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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Saudi Oil Attacks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, General Motors makes most of its money in the United States. And it's too bad they spent billions and billions of dollars outside of the United States before I got here.

One of the things very important in the USMCA, which we have to have approved for the -- not only for the unions, for the autoworkers, but for the farmers and for the manufacturers, for everybody.

Everybody wants USMCA. It is very important, even, more so now than it was two weeks ago. But people really want it. I'm sad to see the strike. Hopefully, it is going to be a quick one.

QUESTION: Mr. President (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, it is never exhausted.

In fact, the crown prince can tell you, especially in your part of the world, it's never exhausted until the final 12 seconds. Is that right?

CROWN PRINCE SALMAN BIN HAMAD AL KHALIFA, BAHRAIN: That is correct.

TRUMP: You never know what is going to happen. No, it is not exhausted. Nothing is exhausted. We will see what happens.

I think they would like to make a deal. I know they would like to make a deal. They would like to do it. But they would like to do it on certain terms and conditions. And we won't do that.

But, at some point, it will work out, in my opinion. The problem was the deal that was signed by the previous administration was a disaster, which, by the way, would be expiring in a very short period of time also. So you really don't have a deal. That deal was a very short-term deal.

So they made a deal. But it was for a very short period of time. So that deal would be expiring very soon.

Yes?

QUESTION: Are you encouraging Israel and the Saudis to work on this issue, particularly since they... (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Always. I encourage everybody. I want everybody to work together.

The Middle East is an interesting place. They historically have not been working together too well. But, no, Israel is working together with a lot of countries that you wouldn't have thought possible two years ago.

Yes?

QUESTION: Have you promised the Saudis that the U.S. will protect them (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I haven't. No, I haven't. I haven't promised the Saudis that. We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out.

And the Saudis want very much for us to protect them, but I say, well, we have to work -- that was an attack on Saudi Arabia. And that wasn't an attack on us. But we would certainly help them. They have been a great ally.

They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years, $400 billion. That's a million-and-a-half jobs. And they're not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms. They want terms and conditions. They want to say, can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?

No. No, Saudi Arabia pays cash. They have helped us out from the standpoint of jobs and all the other things. And they have actually helped us -- I would call and I would say, listen, our oil prices, our gasoline is too high. You have to let more go.

Do you know that? I would call the crown prince and I would say, you have got to help us out. You have to get some more. And all of a sudden, the oil starts flowing and the gasoline prices are down. No other president can do that. No other president was able to do that, or maybe they didn't try. But I have done it.

So now they are under attack. And we will work something out with them. But they also know that I'm not looking to get into new conflict. But, sometimes, you have to.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me?

QUESTION: What is your message to Iran right now?

TRUMP: I think I will have a stronger message or maybe no message at all when we get the final results of what we're looking at. But, right now, it is too soon to say.

There is plenty of time. You know, there is no rush. We are all here -- be here a long time. There is no rush. But I will have a message, whether it is a strong message or maybe no message at all, depending on the final results.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about the risk of all-out war in the Middle East?

TRUMP: I'm not concerned at all.

QUESTION: You don't think that we're a step closer (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I'm not. Personally, I'm not concerned at all.

We have -- we have military power the likes of which the world has never seen. I'm not concerned at all. I would like to avoid it.

You know, when I came here three years ago almost, General Mattis told me, sir, we're very low on ammunition.

I said that is a horrible thing to say. I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that is what he told me, because we were in a position where, with a certain country, I won't say which one, we may have had conflict.

And he said to me, sir, if you could delay it, because we're very low on ammunition. And I said, you know what, General? I never want to hear that again from another general. No president should ever, ever hear that statement, we're low on ammunition.

And we now have more ammunition, more missiles, more rockets, more tanks, more -- we have more of in everything than we have had before, more jet fighters. When I came here, 50 percent of our jet fighters didn't fly. You know that. And they were in bad shape.

[16:05:00]

And now we have the best fighters in the world. Everybody wants to buy them. Are you buying our jet fighters?

AL KHALIFA: We are, sir.

TRUMP: Which one?

