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House Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Felix Sater; Presidential Candidates to Appear at James Clyburn's Fish Fry Tonight; Envisioning War With Iran. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:36] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This just in to CNN, former Trump associate Felix Sater became the latest witness not to show up this morning for his closed-door interview with the staff of the House Intelligence Committee. And now, that committee is issuing a subpoena to compel his testimony.

Felix Sater's lawyer, Robert Wolf, said that his client cannot appear for health reasons. We'll continue to follow this and bring you updates.

Also this morning, the Democrats are vowing to take new legal action as we learn exactly what longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks told the House Judiciary Committee and what she did not tell them, most of it in the latter category.

The 273-page transcript of the closed-door interview reveals the White House blocked her from answering more than 150 questions asked during her eight-hour testimony.

Hicks, however, did admit that she sometimes told what she characterized as "white lies." But, again, only, as she characterized them, on small matters.

She also responded to this infamous 2016 speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


SCIUTTO: Hicks claimed that, "This was not a comment that was intended as an instructive or a directive to a foreign government. It was a joke. And that was the intent, based on my conversation with him, and that was it." That's her description.

TEXT: Ms. Hicks: his was not a comment that was intended as an instructive or a directive to a foreign government. It was a joke. And that was the intent, based on my conversation with him, and that was it. Q: And what did he say in that conversation about the statement? Ms. Hicks: Just what I just said, that it was intended as a light-hearted comment.

SCIUTTO: With me now, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

Let's get to the president's lawyers denying a former White House official's ability to answer, really, any question, claiming absolute immunity.


SCIUTTO: Does that exist?

WU: It does exist. It's usually used more in the context of police brutality cases, where officials have immunity. It's really qualified immunity, like if they're acting reasonably within the scope of their jobs. So it's really testing the boundary here. They're being very aggressive.

There's almost a three-tier defense they're using. The first is absolute immunity, meaning they can't be compelled to talk, period. Second, they can go to the more traditional executive privilege. And, third, there's Hope Hicks saying, "I just don't remember."


WU: And actually, it's kind of interesting, that last quote you just played from her. They should have objected to that. So they're obviously just cherry-picking when they're letting her answer. There, she's giving an answer that's very helpful to the president --


WU: -- so we're not going to object to that.


So the Dems are going to challenge this in court. That might take some time.

WU: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, politically, the president's clearly calculating he doesn't lose anything by just saying no to everything --

WU: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- and then people will eventually get bored. From a legal standpoint, when they do eventually get to court, how is a court likely to rule on this stuff?

WU: Most likely, the court will rule against such a broad assertion of complete immunity, even a very broad assertion of executive privilege. It is a ground game, though. And so Congress is trying to play the ground game. They're trying to lay the framework. Having them come in and object to all these questions lays a good record.

Of course, the president's team is playing a ground game too. And they're running out the clock.


WU: So I think legally, the court should rule in their favor. But there is the sort of Hail Mary pass, to use a football metaphor here, where A.G. Barr certainly is a big believer in an imperial presidency. And so he's perhaps hoping that a conservative Supreme Court will go with him on that and grant a very broad deference to both executive privilege and immunity.

SCIUTTO: So, Felix Sater, former Trump associate, essential to the broader Russia investigation, just simply doesn't show up this morning. His lawyer's claiming health reasons. I suppose that's possible here. But eventually, particularly if they issue a subpoena, he will have to show up and answer questions.

TEXT: Who is Felix Sater? Russian-born business associate of Trump; Chief negotiator for Trump Tower Moscow project; Sent e-mail to Michael Cohen that suggested the project could help Trump become president

[10:35:01] WU: Right, right. And it's a little bit odd because from the public reporting, he seems like he's willing to answer questions, even wanted to do it in public. It is normal, you'd want to first meet with him in private with your staff investigators, to get a preview of what he's going to say. So not sure why he's not showing up, whether that's a change of heart or not.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a final question on Hope Hicks. She said she only told white lies on behalf of the president. Now, we know that she told some consequential lies because she was willing to lie, for instance, about the president's relationships with women, which folks might claim a reason to know about. But also payments to those women, which --

WU: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- are now subject of an ongoing legal investigation. What -- how does the law see what is a white lie and what's a lie?

