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White House Cites President Trump's "Locked and Loaded" Comment Doesn't Necessarily Mean Military Action; New York Times Details New Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Kavanaugh; Trump Pleads with Justice Department to Rescue Brett Kavanaugh. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is Monday morning, but for nearly 50,000 members of the UAW the workweek will have to wait.

As of midnight last night, they are on strike against General Motors. Next hour the two sides will meet for talks to try to stop what is the largest strike by any union against any U.S. business since the last UAW strike and that was back in 2007.

Meantime here in New York, a really significant bankruptcy filing from Purdue Pharma, that is the drug-maker that makes OxyContin. It is the next step in a plan to pay billions of dollars in restitution over the accusations that company just helped fuel the opioid crisis. In the settlement, though, Purdue still maintains it did nothing wrong.

SCIUTTO: And billions of barrels of oil up in smoke. This after a strike on a Saudi Arabian oil field. President Trump says the U.S. is, quote, "locked and loaded," but waiting for further guidance from the Saudi kingdom on what they want the U.S. to do next.

But let's begin in Detroit with the latest on the strike against GM. Tens of thousands of workers now.

CNN business and politics reporter Vanessa Yurkevich. She is there.

What are union workers demanding and will they get it?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that is the million-dollar question. You know, they've been here striking since midnight. Almost 50,000 across the country, 31 factories in nine different states. If you take a look just behind me, at this plant here in Detroit, this line has been really happening since about midnight.

Now GM is saying that they have offered a very fair and strong contract, but the UAW saying it does not go far enough. They want better health benefits, they want more protected rights for temporary workers, and they also want better starting salaries for their workers.

Now we spoke to one woman earlier this morning who talked about what it was like to work in a GM plant and also why she is out here striking today.


TAMARA ABNEY, DETROIT-HAMTRAMCK ASSEMBLY WORKER: Blood, sweat and tears. You bleed. You cry. You get upset, you get frustrated. You get wrote up, you get put out. You know, we work hard for these cars. We do this so that you guys can have a quality product. If the company is profitable, we want to share in those profits.


YURKEVICH: And now the two sides are meeting again at 10:00 a.m. You hear the support coming from the fire department here. Well, the two sides will meet at 10:00 a.m. today. But we know that they are pretty far apart. The vice president of the union telling us that GM has only met 2 percent of their demands, so there's clearly a long way to go, but the people out here behind me say they will be here as long as it takes until they feel like they get a fair deal -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, Vanessa, they've got this strike fund that they pay into, I think $750 million, so they're getting paid while they're striking, which means this thing could go on longer.

Let's talk about the political implications. I do think it's interesting that you have politicians on both sides seeming to support the union here. You've got the president's tweet, you've got Joe Biden and his comments. I mean they seem to have a little bit more political weight behind them now than even a few years ago.

YURKEVICH: That's for sure. The president tweeting about this last night asking the two to come together for a deal. We know that the president has been very pro-union, calling out GM, putting pressure on them to make deals. Also 2020 candidates, as you mentioned, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris all coming out in support of the union. And this is very important because the union will play a critical role in the 2020 election. And these candidates really getting out in front of it.

And I'll tell you, the people behind me feel that support and the union leaders know that support is there and they feel a little bit of leverage now going into that meeting with GM at 10:00 a.m. -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Of course the president concerned about the effects on 2020 election as well, what a stoppage might mean.

Vanessa Yurkevich, thanks very much.

New this morning, the drugmaker accused of helping to fuel the nation's opioid epidemic through its sale of the painkiller OxyContin has now filed for bankruptcy. HARLOW: This is part of the settlement with Purdue Pharma of more

than 2,000 lawsuits filed by many cities and states across the country.

Jean Casarez is with us now.

Can you walk us through what this bankruptcy would mean and also does it protect the family from more prosecution?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very good question. That's an excellent question. Well, this was filed late last night shortly before midnight and now everything changes because it goes into the bankruptcy court. And there will be a plan of reorganization, and the last I heard from the settlement that was going on, the Purdue family personally was guaranteeing $3 billion of their own money and that they would then sell Purdue Pharma, plus 30 to 40 of their international businesses.


