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AT THIS HOUR

Trump: U.S. "Locked and Loaded" After Saudi Oil Field Attack; Trump Contradicts Himself, Mnuchin, Pompeo on Willingness to Meet Iran Without Preconditions; Oil Prices Spike After Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities; Nearly 50,000 UAW Auto Workers Strike against General Motors; Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) Discusses UAW Union Workers Striking against G.M., Trump's Trade War, Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities, Trump Possibly Meeting Iranian President. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The official number of people dead in the Bahamas still stands with 50 but with that enormous number of missing officials say that number is likely to go up as more people are identified.

Just a horrible situation on the ground.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We'll promise to keep you posted on that.

Thank you for being with us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

The president declares to the world that the United States is "locked and loaded" to respond to the Saudi oil field attacks but one thing that's less clear this morning is what exactly "locked and loaded" means in the president's tweet.

Let me play you the vice president's chief of staff fielding questions about just this this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: "Locked and loaded" sounds like eminent retaliation. Is that what we're expecting to see?

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I think that the part of "locked and loaded" is reflection that this administration's advanced policies to make sure America is safer from these sorts of oil shocks.

I think that "locked and loaded" is a broad term. It talks about the realities of being safer and secure domestically from energy independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Is it all cleared up now? Is that even a threat?

Remember this is extremely serious. These were crippling, coordinated attacks on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities Saturday. The strikes disrupting 5 percent of the world's daily oil supply sending crude prices soaring.

So who is to blame? President Trump isn't yet saying publicly, but both behind the scenes and on the record other top Trump officials saying clearly they believe it is Iran. Iran denies any involvement.

CNN's Boris Sanchez with more from the White House.

Boris, what are you hearing from there this morning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate.

Top administration officials are meeting this morning to discuss this attack in Saudi Arabia and Iran's potential involvement in the attack. We don't know yet if President Trump is taking part in the National Security Council Principles Committee meeting but working the find out.

We should point out the president appearing to leave the door open for a potential military response with that "locked and loaded" tweet. He's sort of coy about whether Iran is responsible or not, tweeting this morning that we'll see.

No such apprehension of Secretary of State Pompeo who is placing the blame on Iran and from Marc Short, a close aide of Vice President Mike Pence, saying that he believes Pompeo will put out evidence this morning that indicates that Iran was behind this.

We should point out that Short also downplaying the "locked and loaded" statement, saying that the president is speaking broadly about the United States ability to respond to the economic ramifications of this strike on Saudi Arabian oil.

The president tweeted this weekend alluding that the U.S. potentially tapping into the oil reserves.

But let's not forget, President Trump tweeted similar language before when referring to military strikes. In June, the president tweeted that the United States was "cocked and loaded," ready to launch a drone strike in Iran in response to the nation's downing of a U.S. military drone.

So it's not farfetched to suggest the president is sort of playing between the lines here, playing coy, potentially sending a message to Iran -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Confusing messages on something like this is what anybody needs.

Adding to the confusion, Boris, the confusing picture here is continued debate of whether or not President Trump and the president of Iran will be meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly here in New York next week. President Trump says not without preconditions but that's not what some of his most senior advisers are saying. Do you have any clarity there?

SANCHEZ: Yes, Kate, even more contradictions. The president contradicting himself over the weekend, tweeting that it was incorrect to suggest he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions, even though, in June, he said he would. And a few weeks ago, Steve Mnuchin said the same and. last week. Mike Pompeo said the same.

Take a look at what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: The president has made clear he's happy to take a meeting with no preconditions but we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president made it clear he is preparing to meet with no preconditions.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No preconditions. No. They want to meet on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Of course, that was in July. Not in June. Nevertheless, the fact remains the White House not exactly clear on what their stance on a meeting with the Iranian leadership is. Also unclear on to what extent the president will go to respond to this aggression, potentially, from Iran -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Boris, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

CNN has teams placed throughout the world, today, in all of the key cities in this troubling standoff.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in the Iranian capital of Tehran. CNN diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Let's start in Saudi Arabia at this moment.

