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Iran's Revolutionary Guard Says That This Nation Is Ready For A Full-Fledged War; Trump Contradicts Himself And Advisers On Meeting With Iran; New Details Today On The Investigation Into Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Alleged Misconduct Before His Confirmation. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Iran's Revolutionary Guard says that this nation is ready for a full-fledged war. This is all happening after a weekend strike in Saudi Arabia that heavily damaged some of the world's biggest oil production sites. Yemen's Houthi rebels have not only claimed responsibility for this, they say more attacks could be on the way if the Saudis do not back off in Yemen.

But some in the Trump White House, they're not buying that. Among them is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who tweeted, "This is the fault of Iran and Iran alone." We should note that Secretary Pompeo did not provide any evidence for this claim, and Iran has thus far denied any involvement, but still a top U.S. official tells CNN, it is difficult to believe Iran or Iraq did not play a role, citing the strike's location as well as the sheer number of points of impact.

That official says the Houthis could not have pulled that off with just 10 drones as they claimed. CNN is tracking this fast-moving stories from all parts of the world. Our senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is in Tehran, our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood is in Washington.

But Nick, I want to begin with you there in Iran, you know, we have been here before President Trump ratchets up the military rhetoric, but you know, in the end, doesn't follow through with a military might, and he also did not specifically call out Iran like Secretary Pompeo did. So how is locked and loaded being received in the region? Is it is it real talk? Or is it a real threat?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, locked and loaded means bad things in this part of the world. But at the same time, as that tweet was being put out, the Iranian Foreign Ministry here were reminding people that often, things Trump says lasts about 24 hours or so.

So Iranian officials here I think possibly recognize the gravity of the accusations being thrown against them. They utterly reject them. But they also, too, I think over the past week have learned with the departure of National Security adviser John Bolton, Mike Pompeo's stark accusations that were delivered on Twitter, but not backed up with evidence just yet that they're dealing with the Trump administration that's often in turmoil about its policy towards this country and its Foreign Minister.

Iran's Foreign Minister said you know, maximum pressure is given away now to maximum deceit. I should say in the last few moments, we've been hearing Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani speaking in Ankara, saying that he believes the drones issue is less about oil and more about regional stability and security.

I paraphrase here, I'm pointing towards the conflict in Yemen, where he says American and European arms are being used daily to put people under such awful conditions. So there's clearly, I think a feeling here that they're in the spotlight. They reject the accusations, but slowly, we hear more from anonymous American officials about what they think really happened.

But still, there's a massive lack of evidence for an accusation as stark as this. You say we've been here before, Brooke, we've not been really dealing with the crisis of this magnitude, damage of this scale deep inside Saudi Arabia, really sort of crown jewels of their economy, an embarrassment for them.

Saudi has not come forward and actually blamed Iran directly. They said it is Iranian-made weapons. But we're potentially looking at developments, information being revealed in the days ahead that could massively worsen this crisis.

I think Iranian officials possibly are hoping that an off ramp emerges, and everyone can calm down a little, if I'm being honest -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So on the point of Iran, right, which again, you're correct that Pompeo is providing no evidence. Kylie, you have new reporting on the U.S. Intel community and its findings on the Saudi attack, what have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. So we are learning that the U.S. has told at least one U.S. ally in the Middle East that the U.S. believes Iran was behind this attack, which as Nick said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly said, but also that the U.S. has intelligence that leads them to the belief that Iran staged these attacks likely from Iranian grounds, that they didn't come from another place like Yemen.

Now we've heard U.S. officials say that Yemen, in their accounting and in what they are seeing is not the place where these attacks were from, but this would be new, if these attacks as these U.S. allies are being told in the region did come from Iran.

But we have not yet seen any of this Intelligence publicly pronounced by U.S. officials. They are saying that Yemen wasn't to blame. But they haven't produced any proof that backs up their claim that Iran carried out the attack and that the potential was carried out from Iran staging grounds, and that is the real question here, when and if the U.S. is going to provide that Intelligence and what kind of decision they're going to make about the Trump administration policy going forward. The diplomat that I spoke to about this and what the U.S. is sharing

privately at this point with U.S. allies said, "It's one thing for them to tell us. It's another thing for them to show us."