Ninety percent of all of those proceeds will go to communities around this country. Ten percent to the Sackler family. They are currently developing a drug that will be given nationwide to those that are addicted to opioids. They say they will take no moneys from this. It will be worth $4 billion but all of the states and territories will get it. They are not citing any responsibility to the opioid crisis. That is a part of this, that I understand is standard. But the question is all of these suits that have been brought against the family, in particular, what will happen to those?

Well, I understand that a channel injunction is very important to the family, and what that means is that all of the personal suits will go into bankruptcy court and it will be up to a judge if they in the future are personally responsible for any of these moneys or if it will become part of the bankruptcy action in general.

Another big question, Poppy and Jim, is that, will they continue to sell opioids at all? Now, on the one side it would benefit the creditors, but the test before the judge is, will it benefit creditors and then also morally is this the right thing to do at this point?

HARLOW: It's really fascinating and as you mentioned in there, no, you know, acceptance of accountability or responsibility for the crisis.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's always --

HARLOW: That's part of the settlement.

SCIUTTO: Always the case in so many of these settlement suits, right?

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: You put a financial figure on it, there's no accountability.

HARLOW: Yes. SCIUTTO: Is that justice?

HARLOW: All right. Jean, you've been doing a great job on this story from the opioid, you know, trial in Oklahoma to this, so please keep us posted. Thank you very much.

CASAREZ: Thank you.

HARLOW: This morning the president is downplaying the impact of this weekend's attack on that Saudi oil facility -- facilities, multiple, after hinting at a military retaliation with the words he chose. The president now says the U.S. won't feel the economic impact from that drop in oil supply.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House.

So, Joe Johns, the president said locked and loaded, now the White House is saying locked and loaded does not mean --

HARLOW: Locked and loaded?

SCIUTTO: -- anything military?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Yes. It's a tale of 24 hours. You look at what the president said last night. It was pretty clear that locked and loaded referred to getting verification from Saudi Arabia about who did this and then going forward after consultation with them, but this morning, apparently the White House backing off from that just a little bit.

Marc Short, the chief of staff for the vice president, out here on the driveway a few minutes ago, I asked him if locked and loaded meant imminent retaliation and what he said, and I'll just quote here, "Locked and loaded is a broad term and talks about the realities that we're all far safe around more secure domestically with energy independence." And that's sort of goes right along with what the president tweeted this morning about the United States now being a net energy producer, in other words a country that produces more energy and provides it to other countries.

So a very different message this morning from the White House on this issue. The president also indicating in his view that Americans essentially don't have anything to worry about with this latest development in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the president has authorized a release of petroleum from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if necessary. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: It will be the second time the president backed off military action, of course, after the shoot down of the U.S. drone.


SCIUTTO: The president doing so minutes before that took place.

Joe Johns at the White House. Thanks very much. We have seen the Twitter diplomacy play out all weekend from President

Trump. CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, he's in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Nic, is it your sense that the Saudi regime and the U.S. government are on the same page here in terms of, one, responsibility for this attack, but also how to respond to it from the U.S. and Saudi side?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Jim, I think the reason that we've heard so little from the Saudis is this is a huge issue, deeply complex, not only, you know, who did it precisely where did the attack come from and if you were to send a deterrent response where would you send that to, but, you know, the recognition that this is a potentially a footstep off a precipice to escalate a war in the region at the moment. So I think that's part of the reason that we're not hearing from the Saudis pointing the finger at Iran.

Mohamed bin Salman, the crown prince here, has said that this was a terrorist aggression and the country is willing and able to respond, but they haven't pointed a finger of blame. And I think one other clue here for me in particular is looking at the headlines of one of the national newspapers here which will undoubtedly follow the lead of the government.

The headline, the banner headline is, U.N. -- it says the United Nations is worried about the responsibility of an escalation of tensions of violence in the region. It doesn't say that Saudi Arabia is angry about what's happened and is going to seek some kind of revenge.


So I think that tempering the message as they try to grapple with the complexity and sophistication and problems of the position they're in and what they face, and at the moment, I'd have to guess what we're hearing from the White House today, locked and loaded, is not military, maybe so much as diplomatic.

HARLOW: Right.

ROBERTSON: That seems to be kind of where the Saudis are at. Hard to imagine there won't be some kind of response, though.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Think of all the times diplomats have used the phrase locked and loaded before negotiations.