Nic Robertson, the Saudis releasing new information now of who they believe could be behind the attack. What are you hearing?

[11:05:06] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Saudi's been very clear saying they were Iranian-made weapons that were fired at the petroleum processing facilities. They say that the missiles didn't come from Yemen.

And if you take that in the context that the United States has said that they didn't come -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they didn't come from Iraq, that really only leaves one place left on the map around here that they could have come from. The implication being Iran.

That's not what the coalition, the military Saudi military coalition spokesman is saying right now. He's merely saying that they didn't come from Yemen, that the Houthi rebels in Yemen are proxies for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and that the missiles were made in Iran.

Now, Saudi said that the missiles fired into Saudi Arabia from the Houthis before having been made in Iran. They've sent the missile parts to the U.N. The U.N. has they confirmed the findings.

It is not clear yet if Saudis have anyone else buying into that claim that the weapons systems were made in Iran.

But their position is now becoming really clear. A few hours ago, it wasn't. I think more definitive. But I also understand there are more details to come on this in the coming hours -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Much more to come.

Stick with me, Nic.

Let's get over to Iran really quickly. Nick Paton Walsh is there.

Nick, what are you hearing from there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iran has from the very beginning said they were not behind this attack. Initially, the spokespeople saying an irresponsible claim and their foreign minister saying this is max deceit of Mike Pompeo to suggest Iran was behind this, after the U.S. campaign of max pressure. And this morning, reiterating they have nothing to do with this but also saying things that Trump said don't last more than 24 hours.

You almost hear a similar confusion frankly when Boris was trying to explain what the U.S. policy is on this.

Many Iranians felt the departure of John Bolton as national security advisor from the White House meant they might be looking at a more peaceful diplomatic strategy. Instead, Mike Pompeo stood in the shoes himself.

Of course, if it does turn out that the U.S. choose to directly blame Iran for this and, in fact, say that the missiles were launched from Iranian soil, that's a stark departure for this region entirely. That's one sovereign nation firing missiles from its territory on another.

There's no evidence at this point. People have been crying out here for evidence from Mike Pompeo since making that claim that they flatly deny. But we are into a very different territory if that proved to be the line that the U.S. administration actually takes.

It's simply seems to be where the anonymous briefing leads people to conclude Iranian-made weapons, don't have to be launched from Iran. There's lots more to be filled in here.

But, Kate, you have to remember, this region was already in a phenomenal mess, high tension before this incident. People were, in fact, looking at the possibility that diplomacy may be the only way out of this.

When Trump said he didn't want to launch retaliatory strike after a U.S. drone was taken out because it might 150 Iranians. People thought maybe that was Trump saying he didn't want war. Iran said it doesn't want war.

Those critics of Iran said maybe hardliners are looking to see what space they have to operate in the region here and antagonize their enemies. But Saudi Arabia and Iran have been long-term enemies. It's just flared worst in the past years.

And this incident marks a sea change in damage to Saudi oil facilities. It really is something extraordinary. And the question now is, what's the proof and what comes after that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

Real quick, just to put a fine point on it, Nic Robertson, is there anyone other than Iran that could have pulled this off? What are you hearing from your sources?

ROBERTSON: The reason that the Saudis, so like President Trump -- and I'm not saying this is coming just from the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, or King Salman. This is the man on the street.

I have been our and talked to people here over several years while President Trump was campaigning to be president. The reason they like President Trump is because he is tough on Iran. The dislike and the hatred over recent years of Iran and the suspicions about it are visceral.

Think about it. Really simply. Saudis feel that the Iranians are pressing on them from Yemen, from the northern border in Iraq, across the Persian Gulf in Iran itself. They feel that Iran is operating and trying to push its religion beyond its borders. And this is something they feel has been going on since the Iranian Revolution.

