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President Trump Gives Democrats Two Weeks to Make a Deal on the Border; Buttigieg Faces Intense Criticism Over Police Shooting Response; Sanders to Unveil Plan to Cancel $1.6 Trillion in Student Loan Debt; Trump to Impose New Sanctions on Iran Today; Iran Claims Recent U.S. Cyber Attacks Have Failed; Iran Warns Downing of U.S. Drone Can Be Repeated. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 24, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:17] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow has the day off.

The administration says it is ready impose new sanctions on Iran just hours after Iran says that it would shoot down another U.S. drone if it had to. It is not clear how extensive these new sanctions will be. U.S. already blocks most Iranian oil sales. And we should note this threat comes just after the president reversed at the very last minute military strikes on Iran. At the same time the U.S. is saying it is ready for negotiations with Iran with no pre-conditions but today Iran is saying it will not be pressured into negotiations.

We're covering all the angles from Washington right to the ground in Tehran. Let's get right, though, at the start with CNN's Joe Johns who is live at the White House.

Joe, do we have any details as to what these major new sanctions that the president is threatening here given that the U.S. already sanctions most Iranian oil sales and a whole host of other behaviors?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, they've really been keeping us in suspense on this one. The president tweeted about it on Friday. Since then repeated questions to the administration as well as the Treasury Department in specific. Just a minute ago I spoke to presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway here and asked what about the sanctions and she said that we'll know later today.

What we do know is the sanctions in the past have been part of a so- called maximum pressure campaign to get Iran to the negotiating table. Well, the fact of the matter is, of course, the president confused the issue a little bit this morning when he put out this tweet, essentially questioning why the U.S. Fifth Fleet is protecting the shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. Obviously in part to try to protect the oil markets, which would be damaged if Iran follows through on its threat to try to shut down the strait.

The president, for his part, has said on the record in front of cameras that he's not interested in war, but he doesn't want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It sounds like his bottom line. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not looking for war. And if there is, it will be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk, good, otherwise you can have a bad economy for three years.

CHUCK TODD, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": No pre-conditions?

TRUMP: Not as far as I'm concerned. No pre-conditions.


JOHNS: So what we also know is that sanctions that have already been imposed have had just a staggering effect on the Iran economy, the IMF estimates that if it continues another year be about 6 percent contraction in their economy which is enormous. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: No question, that seems to be the goal here.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

Also this morning Iran says that it has foiled recent cyber attack attempts by the U.S.. Let's go to Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon.

Do we know anything about what kind of cyber attacks Iran is talking about? Do we believe -- do we believe them?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jim. Iran is saying that the so-called cyber attacks had no impact on it or its efforts, but an administration official telling our own Kylie Atwood that indeed the U.S. Military Cyber Command recently did conduct a cyber strike against an Iranian spy group affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and that they attacked the computer software -- the U.S. Cyber Command attacked a computer software that the Iranians have been using to try and track those tankers in the Persian Gulf that have come under a mine attack.

So if this is successful, and they're able to keep the Iranians from being able to do some of these things, it's a non-comedic, a noncombat way of really trying to contain Iraq -- Iran, pardon me. And it's going to be something that's going to be very appealing to the military that is not looking forward to a scenario where it would have to send troops against Iran -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So another acting Defense secretary, Mark Esper, he starts his first day on the job today. Is Iran top of the list of priorities for him?

STARR: Well, it's certainly going to be top of the list of the agenda items one has to imagine, the tensions that have sparked in recent weeks. Not fundamentally really easy. The president has a strategy now of additional sanctions, but this new acting secretary of Defense is going to have to make sure that everything that's lined up still in the Persian Gulf if there were some call for action. Esper comes in as acting Defense secretary. He steps on to the world

stage. He travels to NATO tomorrow. He will have to deal with Iran, with North Korea.