BALDWIN: Kylie and Nick, thank you both so much, both from Iran and in Washington. C.I.A. intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer, a former C.I.A. operative who is working at the agency focused on the Middle East tells CNN that the attack on the Saudi oil fields could eventually force the U.S.'s hand when it comes to Iran.


ROBERT BAER, FORMER C.I.A. OPERATIVE: It's very unlikely that Yemen has the technology to launch 10 drones, evade radar and the rest of it, and you know, we're pretty well settled on the idea that the Houthis who have claimed responsibility for this are backed by Iran.

We are inching toward a conflict with Iran. There's simply no way this administration or Europe can let this go. Because, you know, Abqaiq is a stabilization facility that provides up to eight million barrels a day. And if you take that thing out and continue these attacks, we're talking about the energy supplies for most of the world.


BALDWIN: Sabrina Siddiqui is a National Politics Reporter with "The Wall Street Journal." She's also a CNN Political Analyst. So Sabrina, thank you so much for being here, and I want to go back to President Trump's locked and loaded comment.

All right, so in a tweet, in one breath, he says that the U.S. is ready to respond. In another, he says, we are quote, " ... waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was behind this attack and how the U.S. should proceed." I should also point out the Vice President's Chief of Staff says locked and loaded didn't necessarily mean military action, but it almost seems like the President is waiting for permission to act. Do you think it's because of his close ties with the Saudis?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's highly unusual for any administration to outsource its foreign policy to another country, particularly one where we have as complex a relationship as we do with the Saudis.

This administration, like previous administrations has largely turned a blind eye to humanitarian atrocities in Yemen, and supported the Saudi-led coalition there. There's been decreasing support for that effort from Members of Congress. And then of course, there's this administration's response to the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi that has raised a lot of questions about its closeness to the Saudi Kingdom, the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is certainly very close to the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and then there's just all the financial entanglements that the President's family have in the region. So the real question is, is the President's response going to be

driven more by what is in the interests of the United States and its national security or by his personal rapport with another regime?

BALDWIN: But can this be ignored? I mean, you hear Bob, pointing out that this is, you know, such a massive supply of the world's oil.

SIDDIQUI: That's going to be a very complex question for this administration. Because on the one hand, this is a President who has repeatedly advocated in favor of scaling back U.S. involvement overseas, particularly in the Middle East, and at the same time, they're going to have to deliberate whether this can simply go un- ignored and what kind of response is appropriate.

I do think that there is, however, a higher burden of proof as Americans are now weary of the lessons learned from the Iraq War, and when you take this President in particular, and his penchant for inconsistencies and oftentimes, outright, not telling the truth, I think there's going to be a lot of questions facing his administration, and what their motivations are, in perhaps engaging militarily with Iran.

There has been months and months in brinksmanship between Washington and Tehran, the President on multiple occasions as ignored the counsel of his own advisers in taking more provocative actions like labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization, of course, withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord. He now has an opportunity to de-escalate if he sits down with President Rouhani.

BALDWIN: Well, on that though, the President really lashed out the members of the media for saying that he would be willing to meet with Iran with no conditions, and he is claiming that that is incorrect. Let's just listen. This is the President along with his Secretaries of State and Treasury, what they have said in the last couple of days and in months. Roll it.


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

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The President has made very clear, he is prepared to meet with no preconditions.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: No preconditions?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've done that for years. Not as far as I am concerned. No preconditions.


BALDWIN: So you hear it for yourself. I mean, this is demonstrably false. So why is the President trying to pretend otherwise?

SIDDIQUI: Well, it's unclear, and oftentimes, he has this approach where he wants to appear tough at the outset of these negotiations, but he is trying to label these assertions that he was willing to meet with no preconditions as fake news. But the sources are his own Cabinet officials.


SIDDIQUI: You know, all of this, notwithstanding, I think that's part of the problem with this President, is there are so many inconsistencies at a time when you need steady leadership.

And when it comes to this meeting, this is the first opportunity he is really going to have to sit down face-to-face with the Iranian President to actually deescalate because there's simply no -- I don't think there's much appetite for another potential military conflict.

And one other thing that's happening is this comes at a time when the President of course has lost his National Security adviser. He is surrounded by a lot of acting officials. It's not really clear who's calling the shots.