And they feel it is in a massive up-kick right now. So this is a very deeply rooted issue that is coming to a very significant head right now. How the Saudis, the United States dodge around a message that isn't a military message to Iran on this issue right now is very hard to see at the moment. [11:10:00]

BOLDUAN: Yes. The fine line is -- it seems almost nonexistent at this point. Let's see what happens in the coming hours though.

Great reporting, guys. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

The most immediate impact of these attacks is being felt far beyond, beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Around the world, oil prices spiking nearly 10 percent this morning.

Joining me now from Abu Dhabi is the editor for emerging markets for CNN Business, John Defterios.

John, great to see you.

You have reporting on how big of an impact this attack is having on oil production and also how long it might take to get back online. Please tell us.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR FOR EMERGING MARKETS: Well, I think this is an earthquake to the global energy market because the tremors will be felt for a long, long time, Kate, because Saudi Arabia's the number-one exporter.

This is a very fragile balance in the market. It's extraordinary. A week ago, I interviewed the new energy minister, the half-brother of the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, we were talking about oversupplies. This weekend was a shock, losing 5.7 billion barrels a day. And it's not easy to replace.

My understanding from sources in Saudi Arabia they have about 200 million barrels in storage both in Asia and Europe. They can lean on for that 35 or 40 days.

But due to the sanctions by President Trump over the last two years against Iran and Venezuela, there's not a lot of spare capacity in OPEC and, for that matter, in Russia.

So trying to fill this gap, better than five million barrels, in a short span of time is going to be a challenge. And it's why we see prices spike up 20 percent at the open in Asia then then settle down with the gain of 10 percent today. But a rally of $5 to $6 a barrel is very high in this business.

BOLDUAN: As you're reporting, this could be weeks not days to get the facilities back online. You can see just how much of a painful impact that would have.

Your sources also describe this attack as, quote, "unprecedented in scale and impact." Can you put that in perspective for folks?

DEFTERIOS: Yes. In fact, I think the Saudis are trying to, through the channels here, try to manage expectations, Kate, because many believe that Aramco is so big it can respond quickly and get the supplies back on to the market. I don't think that's the case in this instance.

And I've been covering the market since the 1990s. The invasion of Kuwait, for example, it was a shock because there's so much oil that came off the market.

The Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Iraq, even the overthrow of Gadhafi, all major events in the market. Kate, they don't hold a candle to 5.7 million barrels a day knocked out in a single day. That's what we are looking at today. And the scale is much bigger than the other four events I'm talking about.

BOLDUAN: Remarkable, important bit of perspective.

John, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

DEFTERIOS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, right now, there are nearly 50,000 auto workers striking against General Motors. This is the largest walkout against any U.S. business in over a decade. Where things stand. We are on the ground. That's ahead.

Plus, Democratic presidential candidates are calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. President Trump says the Justice Department should come to his, quote, "rescue." It's all over a new book with new reporting on Kavanaugh's confirmation and allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:01]

BOLDUAN: It's the largest strike by any union against any business in over a decade. Almost 50,000 members of the United Autoworkers Union walked off the job as the leaders and General Motors failed to reach a deal this week.

Right now, they're back to the negotiating table with the union demanding better wages and job security. And G.M. saying that they have made a fair offer.

Let's go there right now. Joining me from Detroit is CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich.

Vanessa, what are you hearing from folks there this morning?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN POLITICS & BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, Kate.

These individuals behind me, they left the job at midnight. They're here in protest because UAW and G.M. failed to come to agreement. They joined 50,000 G.M. workers across the country who are currently striking.

G.M. said they made a strong and fair offer. But UAW saying that is not enough. Here's what they're asking for. They're asking for better health benefits, a higher starting salary for their employees, and they're asking for more job security, including at this plant just behind me, which is slated to go out of production in 2020. That's part of this contract, trying to get a vehicle in here for these workers to work on.

I spoke to one gentleman whose father worked here, whose daughter also works here, and he says, hey, we are not asking for millions of dollars but just asking for decent pay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BURSON, CADILLAC BODY SHOP EMPLOYEE: Once you get in here, it's pretty hard to leave. I mean, it is a good paying job and good benefits and we'd like to keep it that way.