[09:05:01] He will have to find his way inside the administration and sort of cut-out a place for himself and his advice to the president. Even with very strong actors like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who Esper knows very well and the National Security adviser John Bolton. These are two of the heavyweights in the administration now. Esper will have to find his way.

If he gets the formal nomination which is expected now, here's a wrinkle. He has to step down as acting secretary. Federal regulations will require him to step down. There will be a new interim acting secretary and if you're keeping count it could lead us to four Defense chiefs here at the Pentagon in seven or eight months -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And three just in the last couple of weeks.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

For more on what Iran is saying this morning in reaction to this new sanctions threat, Fred Pleitgen remains on the ground in Tehran with the latest.

Are Iranian officials taking this new threat seriously?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they are taking it very seriously but at the same time, Jim, they're also making very clear that this is not something that's going to bring them back to the negotiating table. And certainly one of the things that they are saying is that they are, first of all, not going to talk under sanctions and they see sanctions or this current sanctions policy of the Trump administration to be something like economic war against Iran themselves.

It was quite interesting because as we heard President Trump was saying he has no preconditions to speak to the Iranians. The Iranians are pushing back on that notion. There was a senior adviser to Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, who came out and said America's claim to negotiate without preconditions is unacceptable, while threats and sanctions continue. We consider war and sanctions as two sides of the same coin they said.

And then there was one Iranian official, Jim, who went even further than that and said President Trump, as long as sanctions are in place from Tehran only the military forces will speak to you. So you see that fundamental disconnect that you have between President Trump's policies and what the Iranians are saying, Jim.

The Trump administration is saying they are going to sanction the Iranians until they come to the negotiating table while the Iranians are saying precisely the sanctions are what is keeping them from coming to the negotiating table. At the same time we have some pretty strong words coming from the Iranian military as well. Early this morning there was a senior Iranian commander who said that the shooting down of that drone late, late last week was a crushing blow to the United States, as he said, and he also added that it's something that could be repeated in the future. So we certainly see the Iranians not backing down at all -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fred Pleitgen on the ground in Iran. Thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's former spokesperson for both the State and Defense Departments. And Trita Parsi, he's founder of the National Iranian-American Council.

Trita, if I could begin with you. You've been covering Iran for a long time. You and I covered the Iran nuclear negotiations for a couple of years. The Trump strategy here as it has been with North Korea and China as well is basically battering ram. Right? You know, maximum economic pressure trying to get them to negotiate. Is that a strategy? Is that pressure that Iran will respond to?

TRITA PARSI, FOUNDER, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: No, not at all. And I think if we take a look what happened last time around when the Obama administration pursued negotiations with Iran. They also had a sanctions to their strategy. But what actually got the Iranians to show some flexibility was not the sanctions pressure, it was the fact that the United States in secret negotiations in Oman started offering some very important concessions to the Iranian and specifically accepting enrichment on Iranian soil.

This time around I think it's going to be more complicated. I don't see the Iranians coming to the table as long as John Bolton is in the White House. And the reason for it is this. The North Koreans and others have communicated with the Iranians and essentially shared their experience, saying that you actually can deal with Trump, he seems to be interested in a deal and he's willing to give and take.

But whatever he agrees to, John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo undermine and refuse to implement. There's no politician in Iran right now that can afford politically to engage in yet another negotiation with the United States in which the U.S. does not deliver on what it promises.

SCIUTTO: Yes. John Kirby, of course, you were at the State Department during -- in the midst of those nuclear negotiations. This is a fair question, is it not, for an Iranian regime that is very aware that in the year and a half the U.S. is going to have another presidential election? Trump may or may not win that election. I mean, from the Iranian perspective, one, do they believe whatever deal U.S. president signs to and the next one might turn it around and do they have an incentive now just to wait out the political cycle here in the U.S.?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think there's certainly an incentive to kind of see how this goes. They know that Trump is vulnerable. But to your larger question, Jim, I mean, no. I don't think we've proven to be a very reliable partner at all since Trump got elected.

