the response that the administration chooses, how does that help achieve the end goal of stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon at all cost?

[09:10:09] Would that not -- knowing the regime in Iran, would that not simply motivate them to move more quickly with their uranium enrichment?

MARKS: Well, their uranium enrichment is already accelerating.

HARLOW: Yes.

MARKS: So I would say that Iran is going to do what it wants almost irrespective of what we do. What we want to be able to do -- and I'm not sure that we have had a full discussion from this administration, with this administration in terms of what the desired end state looks like relative to this current state of affairs.

I mean, you start with the strategy first and then you can backtrack in terms of what's going on and what the conditions look like. And so it's a series of action, reactions and then counter actions that then lead you to a desired instinct. I think again we'd agree I'm not sure what that looks like. And if it is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, we're not in a better place now than we were previously based on this.

If it is to accelerate regime change, I would say we've got a pretty checkered past in terms of doing that well. So I really --

HARLOW: Sure.

MARKS: Frankly, Poppy I don't know what the end state is.

HARLOW: Wow.

SCIUTTO: It's not clear, hasn't been articulated either.

HARLOW: No. No. And it's so significant, we can't overstate the importance of this.

Thank you for your expertise, we appreciate it. Major General James "Spider" Marks.

MARKS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Biden backlash. The Democratic frontrunner facing growing criticism from his 2020 rivals within the Democratic Party after his controversial comments about working with segregationist lawmakers. But the former vice president is the one demanding an apology from Senator Cory Booker. That's next.

HARLOW: Plus dozens of police officers this morning under investigation in Philadelphia and St. Louis. What the officer said on social media that forced officials to pull a lot of them off the street.

And this is just unbelievable but it's actually happening. A case of mistaken identity? Dominican authorities say David Ortiz was not the intended target of that shooting in the Dominican, so who was? We're on it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: This morning, former Vice President Joe Biden defiant as his Democratic rivals slam his controversial comments about his willingness to work with a segregationist. Here's what he said, quote, "I was in the caucus with James O. Eastland, he never called me boy, he always called me son, but guess what? At least, there was some civility. We got things done, we didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done."

HARLOW: Several opponents taking issue with that comment including Senator Cory Booker who demanded that Biden apologize for referencing the racist lawmaker and for, quote, "using that hurtful language." Biden did not apologize, instead he fired back with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize? Like Cory Booker --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think, guys --

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): His posture should be to me, I've done nothing wrong, you should apologize, I'm not a racist. It's so insulting, I will never apologize for doing that, and Vice President Biden shouldn't need this lesson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Let's speak more about this with David Swerdlick; he's assistant editor at "The Washington Post", and Alex Burns; a national political correspondent at the "New York Times". So, Alex, it would seem to me this is an easy one for the Vice President to say listen, I grossly disagreed with Eastland on the issue of segregation, you know, and please never doubt the fact -- you know, never doubt this point. Well, why is he going on the attack back against Cory Booker in the midst of this race?

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Going on offense against Booker, it just really does reveal how defensive Biden is right now on this specific subject, and more generally on the subject of his very long and complicated and sometimes more conservative record in politics.

That one of the organizing principles of his campaign from the very beginning, and this comes from Biden himself is, he doesn't want to run around apologizing for everything he's ever done in politics. He seems to have taken that almost to the opposite extreme, he doesn't really want to apologize for anything at this point, right?

And the fact that he's not able to hit that right tone when he's talking about the old days in the Senate, that this is just how business was done --

SCIUTTO: Right --

BURNS: And he can't manage to do that without sounding nostalgic or like he thinks that things might have been better then, it's just a huge gap culturally, instinctively, tonally between himself --

SCIUTTO: Generational --

HARLOW: Generationally --

BURNS: Generationally -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

BURNS: Between himself and the rest of the Democratic field and much of the Democratic base.

HARLOW: So, David, our reporting is that Biden's advisors have been worried about this, right? Because it's not the first time he's done --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: This. In his 2007 book, he wrote similar sentiments about working with Eastland, et cetera, right? And he did it anyways at this fundraiser, and now he's not apologizing, his senior adviser, Simone Sanders who is an African-American woman wrote, "he did not praise a segregationist, that is a disingenuous take. He basically said sometimes in Congress, one has to work with terrible or down-right racist folks to get things done."

OK, so they're trying to clean this up. He's not going to apologize, I don't think, that's become pretty clear, it'd be a big reversal if he does. But the question becomes at this point, how many of these can he sustain and not feel it in the polls?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, indeed, that is the question. Good morning, Poppy and Jim. And I agree with you and I agree with Alex that if you are on Joe Biden's team, Vice President Biden's team and advising him, you wouldn't want him to go out there apologizing for everything from this to his Iraq war vote to the Anita Hill hearings.

