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U.S. Assesses Saudi Oil Attack Originated Inside Iran; Oil Prices Soar After Attacks On Saudi Arabia Facilities; Source Says Talks Between Striking Works And G.M. Very Tense; Some 2020 Democrats Call For Kavanaugh Impeachment Amid Claims. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: As Washington impacts the race out there, sometimes the race out there impacts Washington.


Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. We'll be back at this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, a busy day. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.

Underway right now, the president sparking fears of war after one of the world's big oil sites is attacked.

And nearly 50,000 workers walk off the job in the biggest labor strike in a decade.

More than a year after Brett Kavanaugh's tenure on the Supreme Court, 2020 candidates weaponizing new sex assault claims against the associate justice as the President comes to his defense.

Plus, new questions about the future of OxyContin after painkiller's maker files for bankruptcy.

And why does Beto O'Rourke keep using four-letter words?

Well, let's start with our breaking news. The United States' assessment is now that the attack on Saudi Arabia originated from inside of Iran. They shared that information with an ally but not the evidence, and the evidence of that claim has not been shown publicly.

This is coming just hours after President Trump tweeted that the U.S. is, quote, locked and loaded to act against whoever is behind the massive airstrike on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, before indicating that he is waiting for the Saudi kingdom to verify who the culprit is.

Kylie Atwood is joining us now. And, Kylie, U.S. officials still haven't provided this public evidence to support their claim that this was Iran.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right. So what we are learning now is that U.S. officials are telling at least one U.S. ally in the Middle East that they do have intelligence that shows Iran is to blame for this attack and that it was likely Iran that was the staging ground for this attack on Saudi oil fields.

Now, a U.S. official is separately telling us this. So we have this coming in from multiple sources. But the thing here, as you point out, Brianna, is that the Trump administration, the U.S. government, has not provided any of this intelligence. And a diplomat that I spoke to explained to me it's one thing to tell us, it's another thing to show us.

So they are waiting to see what the U.S. provides to them, and we, as reporters, trying to figure out where the Trump administration goes from here, are also waiting for that intelligence.

So far, the Trump administration has pulled out some commercial imagery that they have showed to reporters demonstrating that the attacks did not come from Yemen and that they likely came from Iran or Iraq because they came from the northwest, which is the direction of those countries. But they have not yet explicitly showed us anything that does back up the statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just over the weekend, saying that Iran is the one who carried out these attacks.

KEILAR: Would it be out of character for Iran to allow the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, to create this idea that at least their claim that this is originating with them, would it be out of character for Iran to know that something could be verifiably proven if it were to have originated within Iran? Would that be out of character for them to just let that go?

ATWOOD: No, because the Houthi rebels are not reliable sources either. So it wouldn't be surprising that they would encourage them to take -- say that they did this, but they didn't, because they're backed by Iran and they will do what Iran tells them to do.

KEILAR: They're just creating confusion, I guess. All right, Kylie, thank you so much, great reporting.

I want to go straight now to Nick Paton Walsh. He is in Tehran. Nick, you just heard Kylie's reporting that the U.S. is saying this came from within Iran but they're not publicly putting out the intel that would prove that. What do you make of that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, so far, the public case is really not convincing. The northwestern direction is kind of Iraq, and then after that, Syria rather than Iran off to the northeast of these oil fields. And what they've said so far publicly is this direction, which makes Yemen the less likely launch pad.

Very careful wording though, I heard, Kylie using there about the attacks originating from inside Iran. We've Saudi officials talking about how these weapons, I think, are Iranian-made. Whether or not the accusation will be that Iran's territory was used as a launch pad for these attacks, well, that's a whole extra possible stage perhaps to be discussing.

All of this though, to Iranian officials, is nonsense. Publicly, they say that they had nothing to do with this. They -- on the level of their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, say this is max deceit. That's his play on the pressure of max pressure that's been put on by the United States, the ratcheting off of sanctions, Mike Pompeo's sort of bid to try and pressure the government here into changing its ways. But these new accusations are things that many here are asking for the evidence to back up and wholly denied from this side.

KEILAR: What's the reaction been there to the president's locked and loaded tweet?