And I think that one of the main reasons is if you pay the people good money this is what's going to grow an economy. It's not paying the rich guy, making the big companies richer. That's not going to grow an economy. You have to pay the people. Pay them decent. That's all. Decent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YURKEVICH: And it's hard not to ignore the politics of all of this. In the states where the workers are protesting, many of them red states. Ohio, here in Michigan, going for President Trump in 2016 by a very small margin.

[11:20:07]

And we are hearing from the 2020 candidates, Kate, all weighing in on this supporting the union, trying to make their case to union workers, a very, very critical voting bloc for the next election, both for the president and these Democratic presidential candidates -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Vanessa, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Let's see what happens as they get back to the negotiating table today.

Meantime, joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, of Michigan.

Thank you for being here.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Thank you.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned to me as we were coming on that you have two G.M. plants in your district.

SLOTKIN: I do.

BOLDUAN: What is the best outcome here do you see? How do you think this is going to go?

SLOTKIN: The good news is I talked to all of the folks that -- from the UAW representing my areas in Lake Orion and Lansing and greater Detroit and I think everyone wants to get to a deal. People don't want to be out of work. They don't want to be on strike. They want to be negotiating and getting a conclusion.

I was thrilled to see that the parties are meeting today. That's a very good sign. A lot of times these things string out. It's a game of chicken. So I think if everyone keeps a clear head, we'll be OK.

But you saw the list of things they're asking for. These ae not crazy things. Right? Fair wages, job stability, strong health care. What American would say they don't want those things?

So I've have talked to a bunch of folks there. They're concerned and still constructive, which is really important.

BOLDUAN: In pretty rare move this weekend, G.M. made public what it is offering, what it is kind of put on the table, $7 billion in new U.S. factory investments, new jobs, higher pay, a plan for idle plants in Michigan and Ohio.

This fits into always the category of the devil is in the details, of course.

SLOTKIN: Right.

BOLDUAN: But do you think this is -- can you say that this is or isn't a good deal for workers, what G.M. is playing out there?

SLOTKIN: Yes. I'm not privy to the details. That sounds good. But it's a symbiotic relationship. We can't have one side saying this is what we're going to do, we'll throw you these things and that should be good with you. It's got to be a two-way conversation.

I think G.M. has been pretty good about working with folks so, but it has to be symbiotic.

BOLDUAN: Also hanging over this is the president's trade war with China. New tariffs set to be going into place on cars, on auto parts, and I wonder what you think or hearing from folks, the impact of that is on this type of negotiation.

SLOTKIN: I think it adds to the greater conversation of instability. In Michigan, we have been hit particularly hard by the tariffs. People know how to get to us. Our supply chain for our auto industry has been really hit. You can hear lots of people talking about that.

Anyone in business will tell you in order to have good planning you got to have stability. And we have just not had that with the back and forth. Whether for the farmers or the auto workers, the supply chain.

It just -- we all understand the desire to punch back on China. They have been cheating. They haven't been a fair player in the world economy. But sometimes the cure could be worse than the disease and I think that's what we have.

BOLDUAN: Importantly, for this discussion, you're on Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees and spent most of the career in national security and intelligence under Bush and Obama administrations.

I want to ask you about the Saudi oil field attacks. There's a lot yet to be learned. But from what you see right now, do you think these attacks are the work of Iran?

SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I'm colored by my experience. I'm an Iraq/Sia militia analyst. I did three tours in Iraq with the military looking at the relationship between Shia militias in Iraq and Iran. So I see a lot of the telltale signs we tend to see with the groups that are active, sowing chaos in the region that are being enabled by Iran.

I wouldn't be surprised -- and I have no special knowledge -- but I wouldn't be surprised if Iran was is providing material, money, training, counsel, guidance, leadership development. They use other groups to have it be a deniable attack. Wasn't me. Wasn't me.

But for me, it shows some of the telltale signs of enabled and supported by Iran, even if they're not admitting it.