Look, there were concerns -- you know, the Iran nuclear deal was like two and a half years of negotiating and there were concerns in that whole process about the steadfastness of the United States and our allies, the other 3 P5 partners, in terms of implementing this deal and getting it deal through.

[09:10:08] And the Iranians were more than well aware of the tensions that the Obama administration going to have in Congress in terms of getting it approved and getting it moving forward. So they already were wary about implementation and execution as we got up to the deal and even afterward. Now I think there's absolutely zero incentive for them to believe that we're going to be a credible negotiating partner going forward.

SCIUTTO: Trita, in the wake of the president's last-minute reversal on military retaliation for the shoot down of the drone, the Trump administration is claiming you showed both toughness and restraint by pulling back. I wonder how Iran read that? Did they see strength or did they see the U.S. administration having blinked?

PARSI: I think they saw confusion. And I think they're confused by that confusion. But what is most important, though, I think it verified something that is a limit, an element of their strategy which is ultimately Trump wants negotiations. But Bolton and Pompeo prefer war. And the further the Iranians essentially counter escalate and pressure the United States so that the pressure is not just on the Iranians, the further they get to the point in which tensions between Trump and Bolton and Pompeo will increase.

And I think part of their calculation is that as long as they are in that zone in which that tension is there the likelihood of both getting fired is at the greatest and at that point perhaps an opening for negotiations will begin once Bolton is out of the White House.

SCIUTTO: Later this week, John Kirby, Iran has threatened to stop abiding by the nuclear agreement to begin some enrichment of uranium on its soil, up to around 3 percent. Not to weapons grade but still violating the agreement that the U.S. left.

What happens then? Because the Trump administration has said that it will respond even though, of course, the U.S. does not recognize the agreement. What happens then in terms of the escalation here?

KIRBY: Well, I think, obviously, the original intent I think of the Iranians were to pressure the Europeans not to fall under the pressure of the Trump administration and try to find financial workarounds to the sanctions relief. So I think that was clearly a message to the Europeans.

Now, though, after all the recent tensions and the shoot down of the drone I think it's clearly a message to the Trump administration, too, that they are willing to go a little bit further in tearing up parts of the deal.

I don't know that increasing this stockpile of low enriched uranium, 3.7 percent, is going to be enough to trigger some sort of violent conflagration. And I don't think the Iranians think it will either. What worries me, though, Jim, is if they move beyond that and start

heading towards 20 percent and then it's -- you know, then it's kind of cave barring door because they're just getting that much closer to be getting -- to getting weapons grade uranium and then where do we go from there? And I wonder and I worry also that maybe they're going to use this issue of uranium enrichment as a way of gaining leverage should this ever come to negotiations.

Right now there's no incentive for them to talk to Trump as Mr. Parsi very eloquently put forward. Maybe they might see, though, if they are able to get their stockpiles up. Maybe that gives them leverage at the table that obviously the sanctions isn't giving them.

SCIUTTO: You know, when you look at North Korea treaty, Kim Jong-un, he went to the table with the president. Has not given really anything on his nuclear program. It continues. Hasn't denuclearized in any way shape form.

Does Iran look to North Korea and say, hey, maybe we can play that game? Let's talk to him, we'll take some pressure off and kind of see where this goes?

PARSI: Well, actually the Iranian game frankly was to abide by the nuclear deal and hope that the United States would do the same and make sure that the economic benefits that they were promised would come. I mean, of all options that -- and scenarios that can still be revived, that is still the most attractive option for the Iranians. That everyone just goes back to the deal, the dealing that was negotiated over the course of more than two and a half years and go from there.

Instead because the Trump administration has ripped this deal apart and has pressured the Europeans, I mean, we're in a very bizarre situation. The United States is punishing countries for abiding by a U.N. Security Council resolution. That's never happened before. So I think the Iranians preference is to find a way to get back to the original scenario. And that's why as John very clearly put it, these measures that they're taking right now by increasing enrichment are easily reversed and they are trying to do this in order to get the Europeans back into compliance with the deal so that at least the EU, the Russians and the Chinese and the Iranians can continue to keep the deal alive.