But as a matter of strategy, what I think his team including Simone Sanders, our former CNN colleague, have to sort of convey to him is that the tone and the content of some of these comments is really out of step with where the electorate is today.

[09:20:00] Vice President Biden is leading in polls among African- Americans. He's comfortable with African-American voters and African- American voters are comfortable with him. But he's taking heat from this -- from Senator Booker and others because, one, he, you know, sort of rolled out this reference to the word "boy", which he should know better as Senator Booker pointed out has traditionally been an insult meant to emasculate African-American men.

And the second thing again, as Alex said, is that a lot of Democrats are getting weary of this sort of call back to civility. What a lot of Democrats I think are going to come at him now in these debates and say, look, you talk about civility, but civility got you more than a 100 judicial vacancies that the Obama administration and Democrats in the Senate didn't press on.

And now --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

SWERDLICK: President Trump has been able to fill them himself, and I would like to know what Vice President Biden is going to do in those debates to answer that question.

SCIUTTO: We should be clear there's not a blanket response to this. We should note that the House Majority Whip --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: One of the highest-ranking Democrats in the house, Representative James Clyburn, the senior most African-American in the house, he jumped to Biden's defense, telling "Politico", a quote in here, "I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life. You don't have to agree with people to work with them." Strom Thurmond of course, notably a famous segregationist among other things.

But I wonder, Alex Burns, what we're seeing here is a potentially bitter race among Democratic candidates, right? Being willing to take shots at each other on this and other things. It's natural in a hard fought -- hard fought primary. Of course, the concern is, how much does that damage whoever the eventual nominee is?

BURNS: Well, I think what we saw over the last couple of days for starters is that, if Joe Biden thought he was going to be able to make it through this race with this sort of above-the-phrase --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BURNS: Statement like pose, focusing on President Trump, that is not going to happen. I would say on top of that, what's so interesting about the way Cory Booker has approached the last 24 hours is that he is sort of channeling moral indignation. He's not going on attack against Joe Biden in a personal way.

And I quickly just heard of him saying Joe Biden shouldn't need this lesson. It's an extraordinarily deft and gentle way of suggesting that former Vice President might not really be in touch with the times, right? That we ought to have a nominee who doesn't need to learn this now. He's not coming out and saying Joe Biden just doesn't get it --

HARLOW: Even --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Even Terry McAuliffe, right, who was governor of Virginia, the capital of the confederacy, a good friend of Biden this morning on CNN said, he screwed up here. You know, so interesting to see what he does in the next 24 hours.

SCIUTTO: Alex Burns, David Swerdlick, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Hope Hicks did not answer questions at this hearing yesterday. The White House citing absolute immunity there. Well, now the Chairman of the committee Jerry Nadler says his committee will quote "destroy" that argument in court.

SCIUTTO: Yes, she wouldn't even say where her office was in the White House, by the way. We are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors are reacting positively this morning after the Federal Reserve at least set the door open to interest rate cuts as early as next month.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: This morning, we do know that former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks refused to answer any questions about her time in the White House to the House Judiciary Committee. What we don't know yet is what questions she did answer. We could learn that soon. Transcripts of Hicks' testimony are expected to be released, they could be short transcripts.

White House lawyers claimed absolute immunity on any questions about Hicks' time at the White House. She would not even say where her office was in the White House. A claim that the Chairman Nadler says will be destroyed in court.

HARLOW: Let's talk about this with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, she is the number two-ranked Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, also an attorney who knows the law very well. So, let's go to that issue of Nadler saying that this will be destroyed in court and of course it'll come out on your side on this. Is that the next step, take Hope Hicks to court?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, I assume whether it's hope Hicks or any of the other former employees or current employees of the White House. The assertion that they're completely immune from answering any question from Congress is ridiculous. There's no basis in law for that. And that needs to be sorted out and will be, I have confidence in the favor of the people's house, Congress.

HARLOW: Here is how some of your Republicans on the committee put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): This is not something that we need to be doing when we have a border crisis, when we have other things going on. This is just another press release date for the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is complete waste of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Explain to the American people why you think this hearing was a valuable use of time? Because you guys did go into this knowing that the White House was going to exert this executive privilege.

LOFGREN: Well, not all the questions to Miss Hicks were about her time in the White House. There were also questions directed to her for her time in the campaign which she did answer. In fact --

HARLOW: OK --

LOFGREN: My questions were about that. So we did get some information, it's clear from her answers, and she was under oath, so I assume she was telling the truth that she did not have a broad understanding of all of the elements.

[09:30:00]