HARLOW: Right. Nic, before you go, I mean, we're also hearing again from the Houthi rebels this morning, doubling down on their threats against Saudi saying their strikes can, quote, "reach whenever they want," there's a long history here between the two, of course. What are you hearing on the ground there in terms of what they're expecting?

ROBERTSON: You know, the Saudis are in no doubt at all that the Houthis are prepared to fire, you know, huge scud-sized missiles, huge missiles, all the way from Yemen here to Riyadh. They've had some fired at the airports, some have been shot down, some have actually hit targets inside Saudi. So the Saudis are in no doubt, they are in no doubt that some of those missiles have been made by Iran. The U.N. has come to the same conclusion. But, you know, I think what we're hearing from the Houthis essentially is a doubling down on their rhetoric. They claim 10 drones and actually 19 sites were hit. So what they're saying is, I get at the moment the Houthis' message is messaging by proxy for somebody else.

The messaging by proxy from whoever perpetrated these attacks is saying if you do something we can respond to other sites. And there are a huge number of vulnerabilities across this country and many other places in the Middle East. No one expected this kind of thing. That's why these facilities sit out there in the desert, under satellites.


ROBERTSON: Everyone can see what's there. It's not a mystery.

HARLOW: Not a mystery at all, and it certainly complicates, you know, what Aramco does, Saudi Aramco, if they do file the biggest IPO in the world which had been the plan and what this all means for global oil supply.

Nic, thank you very much.

Still to come, some Democrats, 2020 candidates, calling this morning for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to be impeached. This is after "The New York Times" story details new allegations against him. We'll discuss that.

SCIUTTO: Plus 2020 candidates Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg get into a public disagreement on guns as Democrats meet with Trump to work out a possible plan. A lot of daylight there, though, between the sides.

And former VP Joe Biden says hate is on the rise in America. The 2020 frontrunner gave an impassioned speech in Birmingham. This on the anniversary of the 1963 church bombings there. How Biden connects that moment to recent mass shootings in this country.



HARLOW: All right, so, the president chose the words locked and loaded after an attack on the Saudi Arabian oil field. But this morning, the White House says that's not necessarily a military reference.

SCIUTTO: OK, but President Trump also said this, this morning, we will help our allies. Is that referring to possible military action? Joining us now, Mike Rogers; he's former Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman. Always good to have you on, Chairman Rogers. You know, it's --

HARLOW: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting the president seemed to raise military action in a tweet as he often does, pulls back -- and when you put that in the context of the president having pulled back on a military response to Iran shoot-down of a drone some weeks ago where the president pulled back just minutes before that attack. What's your read of that and where does that put the threat or the credibility of a threat of a military response to this attack?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, and so any time something like this happens, the military will have some contingency plans already in place that says if there's an attack, you know, maybe not specifically to this particular refinement facility, but there are targets that we can hit in Iran.

And here's what -- this gives a bit -- a good peek about what's happening in the Middle East. And it doesn't get a lot of attention. There is a full-on cyber war, the Iranians all across the Middle East are doing really ugly cyber malicious attacks. The Saudis are trying to do the same.

The fight in Yemen is a little bit more brutal I think than people realize, and that is completely a proxy war with Iran going after the Saudis. So, I think that -- the good news to me is that they've all tempered a little bit to say OK, let's do the forensics, who did it? How did they pull it off, and then what are our options? And it could be everything from diplomatic and I hope at the last of the list is military.

HARLOW: Well, it was just last month that the military adviser to Iran's supreme leader said outright on "NBC News", yes, you know, proxy wars are instruments and tools for us to increasingly use against the United States. Do you believe that, that is what we just saw play out here, especially given your note on the precision of these attacks and the intelligence that, that would take and the capability?

ROGERS: Yes, so the capability to strike as efficiently as they did with such precision -- this was not the Houthis in the northern part of Yemen who are waging kind of an insurgency campaign, that was not them clearly. And by the way, the equipment that's being found apparently, is a little different than what the Houthis have been using which tells you, it was a little more sophisticated and likely came from the Shia militias in Iraq which are proxy forces for Iran.