SCIUTTO: Well, someone's going to have to give ground. Otherwise you can see a lot of scenarios where it continues to escalate.

John Kirby, Trita Parsi, great to have both of you on this morning.

Still to come this hour more than a trillion dollars in college debt wiped out. Senator Bernie Sanders says he has a plan to do just that. But how? Who's going to pay for it? And the pressure is on.

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: President Trump says Democrats have two weeks to make a deal on the border or those threatened mass deportations will begin. Will his new threat work? Can they make a deal? Plus, Buttigieg blasted. The Democratic presidential candidate face explosive criticism at home for a fatal police shooting in the city of South Bend, Indiana, where he's mayor. It is a major test ahead of this week's Democratic debates. We're on top of it.


SCIUTTO: This morning, presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders with an ambitious new plan to completely eliminate the student loan debt of every single American. It's a proposal that goes further than any other Democratic candidate running for president so far.

Jessica Dean is in Washington with the details. So, Jessica, an ambitious plan here, more than a trillion dollars in outstanding student debt. I mean, the most obvious question is how does he plan to pay for it?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, that's the big question so many people are asking this morning, Jim, is if you're going to eliminate everyone's student debt, how are you going to pay for that?

[09:20:00] So, let's break down a little bit about this proposal. As you mentioned, this would cover everyone with student debt in the United States. It would cancel all of it, $1.6 trillion. That means it's going to cover approximately 45 million people and there are no eligibility limits on this.

So, the big question, how do you pay for it? Bernie Sanders proposes that we do that by new taxes on Wall Street. Those would look like a .5 percent tax on stock trades, a .1 percent fee on bonds and a .005 percent fee on derivatives. And he says that's enough to pay for this, and Jim, of course, this is coming as Bernie Sanders sees Elizabeth Warren rising in the polls and he's trying to make sure that he establishes that he is by far the most progressive candidate in this 2020 race.

SCIUTTO: So compare, put his plan up next to Warren's plan. Whose is more aggressive?

DEAN: Right, so let's take a look at that as well because we do know that Elizabeth Warren has put forth a full plan to tackle student loan debt as well, that's been a big piece of her proposals. So Sanders plan there on the left, again, cancelling all loan debt, covering approximately 45 million people, we just went through all of that.

Comparing that to Warren's plan, hers provides immediate relief to more than 95 percent of borrowers, that's going to affect 43 million people, so slightly fewer people. This does place limits based on household income, though. That's a big difference there. There are limits to eligibility. And then also too, she plans to pay for that by taxing the ultra-rich.

Jim, we've heard her talk a lot about her ultra-millionaire tax, that's how she plans to fund most of her policy initiatives. But those are kind of the big differences if you break it down, we'll hear from Bernie Sanders later today -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

DEAN: And he'll explain further.

SCIUTTO: And you have to think it's a pitch to young voters too for both of them --

DEAN: Absolutely, yes --

SCIUTTO: Jessica Dean, thanks for being on top of it. With me now is Ron Brownstein; CNN's senior political analyst as well as senior editor at "The Atlantic". So, Ron, you got this sort of, you know, give away one-upmanship --


SCIUTTO: Among the Democratic --


SCIUTTO: Candidates here. And I want a big picture, how do you think voters take this? Because as you're looking at the candidates, it's debt -- student debt forgiven, free college, free medical care. I mean --


SCIUTTO: Do voters see through that a bit and say wait a second, we can't pay for all of that.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, just great question. It is a complicated issue. On the one hand, there's something real going on. If you compare the millennial generation to the baby boomers generation, the millennials are the biggest since the baby boomers. There's no question that states, particularly in public education are shifting the cost from taxpayers, which bore most of the cost of education during the baby boomers', you know, young years to families and students themselves because tuition now accounts for more of the cost of public higher education than say taxpayer dollars.