WU: I think the bigger problem for them, again, is they're cherry- picking. They're being too cute (ph) with that. They want her to be able to characterize things that she wants to say as white lies because that's helpful to the president.

But when you look at it legally, it's going to be where do you draw that distinction. If you're talking privilege or immunity, there's not going to be only privilege or immunity for a big lie versus a small lie. It's whether you talk about it or not. And she's talking about it.

SCIUTTO: Shan Wu, thanks very much. Former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker will come face-

to-face for the first time today amid the fallout over Biden's comments about his willingness in the past to work with segregationist senators. What we can expect? That is ahead.


[10:42:00] SCIUTTO: Former vice president, Joe Biden, and Senator Cory Booker will meet face-to-face later today at Congressman James Clyburn's world-famous fish fry campaign event in South Carolina.

This comes amid their very public spat this week over Biden's comments about his past, working at times with segregationist senators. Booker, telling CNN last night the two had a direct but respectful phone conversation regarding the issue.

Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren just unveiled her plan, the latest of many plans, to ban private prisons and detentions facilities if she becomes president. Joining me now to discuss all this, CNN political director David Chalian.

Booker v. Biden --


SCIUTTO: Does it end?

CHALIAN: Yes. It will end. I don't think -- I don't think either one of them is going to want this to be the defining characteristic of their candidacy. But what you see here is that it is not at resolution yet, right? I mean, I would expect another beat of this story. Either Joe Biden may want to say something when he's down in South Carolina.

There does seem to be -- you mentioned the phone call that they had. Both sides called it "respectful," but no apology was offered in either direction. And so that, to me, suggests they still don't see eye-to-eye on this in some ways.


CHALIAN: So I do think we will probably hear something more from each of them this weekend, especially because they will both be, you know, South Carolina, it's majority African-America electorate in the Democratic primary there. This is going to be a front-and-center issue.

SCIUTTO: So Clyburn, interestingly -- of course, an African-American -- he's made a public statement in defense of Joe Biden, saying, "Listen, I had to work with these people too." Long history, just what you had to do to get stuff done. Is there a generational split on how this issue is viewed?

CHALIAN: I think there is a bit of a generational split. I do think a lot of older African-Americans did indeed like to -- Clyburn says he had to work with Strom Thurmond, being in the delegation from South Carolina.

I do think we are seeing -- Marty Savidge was out, our colleague, talking to a lot of voters in South Carolina. There does seem to be a generational divide on this. But also, listen, even the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Karen Bass, said yesterday, Joe Biden has nothing to apologize for. But do I think this is the best example --


CHALIAN: -- of working with people with whom you disagree? No. Maybe he could find another example. So I don't know if Joe Biden's going to continue to tell this story the way that he has over the past many years in his career.

SCIUTTO: Well, what's interesting is this early in the campaign cycle, you had unnamed sources inside his own campaign, telling Jeff Zeleny, Arlette Saenz that, well, he should not have gone there.

CHALIAN: Right. Which is never a good --


CHALIAN: -- good moment for your campaign, when you have unnamed advisors saying their advice publicly.

Again, you saw Joe Biden get pretty defiant about this. He doesn't believe he has something to apologize for here. Cory Booker thinks that Joe Biden needs to not -- he says, not to apologize to him, but just to explain why he --


CHALIAN: -- you know, used this word that is so harmful on many people.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Those were his words on CNN last night, apologize to the American people, not to him personally.

Elizabeth Warren, she is out with another plan, to ban private prisons, detention facilities including in relation to border facilities here, of course very much on the news.

TEXT: Warren's Prison Ban Proposal: End all private prisons, detention facilities contracts; Prohibit contractors from charging incarcerated individuals for basic services; Create independent prison conditions monitor that sets quality standards, investigates contractors

[10:45:04] SCIUTTO: But is this her path to being -- I mean, right now, you might argue as the number two candidate for the Democratic nomination?

CHALIAN: She's certainly in a battle for that number two spot with Bernie Sanders. Listen, she has made this her calling card, of policy after policy after policy. This particular policy gets at the heart of one of her main overriding themes, which is that she thinks these for-profit prisons or detention facilities are part of sort of the Washington corruption game --


CHALIAN: -- and the revolving door, that people leave government and go and then make a buck --


CHALIAN: -- off of detaining people. And she said when she's president, she will shut that down. She doesn't think people should profit off of detaining human beings.