SIDDIQUI: Certainly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has perhaps the most influence and is the one who holds the President's ear. It would be, I think, a lot more reassuring for people if this administration were coming into this from a position of strength, but it's been characterized, as usual, by a great deal of dysfunction, and they are certainly going to have to make sure they have a unified posture when they go into the UN GA, especially if they're going to sit down with President Rouhani.

BALDWIN: I think you nailed it earlier saying when it comes to foreign policy, is the President looking out for the United States or is the President looking out for the President. Sabrina Siddiqui, good to see you. Thank you very much.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: New details today on the investigation into Justice Brett Kavanaugh's alleged misconduct before his confirmation. What we've learned about who was and who was not interviewed by the F.B.I.

Plus, Senator Elizabeth Warren has yet to take on the President with policy, but she does have a plan for that.

And the woman accusing Antonio Brown of rape meets with the NFL today. Could this change the game plan for next Sunday? You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. New outrage today over one of the most contentious issues at the Trump administration, the sex assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At least six Democratic presidential candidates are calling for Kavanaugh's impeachment after "The New York Times" published an excerpt of a new book on Kavanaugh.

Front runner Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar are all calling for further investigation. The book excerpt details a new allegations of misconduct when Kavanaugh was a student at Yale, and CNN has learned that in October of 2018, in the midst of Kavanaugh's confirmation investigation that Democratic Senator Chris Coons actually urged the F.B.I. in a letter to interview this one particular witness, the same person that "The Times" reports actually saw the alleged incident.

Justice Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the accusation, and "The New York Times" on Sunday put out an editor's note saying that the female victim in their original story declined to talk and that her friends say she does not recall the incident.

CNN is not reporting any details of the claim because we have not independently corroborated it. But that's not all from this book excerpt. It also describes how an attorney for one of Kavanaugh's accusers, Deborah Ramirez gave the F.B.I. a list of 25 corroborating witnesses, but the F.B.I. did not interview a single one of them.

President Trump has sent multiple tweets defending Justice Kavanaugh, including this one that calls for Kavanaugh to start suing for libel, and goes on to say, quote, " ... or the Justice Department should come to his rescue."

CNN Legal Analyst, Anne Milgram want served as the New Jersey Attorney General. She is now a Professor at NYU Law School. So, Anne, thank you so much for being here. And again, when you when you see the President saying the Justice Department should now come to his rescue. Does the President not realize that the D.O.J. is not his personal law firm?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it feels like the President keeps forgetting that and I've been a state, local and a Federal prosecutor. None of those offices including the United States Department of Justice, work for the political head of the country. Right? And so there's a deep problem with the President even using a language that suggests that the Department of Justice should in any way be involved with rescuing someone.

What is really the issue here is what the Department of Justice should have done. The F.B.I. is a part of the Department of Justice. What has not been explained is why those 25 witnesses were not interviewed? Why a full and fair investigation was not done?

And what's deeply problematic is that the Senate Majority, the Judiciary Committee majority, the Republicans did come to credibility. They made credibility determinations about Deborah Ramirez, and it's clear now that they did that without a full investigation.

BALDWIN: Why wouldn't they have? I know they were tasked. They only had a little period of time, the F.B.I. to do this investigation? Why wouldn't they have spoken with the other 25 people? MILGRAM: So that's a great question, it feels to me that that

question alone is worth investigating. That Congress should be looking at this question, because it appears that they were very limited in scope by the Senate committee, that they were asked by the Senate Judiciary majority, again, the sort of Republican leadership only to do, to interview a very small number of people and not to do the corroboration or not to interview other witnesses that might have had information that related to the allegations.

That's very unusual. I've overseen background checks as AG. I've overseen probably thousands of criminal investigations. You always follow the facts and the evidence where it goes.

BALDWIN: So that's unusual. What about the fact that Chris Coons, this Democratic senator actually urged the F.B.I. to reach out to this witness with key information about this alleged incident, you know, back at Yale and apparently, "The Times" is reporting that the F.B.I. didn't investigate. How does a letter from a sitting Senator just get overlooked?

MILGRAM: Right. I mean, that goes into this same bucket with if witnesses that they interview are saying, here are five people who also could provide information if a sitting United States senator is saying someone came forward to me and has information that's relevant, we all would expect that the F.B.I. would run down those leads.