AL KHALIFA: The F-16.

TRUMP: That's great.

AL KHALIFA: Signed it here.

TRUMP: You have good taste.

AL KHALIFA: Thank you.

TRUMP: That is a great one.

So we are very high on ammunition now. That is a story I have never told before. Breaking news. But we had -- we were very low. I could even say it stronger. I don't want to say no ammunition, but that gets a lot closer. I, said I never want to hear that again. And I never want another

president of the United States to hear that again. Could you imagine as president when they say, we're very low on ammunition? By the way, stronger than that, but I'm not going to go there. That was what I was told.

And I said I never want to be on -- in a position like that again. And he said, could you delay? If we do something, sir, could you delay it as we fill up?

And that is what I inherited from the past administration and, in all fairness to President Obama, two administrations before President Obama. That is what I got stuck with. And we fixed it and we fixed it good. The crown prince understands, $700 billion, the next year $718 billion, and the next year, which is right now, we just got approved $738 billion.

And that is a lot of money even for Bahrain. Right?

AL KHALIFA: It's a lot of money.

TRUMP: That is a lot, even for Bahrain, and Bahrain has a lot of money. OK?

QUESTION: Mr. President...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Israeli election coming up tomorrow, how does that affect the timing of the Middle East peace plan?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to see what happens, Steve. I just don't know. I can't tell you what's going to happen. I can make a prediction.

I sort of have a feeling, but we're going to have to see what happens. It's a big election. That's one we're all going to be watching.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, certainly, he has a good chance, but it's a very -- it's a 50/50 election. A lot of people -- if you look at the polls and everything else, it's going to be very close. So we will see what happens.

Polls -- polls are often wrong.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Yes, I don't want to talk about that. But, certainly it's something we -- we're told about that they'd like to do. But, no, I don't want to be talking about that. It's too soon.

QUESTION: Mr. President, can you kind of elaborate a little bit on why the decision was taken yesterday to release the Strategic Reserves? Why did you decide right away?

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Well, just in case we ran a little bit low on oil, we have so much with the strategic reserves.

Plus, being the number one producer, we can fill them up very quickly, very, very quickly. And one of the things I'm doing also is, I'm approving the pipelines in Texas. We have a tremendous pipeline system that's being held up by various agencies, for a very good reason, for going through the normal process.

And we're going to have to avoid the normal process, because if we do that, Texas is a massive distributor, massive producer of oil, far bigger than anybody would have even thought five years ago. So what I'm going to do is expedite the pipeline approvals.

That will get us another 25 percent energy, additional energy. I know this is exactly the opposite of the Democrats. They want to have wind, solar, and I guess make-believe would be the third alternative, right?

No, this is something we have to do. We have the greatest wealth in the world and we want to be able to capitalize on it, especially when it comes to safety. OK?

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Yes.

QUESTION: What are your plans for Baltimore, cities like Baltimore? Instead of pointing fingers, what are you trying to do to help the city rise up from the rodent-infested place that you (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, I think what I have done for the inner cities is more than any president has done for a long time. We have created opportunities zones.

In fact, I did that with Tim Scott, who you know very well was, I think, a tremendous guy. It was his initiative and he came to see me. They're having a tremendously positive impact on the inner cities, including Baltimore, including a lot of other cities that you wouldn't necessarily think. Oakland, California, is an example.

We're having tremendous success in the inner cities because of the opportunity zones. Criminal justice reform, I was the one that got it. Nobody else. I mean, we had people that helped, but a group of extremely liberal Democrats came to the office and they said, we cannot get it. President Obama was unable to get it, as you know.

President Bush, they were all unable to get it. And I got it. And I got it with some very conservative senators and people that wanted it to happen. And nobody else could have done it. And it's sort of interesting, because they don't like mentioning my name, although I guess now people are understanding.

But we got it. We got it done. We formed a coalition with some very conservative people, as you know, and some people that are very far left. And we did a thing called criminal justice reform, something that nobody thought.

The crown prince has seen this. Nobody thought this could possibly happen.