SCIUTTO: Right. OK. Pete Buttigieg, drawn back into the reality of being local mayor, right? Here, in that there are ongoing issues back in South Bend that now is going to take him away from another major campaign event.

CHALIAN: Yes. So we just learned from his campaign, he's going to miss this big fish fry that Jim Clyburn is hosting tonight, a big event on the campaign trail, because he still has to attend to business back home. You know, there was a police officer-involved shooting in South Bend.

And this is the reality, when you have a day job and you're running for president, Jim, sometimes the day job overtakes you. And so he's going to head back home to participate in a march tonight in South Bend, and then he'll be back on the campaign trail again in South Carolina tomorrow. But he does miss an event tonight.

But I think Pete Buttigieg has had a real tough time as mayor in terms of the South Bend Police Department and racial relations in that city. And so for him to miss this kind of moment in his city would be even more problematic.

SCIUTTO: And that, of course, a national issue as well --


SCIUTTO: -- in this race. David Chalian, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: As some in Washington steadily beat the drum for war with Iran, what exactly would be in store for the U.S. if an all-out conflict were to take place? We're going to look at those possibilities -- they are alarming -- and that's next.


[10:51:49] SCIUTTO: With the U.S. on the brink of military conflict with Iran, what exactly would a war between the U.S. and Iran look like? Especially considering the widespread support Iran has within the region. CNN's Nic Robertson takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): The last time the U.S. went to war in the Mideast, Iraq 2003, this is what it looked like. Shock and awe, the dictator felled in weeks followed by years of terrorist insurgency.

A war with Iran won't be the same. It risks spreading to the whole region, and fast. Here's why. Iran will fight an asymmetric war, use its network of regional proxies to target the U.S. and its allies far from Iran.

Shia militia in Iraq could target U.S. forces. Hezbollah in Lebanon could fire missiles on Israeli cities, as could Hamas from Gaza. Hezbollah and Shia militias in Syria could target U.S. forces there. Houthi rebels in Yemen could target U.S. and Saudi forces in Saudi and the UAE. Even in Afghanistan, Iran has loyal fighters who could attack U.S. troops there. The U.S. would suddenly be threatened on many fronts far from Iran.

Iran would also use its conventional forces, currently close to 1 million service personnel, to target U.S. allies and bases in the region. Its navy would likely shut down vital oil shipping routes in the Strait of Hormuz, cutting the world from one-fifth of its energy supplies.

And Iran may very possibly fire missiles at Emirati and Saudi cities, as well as Israel too. Not to mention, attack U.S. military bases in Qatar, Saudi, the UAE, Iraq and even Afghanistan. Turning off this war would not be fast.

Iran is not small, nearly 2.5 times the size of Texas. Remember Jimmy Carter's ill-fated 1980 helicopter mission to rescue the 52 U.S. hostages in Tehran. It has mountains and desert, think a combo of Iraq and Afghanistan, searingly hot in the summer, sub-zero in the winter.

By every conventional metric, the U.S. will outgun Iran along with its allies. It should have the upper hand. But its Achilles' heel will be regional stability and the cost to the global economy. And that's what Iran is counting on. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


SCIUTTO: Well, those are the stakes now if this escalates. And we saw how close we came yesterday, 10 minutes away from a significant U.S. military strike on Iranian assets. There's still enormous U.S. and Iranian military assets very close to each other in that region. We're going to stay on top of all the breaking news in the coming hours and days.

[10:55:00] Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR" is up next.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining us this hour. The breaking news, President Trump confirming just a short time ago, the U.S. military was ready to strike Iran when he abruptly aborted that mission with just minutes to spare.

Why? The commander-in-chief, revealing the details of his decision on Twitter.


HILL: "On Monday, they shot down an unmanned drone flying in international waters," he wrote. "We were cocked and loaded to retaliate last night on three different sights, when I asked, 'How many will die?' 'One hundred fifty people, sir,' was the answer from a general.

"10 minutes before the strike, I stopped it. Not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.