ROGERS: And so, they are definitely using their proxy forces to the fullest. Remember Hezbollah, proxy force for Iran, their actions in Syria, so they have really been disruptive in the Middle East of late, and I think this was a pretty serious attempt. And it showed again with the precision, the targeting, the ability to get those drones on target to do their mission shows you how much they've gained, 'they' being the Iranians in their ability to strike. And I think that's why you're going to have to have an international

look at what are our options to try to contain the really state- sponsored terrorism being supported by Iran in the Middle East.

SCIUTTO: It strikes me, Chairman Rogers, that Iran knows the president's sensitive spot here, right? Because you drive up oil prices that has an economic effect, this is a president who is very focused as we head into 2020 on the strength of the economy, and that the strategy in terms of pushing back against U.S. sanctions is partly driven by that, taking a page even out of, say, China's book.

China is targeting, for instance, agricultural sales from swing states, right? With a clear political intent there in terms of responding to U.S. pressure. Is that how they're seeing this? Is there a little bit of -- and I don't know, political interference by another name?

ROGERS: Yes, completely. And they understand -- and here's what they also understand, if you listen to their language, they understand that the president is quick to the tweet where maybe he ought to think about it a little bit before he fires something off.

They're going to try to use that to their advantage in these negotiations clearly. Think about I think last -- within the last six months, there's only about -- something like a 100,000 barrels a day of oil that was produced and sold out of Iran, that's crushing to them.

That is really having an impact on their economy. And so what do you do when you're impacting their economy and they have a way to target, you know, the United States, given where its diplomatic facing position is around the world, you go after their oil refineries.

So, this was I think clearly a political message -- and by the way, they also followed up by saying, you know what? If this thing gets worse, there will be no oil tankers traveling through the Straits of Hormuz. And we've already seen the Iranians seize a few ships, oil ships --

HARLOW: Yes --

ROGERS: Going through there. So, they have the ability to shut the Straits of Hormuz, 20 percent of the world's oil -- you can see where this thing is getting ugly in a hurry, and that's why we are hoping that there's at least the start of an international diplomatic movement here to try to contain this thing.

Not to say that the Iranians shouldn't pay a price for their activities, I think they should. But what that looks like is going to be really important.

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Mike Rogers, so good to have you on this, given all of your history with this and your experience. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, we appreciate it -- ROGERS: Thanks guys, appreciate it, thank you.

HARLOW: Ahead, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh facing more and more calls for impeachment. This is after the "New York Times" over the weekend published excerpts from a new book detailing sexual misconduct allegations that Kavanaugh has denied before.



SCIUTTO: This morning, a growing number of Democratic hopefuls for 2020 are calling for Brett Kavanaugh's impeachment and removal from the supreme court. This after the "New York Times" published excerpts of a book that offers a new allegation of sexual misconduct against the justice. We should note CNN is not reporting any details of this claim because we have not independently corroborated it.

HARLOW: Well, this morning, the president is really more than coming to Kavanaugh's defense on Twitter. He's saying the allegations are lies, he's also saying that the Justice Department should rescue Kavanaugh, I should note, that is not the job of the Justice Department.

Meantime, the "Times" put out an editor's note last night, saying, the female -- one of the female victims in their original story declined to talk to the "Times" and did note that her friends say she does not recall that incident. We should mention CNN is not reporting any details of this claim because we have not independently corroborated it.

With us now to talk about it, Lynn Sweet; Washington Bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun Times", Daniel Strauss; politics reporter for "Politico". Good morning to you both. And Lynn, let me just begin with you because there has been quite an outcry from a number of people including 2020 Democratic hopefuls, among them Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke all calling for the impeachment of Kavanaugh here.

But the history is important. I mean, you have -- you have one Supreme Court Justice who has been impeached a long time ago and was acquitted by the Senate. So, what is the -- what is the political calculation that they have to make here?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, in short for the Democratic presidential candidates, there's no loss in calling for an impeachment because they don't have to do anything to make it happen --


SWEET: Or not happen. The ball is in the court of the House Judiciary Committee, which already is consumed with trying to figure out what to do with the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump. Ironically, by the way, the only judge who was actually impeached and removed from office is now a member of Congress, Alcee Hastings from Florida.

So, to get back to 2020, the political price is easy. No penalty for calling --


SWEET: For impeachment. Should be noted that at least twice this morning, President Trump is calling on the Justice Department to investigate things as if he can order them around as a personal investigative force. He also asked that President Obama be investigated. So, we should take note too, that in his response.