[16:10:05]

And I'm very proud of criminal justice reform. So we did that. We did the opportunity zones and a lot of other things. Our job numbers for African-Americans are the best in history. You saw the new ones came out. They're even better than they were two months ago, Hispanic the best in history, Asian the best in history.

Overall, they're phenomenal, the best in 51 years. And I think we will soon be historic on that one too. The economy's doing great. And that's the best thing I can do.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No. When I drove through, I looked at it. We flew over, but we also -- no, you have some sections that need a lot of help.

And what people don't know, I had a great meeting with Elijah Cummings in this office very early in my tenure, and it was a meeting on drug prices. And I saw him get emotional talking about drug prices, seriously emotional. And I was really impressed. He cared about it.

And I would certainly be willing to meet with Elijah and other people, if they'd like. But I saw the emotion and the feeling that he had for reducing drug prices. And we have worked hard. And we have actually had the first year in 51 years where prices went down, but we can get them down much further if we can get the help from Congress.

So I think we're going to do much lower drug prices over the next year. And I think that, if Elijah Cummings would want help, I am here. But I did see him at a moment that was actually, I thought, a very beautiful moment.

I have talked about it often, because I see the political rhetoric every once in a while. And I said, that's not the same guy I had in my office. That was a very caring man that wanted to see drug prices lower.

And he -- and he wanted that for the community, for his community. So I look forward to working with Elijah, but I look forward to working with a lot of people. But I think opportunity zones have been tremendous for the inner cities. And criminal justice reform is something we're very proud of.

Thank you all very much. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I don't think I have to do outside now, do I? Do I have to do outside? Can I go directly? Can I go directly to the helicopter now, huh?

I will stop by. I will stop by.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking news: President Trump just moments ago saying that it looks like Iran is responsible for the coordinated attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields over the weekend, but that he does hope to avoid war.

However, he also said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not looking to get into new conflict. But, sometimes, you have to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump also warning that the U.S. is more prepared for conflict than any other nation in the world.

CNN's Pamela Brown is at the White House for us.

And, Pamela, the president saying that it looks like Iran is behind this attack. He did not say it definitively. Did he offer any evidence, any proof?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did not offer any proof, Jake.

And it is notable that, while he did imply that Iran was behind the attack on the Saudi oil facilities, he said several times that it looks like Iran, but he wouldn't blame Iran squarely.

He said that it's still being checked out, that we will know definitively soon. At one point, a reporter said to him, well, you're placing the responsibility in Iran. And he came back and said, no, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying, it looks that way. It could be Iran. But we will have to wait and see for sure once it's verified through checking this out.

Now, that is notable, because, Jake, his own secretary of state tweeted that it was Iran that launched the attack on the Saudi oil facility. So, clearly, the president trying to hedge here, choosing his words carefully.

And he also says that, no, he doesn't want to go to war with Iran, but then touted the U.S. military prowess, saying that the U.S. has the best weapons system. And he went on to list all the different ways in which the U.S. could launch an even bigger attack than what happened in Saudi Arabia.

And so he did sort of put out this thinly veiled threat that the U.S. could respond, although he did say he does not want to go to war with Iran. Now, as you know, the president had tweeted that the U.S. is locked

and loaded, which seemed to indicate that the U.S. was ready, that he was ready to pull the trigger on a military strike.

An administration official, the vice president's chief of staff, had walked that back, saying it was merely a broad term. And he also said that he does not believe diplomacy is dead with Iran -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's go now to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where we find CNN's Nic Robertson.

And, Nic, the Saudis specifically are pointing their finger at Iran, with whom, of course, they're involved in this proxy war in Yemen.

Do the Saudis have any evidence that the attack was launched from within Iran?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the Saudis say they do.

They say that the weapon systems that were used were Iranian weapons systems and they plan to invite journalists -- they said this today -- to take a look. But the -- we have just had in the last few minutes, Jake, a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry here.

[16:15:03] And they say that they are going to invite U.N. and international experts to join the investigation to help examine the evidence that they're coming up with so that there can be -- it appears -- better international coordination and perhaps support for what the Saudis are saying.