So, there's a real issue here. But there's no question that, I think, in both polling and even I'm told in private focus groups that Bernie Sanders campaign did in 2016, that the public by and large believe that people should have some skin in the game.

And the thought of absolute tuition free public education or completely eliminating student debt is something, I think, it does face resistance not only on cost, but also really on equity. Don't forget, only about a third of the country has a college degree.

And while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to portray this as being paid for solely by the wealthy, Republicans will basically argue that people kind of working with their hands will be taxed to subsidize the education for that one-third, many of whom of course end up at the top of the economic pyramid. I think the complete zero is a hard sell. SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, you look at -- because you could have the person who, you know, sort of paid their way through community college, you know, you could also have --


SCIUTTO: Have someone working at a big law firm, right? Who is paying off --


SCIUTTO: Law school loans, but making a lot of money --


SCIUTTO: And you know, arguably --


SCIUTTO: Has more means -- more means to do that.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: What Sanders clearly trying to do here is push back on Elizabeth Warren's rise as the kind of -- not just number two in many of the polls, but also the standard bearer of the progressive wing of the party. How do you -- how do you rate his chances? I mean, do you see the Sanders star kind of fading?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, there's no question they are competing for largely the same pool of voters, I mean, particularly, ideologically when you look at it. And they both, you know, they have similar strengths and similar struggles. I mean, Bernie Sanders in 2016 was very strong with young people, very strong with voters who described themselves as very liberal.

He struggled with African-American voters particularly those over 30. He struggled with more moderate voters, and Elizabeth Warren is similar, and she has certainly captured the attention of a lot of Democrats and you do get the sense that her trajectory is going up while Sanders has kind of plateaued and is shrinking.

I mean, don't forget, I mean, and you know, you're talking about states in 2016 like New Hampshire and Iowa where he was, you know, he was roughly at 50 percent or even above 50 percent of the vote where he's now polling in the teens.

[09:25:00] So, there are a lot of voters who looked at him in 2016 as an alternative to Hillary Clinton who have drifted away, and this is obviously an attempt to, you know, recapture some of that --


BROWNSTEIN: Attention. But it is hard for him to portray Elizabeth Warren in the way that he wanted to portray Joe Biden as kind of this mealy-mouthed centrism. SCIUTTO: Quickly, because we have the first Democrat debate of course



SCIUTTO: Later this week. Twenty some-what candidates are going to be on the stage there. After this debate, do you see the field culled at all? Is this going to start to knock off some of these candidates if they don't break through?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the field feels to me a little like the Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense". I mean, many of these candidacies are kind of dead and they are the only ones who don't know it. But I don't know if it'll -- I don't know if it will be culled now, but it is functionally been culled to an incredible degree.

I mean, you know, to look at both these state and national polls and to see these same five candidates at the top of the --


BROWNSTEIN: List no matter where you go, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and then Harris a step back. I think you know, we will -- this is a very important opportunity for everyone else in the field because everyone else who is kind of in that second-tier, whether it's Klobuchar or Booker or Bennet or Hickenlooper or Beto O'Rourke, they all have somebody in front of them already in the lane that they want to occupy.

So, you know, they not only have to find a kind of a moment to shine, but they also have to see the person who's kind of there whether it's Klobuchar with Biden or Booker with Harris --

SCIUTTO: Right --

BROWNSTEIN: Or Beto with Buttigieg, they have to see the person ahead of them kind of provide some opening. So, I think it does --

SCIUTTO: Right --

BROWNSTEIN: Get tougher from here on out.

SCIUTTO: OK, Ron, I'm going to steal "The Sixth Sense" reference there, I think it's a great one. Always good to talk to you. President Trump --

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Jim --

SCIUTTO: Always calling off ICE deportation raids just as they were set to begin. He says the ball is now in the Democrats court to change immigration laws. Common agreement, Congress has not been able to do for years and years. Is it going to happen? Is there any chance? We're going to talk about it.