Whether or not there turns out to be credible evidence is a completely different question. But to not even start and have that conversation, I find deeply problematic and I would not have run a background check or an investigation that way.


BALDWIN: Okay. Let me move on to the opioid crisis, OxyContin maker, Purdue Pharma is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of this framework for settling opioid litigation with more than 2,000 multiple states, local and tribal governments. It's always been part of the settlements -- the bankruptcy. So what happens next?

MILGRAM: So this is part of a settlement with a number of states, I think 24 states and sort of counties and territories in the U.S. are part of this agreement. What's important to note is that there are a number of states that aren't. So this doesn't end the conversation about what happens to Purdue, and in many ways, it starts the conversation.

And the goal of the company is obviously to sort halt -- there's more than 2,500 cases that have been brought against Purdue -- to halt all of that civil litigation in an effort to find a settlement and restructure the company, but it really is the beginning.

And there are lots of questions like how much money will come out of this? How much money will come out of Purdue Pharma? Will other states ultimately settle? Will the Sacklers, who own the company be personally litigated against? And so it really is -- it looks like it's a very big deal. And of course it is, but it really is just step one.


MILGRAM: And what I think will be a very long process to figure it out.

BALDWIN: Okay. Anne Milgram, a pleasure. Thank you very much. The Republicans challenging the President are furious as some states canceled primaries. Both arguments, next.

And Senator Elizabeth Warren rarely uses the teleprompter, but she will be doing so tonight and one of her new plans would have targeted the President's sister. We will explain. Coming up.



BALDWIN: Senator Elizabeth Warren is gearing up for a major speech in New York's Washington Square Park tonight where she will roll out this large scale proposal for one of the defining themes of her campaign, tackling corruption in Washington.

Warren will use a teleprompter. It's actually a rarity for the Massachusetts Senator and in no uncertain terms, she is using the President and his family as case studies for corruption.

Among her proposals close the loophole that allows Federal judges to escape investigations by misconduct by stepping down from his or her post. Warren then cites the retirement of President Trump's own sister, a Federal judge back in April quote, "Maryanne Trump-Barry resigned from the bench ending an investigation into the Trump family's decades' long tax schemes including potential fraud."

She goes on, "Under my plan, investigations will remain open until their findings are made public and any penalties for misconduct are issued."

With me now CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. And Dana, we know, you know, fighting corruption, it has been this undercurrent of really all of her plans. But what do you make of her using such specific examples? How effective will this be?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, she is trying to prove a lot of things. But one of the things she's trying to prove is that she is the best Democrat to go up against Donald Trump.

So by citing not just any family member, in fact, I've just been reading through this plan again, which is very lengthy, as you can imagine. She cites several Trump family members, but on the specific issue of the President's sister. She is not somebody who has been really part of the political discussion as aggressively as you might think she had been because there's just so much -- the volume of questions and chaos coming in and out of the administration and swirling around the administration is so great. But what she is referring to is the fact that the President's sister

retired at age 82. So it's not like, you know, that would be that surprising. But the fact is that she retired apparently, after she got word that there was an ethics investigation opening up back to "The New York Times" did a pretty lengthy piece, suggesting that she was involved in an alleged tax scheme back in the 1990s. So that's what that's referring to.

And going back to the point I was starting to make about her proving that she is the best person to go up against Donald Trump, you can bet that there's going to be a tweet plus-plus from the President, because of ...

BALDWIN: Plus-plus.

BASH: ... her singling out his sister. But it's also important to note that this is -- that's just one thing. I mean, there's so many issues in here, in this plan that she put out and the speech that she is going to give about it, talking about the corruption that she alleges goes on, you know, on many, many levels with Washington, but in particular, this administration and this President.

BALDWIN: So we'll watch for her tonight and then the Trump tweet plus-plus. Let me ask you about this, too, just on a totally different subject. There are three Republicans challenging this President in the primary, but they are now sounding off after Republican leaders in several states actually canceled their 2020 primaries and one of those challengers, former Congressman Mark Sanford isn't actually ruling out a legal challenge in his state of South Carolina.

And here is another. He is Joe Walsh, listen to this.


JOE WALSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't just cancel elections in this country. That's what Donald Trump is doing. He is literally canceling elections, and it's very easy to be pissed off at Trump, but we're used to this with Trump.