So they are indicating that they're going to take -- try and bring the international community with them on what they're saying so far. They do say, however, that they will take appropriate action depending on the outcome and the findings of their investigation. They say that they have the capacity and resolve to defend their land.

Specifically right now, however, while saying that these were Iranian weapon systems, they are saying that they are still investigating precisely where those weapons were fired from. They have, however, ruled out Yemen as being that base.

So, again, it is all swinging around to point at Iran. But the Saudis at the moment taking sort of a more statesman-like diplomatic role, if you will, trying to bring in international support for the position they say they find themselves in here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, thanks so much.

Let's chat about this with our experts here. We have with us the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. Also here with us is CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood. And, Kylie, let me start with you. What are you hearing from the

Trump administration about any evidence or any next steps?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. So, President Trump just announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to be making a trip to Saudi Arabia. That's something new. We didn't know that.

We've asked the State Department when this trip is going to take place. We don't know. But he said that the secretary of state would be going with other U.S. officials to essentially sit down with Saudi Arabia and discuss what the U.S. has here and what Saudi has in terms of intelligence.

I think it is important to note, however, that it was Pompeo who over the weekend came out first --

TAPPER: Yes.

ATWOOD: -- and said that Iran was to blame for this attack, and also called on all nations to condemn Iran for doing this.

And then, we heard President Trump sort of rolling back the rhetoric there, saying that we believe we know who the culprit is and calling on other nations, not to come out necessarily and make this condemnation. But it is Secretary of State Pompeo who is going to be picking up the baton, meeting with Saudi officials in Saudi Arabia.

And the other interesting thing that President Trump was asked about today by reporters, is, does the U.S. promise, have they promised Saudi Arabia that the U.S. will defend them? And he said no. This was an attack against Saudi Arabia and it was not one against the U.S. Saudi Arabia is a close U.S. ally, but not necessarily saying there that they are planning any military strikes -- even though we know that is on the table because it is something he discussed.

TAPPER: Chairman Rogers, what do you make of -- we are hearing a lot of kind of conflicting messages. We don't want to go to war but sometimes you have to. We stand with our allies Saudi Arabia but we're not necessarily going to get involved in this.

What signal do you think the president is trying to send here?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I think the biggest signal he sent to me is when he said I'll either send a message or I won't send any message at all. I interpret that to mean there are clandestine covert action type activities that could cause harm that makes the point to the United States. We won't tolerate this kind of activity.

And remember, he was very clear. I thought this was pretty good for the president in a free-wheeling kind of a way for him to talk about policy. He was pretty reserved. That we are going to find out the facts and we are going to present the facts. The fact that Saudis invited international participation, I'll tell

you, that wasn't done just arbitrarily, that is done in conjunction with the U.S. saying, let's bring the world in to see the evidence. I thought candidly, I -- relieved -- I was a little bit relieved that they're taking an appropriate approach when they get there and then they'll have all of the options available.

If they would have gone out and done something quickly, it would have diminished the kinds of things that they would be able to do to Iran to bring them to heel, and it wouldn't have been strong enough to build an international coalition to push back on them. Right now, if they stick to this plan, it looks to me that they'll build this international coalition to push back on Iranian activity.

TAPPER: And what are you hearing from U.S. allies? What are the options here?

ATWOOD: Well, that's the thing. We aren't hearing necessarily any proof from the U.S. side that they are working to build this international coalition right now. We know that U.S. officials have called at least one U.S. ally in the Middle East and said they do have this intelligence that says Iran was to blame and that the attack likely originated from Iran.

So, that's pretty big. But we aren't hearing about Secretary Pompeo calling his allies in France or in other Middle Eastern country and saying, let's all come together on this. We know that he spoke with British foreign minister over the weekend, but we're still waiting to hear what the U.S. really wants to do here.

[16:20:02]

ROGERS: Can I just add to that?

TAPPER: Yes.

ROGERS: One thing the president said and I agree with you completely, is he mentioned France and Germany, two key players in the intelligence side in Iran. France has pretty good access in Iran. They're intelligence would be important.