That doesn't mean we go to war or saber rattle but I think we have to acknowledge that Iran is not a positive actor when it comes to destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

BOLDUAN: Not at all. But coming to this, if it is Iran, this is a huge escalation and kind of this pattern that has been building in recent months. If it is Iran, do you know, do you know or do you get a sense, do you have an opinion on what "locked and loaded" means in terms of what the president is saying that the United States is prepared to respond to this?

SLOTKIN: Listen, it is the job of the United States and, certainly of the Pentagon, to have plans ready if the president says he wants to take military action. We saw that in a previous round where the president said, I stopped military action from going forward.

The Pentagon's job is to have plans and they have plans. And they range from small retaliatory attacks to much larger scaled things. No one wants to use those. No one wants to be put in a position where that's the next step for us but they exist.

[11:25:11]

The president, you can already watch the White House backtracking from his comments. It's this constant mixed message sent out of the White House.

And it's one thing if you and I don't quite know what the president is thinking and doing. It's a whole other thing when it's the Iranians. Right? How do they respond? What are they thinking about our reaction?

BOLDUAN: There's a role of Congress here, depending on --

SLOTKIN: Sure.

BOLDUAN: -- I think no matter what the reaction is. What do you do if the president then would take the step to take military action? Without coming to -- without informing you and Congress of it first?

SLOTKIN: So the president, you know, the United States always has the right to self-defense but if we launch a medium to long-term war with Iran and take action to kick off that war --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Do you think just on its face an attack on Saudi oil fields is that an attack on the United States?

SLOTKIN: Well, no, it's not an attack on the United States. Is it attack on our interest? Sure.

But the thing that confused me is that people were saying when they heard about this attack the Americans should retaliate. Saudi Arabia's an independent country. And we don't fight wars on behalf of other people. It should be a conversation among allies on what to do to respond not just a knee-jerk Americans should go respond.

So I think, listen, we should all be concerned. That is new phase in a different type of warfare. And it's something I think we see more of, right, deniable attacks where the states can say, it wasn't me, wasn't me, but it inflicts real damage on these countries or on our interests or U.S. bases abroad.

BOLDUAN: What more would you like to see or would you need to see from your -- your area of expertise is so important in this and unique -- to say, to be comfortable pointing the finger directly at Iran is this? Is there something more you would need to see in.

SLOTKIN: Sure. When an attack like this happens, the Intelligence Community, the Pentagon will sit and do a deep dive analysis of what they learn. And the Saudis hopefully provide information, evidence, physical evidence. There are weapons experts, drone experts. We have a lot of people in the Intelligence Community who can look deeply and make those connections.

We did this in Iraq. We started to seeing Shia militia fire specific missiles and rockets that were not theirs. They came from Iran. That's a forensic chain of custody we were able to do. You can do the same thing on these types of attacks.

You can't do that in two hours. And that's what they did, they came out immediately. It may be Iran. But their credibility is shot when they come out with the statement before they do the prudent analysis.

BOLDUAN: I don't know if this is a big deal or not, kind of in light of how serious this is. The debate of should President Trump meet with President Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. meetings here. It's kind of a -- I don't know if we call it a game of chicken. Meet with you, preconditions, no preconditions. What is your view on this?

SLOTKIN: I think that a lot of bravado on both sides has been about setting the conditions for a conversation. The president said that. This pressure campaign is meant to give us some -- an upper hand in some future negotiation. I think it's a risky gamble because you could have real miscalculation

and misunderstanding that leads to inadvertent conflict. But I think that's what he's been doing.

Listen, it is always better when we talk. And if it's not the president, that's a big step, then what about folks at the Pentagon? What about the secretary of state? There's lots of other communication that could be going on that went on in previous administration that is not right now.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here.

SLOTKIN: Of course.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. All of your levels of expertise in the news right now and they need it.

Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, President Trump calling on the Department of Justice to rescue Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh after new allegations surface in the "New York Times." What does he mean by that?

We'll be right back.

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