Just the fact that the president mentioned France, I'm going to bet that there is some kind of conversations and that is why they are pulling back a little bit to try to build it. Don't know that for sure and you're right. But I took this as a positive sign that they are looking to try to build an international coalition.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Thanks one and all.

More breaking news. In the effort to get the president's tax returns, the new subpoena forcing the issue in front of a judge. That's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:16]

TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our politics lead today.

Prosecutors in New York have subpoenaed eight years worth of President Trump's tax returns as part of its investigation into hush money payments made to two women alleging affairs with Mr. Trump, ahead of the 2016 election. The story was first reported by "The New York Times."

Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell.

Kara, prosecutors want not only the president's personal returns but also those of the Trump Organization, you say.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Jake, that's right. Sources tell us that the subpoena from the direct attorney's office, that's for New York county, that Cy Vance, that they have subpoenaed Mazars, that's the accounting firm that has covered both Donald Trump's personal tax returns and the returns of the Trump Organization. The subpoena is seeking those returns going back to 2011.

Now, this is the most recent move in the investigation which is only a couple of weeks old where the state prosecutors are looking into the Trump Organization and whether any state laws were violated in the payments of the hush money payments to women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal , who alleged affairs with the president. As we reported last week, prosecutors from the office interviewed Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney and fixer as part of that investigation.

Now, they have also subpoenaed the accounting firm, trying to get both the personal and corporate tax returns of Donald Trump and the Organization. That's part of this investigation, where they are looking to see if any state laws were violated, including possibly providing false business records relating to how Michael Cohen was reimbursed, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much, Kara Scannell.

Let's have some expert analysis of this news now with Carrie Cordero. She's a former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general.

Carrie, so good to see you as always.

So, as you heard Kara Scannell just mentioned, we know prosecutors recently visited with Michael Cohen who's in prison for his role in these hush money payments partially. In recent weeks, do you think that that is part of this?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be. So, if it was the same prosecutors which I understand that it was, and again these are state prosecutors, Manhattan D.A., not federal prosecutors. If they went to go see Michael Cohen, one of the things that they could have been asking him was information that would help guide what they put into the subpoena. So, the subpoena went to Trump Organization and Trump personal tax accountants. And so, he might have been able to give them some kind of guidance

about here is what you should look for, you know, here is who prepared them, here is some specific information that you could put into the subpoena so that the subpoena was targeted.

TAPPER: So let's assume that the prosecutors are successful and they're able to subpoena these eight years worth of tax returns of Mr. -- President Trump personally and as well as the Trump Organization.

Does that mean that ultimately the public will finally get to see the tax returns?

CORDERO: That is a long way down a path. So, I think what's going to happen is first of all, I would expect Donald Trump and the Trump Organization to see if their lawyers could intervene in some way and perhaps try to negotiate narrowing the scope of the subpoena.

Then the way that the documents themselves and the information obtained pursuant to the subpoena would end up being public if there was a case. Evidence gathered in an investigation is not made public if there is not an actual prosecution and evidence used in that prosecution. So, I think we're still a long way away from actually seeing those documents in this particular investigation.

TAPPER: And, of course, this is not the first subpoena issued in an attempt to get the president's tax returns. Democrats in Congress, I think the House Ways and Means Committee have subpoenaed the president's banks for the documents. They have not gotten them yet.

Is there any sense that this attempt made by the Manhattan D.A. would be more successful?

CORDERO: Well, it's just different because it's using criminal investigative and state law means to get it versus on the congressional side, Congress is having to fight constitutional issues with respect to whether Congress can get a president's tax returns.

One issue, though, because there is this political request for the information, I do think the New York D.A. is a little bit at risk of appearing to be doing investigations for political purposes, and that's a risk because we've seen this president want to see investigations that are for political retribution and so the D.A. is going to have to be really careful that they have a legitimate basis for this case and that this is not politically motivated.

TAPPER: All right. Carrie Cordero, thanks so much for your expertise. I really appreciate it.

Coming up, President Trump is now urging the Justice Department to rescue Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from the media. How the president could be laying the groundwork for a fight with Democrats over new accusations.

That's next. Stay with us.

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