WALSH: That only means one thing, frankly, in this part of the world, and that's probably someone is going to get hurt.

Around about the time that those tweets were made, the foreign ministry spokesperson said something which I'm sure many reporters in D.C. can perhaps relate to. He said, words from Trump last about 24 hours or so.

So it's an incredibly difficult task for Iranian officials to work out quite what the Trump administration/Iran policy is. They had thought the departure of the chief Iran hawk, National Security Adviser John Bolton, perhaps spelled a moment in which people will be looking towards diplomacy. That seemed likely, now less likely.

And now, Mike Pompeo, extraordinarily hawkish on what he said, many frankly confused and worried that there may be some retaliation in a world where there aren't seem to be that many experienced hands on the tillers. Back to you.

KEILAR: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Tehran, thank you so much.

The impact of this attack on the world's oil supply is really unprecedented. Half of Saudi Arabia's oil production has been taken out. That accounts for 5 percent of oil production worldwide.

Christine Romans has a closer look at how this is hitting U.S. oil markets.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: A dangerous moment in the Middle East, a shock to the global oil supply and a risk that higher gas prices are coming for American consumers.

Now, the attacks disrupted 5 percent of the daily global oil supply. Oil prices spiked as much as 15 percent. That's a big one-day move and they're now trading at the highest levels since May.

Now, the strike was right at the heart of this Saudi Aramco facility, the largest processing facility in the world, second largest oil field in Saudi Arabia. This is so unprecedented. We have never seen so much oil sidelined so fast before, not from Hurricane Katrina, not during Arab Spring, not even when Iraq invaded Kuwait back in 1990. 5.7 million barrels of oil off the market, that is a dramatic disruption in the global economy. And this is a brand new uncertainty for investors.

The big question now is how quickly can Aramco get its facilities back to full capacity. It's looking like weeks, not days. Will the U.S. tap America's emergency reserves in storage in Texas and Louisiana? When and how much? The president has suggested the U.S. could tap into those supplies. Even that suggestion could help keep oil prices from rising too sharply.

You know, America began stockpiling emergency oil after the energy crisis of the 1970s. And this country is far different today than it was then. We are now a net producer of energy.

But the oil market is still a global oil market. The pricing is still global. So much oil taken offline in Saudi Arabia is bound to distort the entire market.

For American drivers, gas prices for Labor Day were the lowest in three years. Gas futures market is now forecasting gas prices will creep higher instead of falling this autumn.

KEILAR: All right. Christine, thank you so much. Gary Samore is now with me. He was the White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD's in the Obama White House, also worked though for Republican administrations.

And, Gary, President Trump used this phrase, locked and loaded, when he addressed Iran's possible role in the attack. When you read that, do you read that just as hyperbole or should we be watching for a possible military response here?

GARY SAMORE, WHITE HOUSE COORDINATOR FOR ARMS CONTROL AND WMD'S UNDER OBAMA: Well, of course, it's always difficult to tell with President Trump. But if the U.S. has compelling evidence that the drones or the cruise missiles were fired from Iranian territory as opposed to Iranian technology that was provided to the Houthis and launched from there or launched from Yemen, I think there is a very high likelihood that the U.S. will be looking at some kind of military retaliation.

But before the U.S. does that, I think it's very important to build international support. If, in fact, Iran allowed this attack to take place, or if the attack originated from Iranian territory, there will be very strong international condemnation of Iran, and support for international measures against Iran, perhaps avoiding military attack.

But the key thing here is for the U.S. to provide the evidence that it has to show that the attack took place from Iran.

KEILAR: Why would Iran -- whether this is Iranian technology originating from Iranian territory or this is Iran allowing this to happen, why would Iran do that?

SAMORE: Well, it would be very uncharacteristic for Iran to use its own territory for such an attack, precisely because the Iranians want to avoid any military retaliation against them. They like to act through proxies and allies, act indirectly.

The reason why the Iranians would attack Saudi oil is because, from Iran's standpoint, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, they're acting working together to cut off Iran's ability to export oil.


And the Saudis have made it easier by producing more than they need to fill the gap as the U.S. has sanctioned and cut off Iran's ability to export oil. So from Iran's standpoint, this is a retaliation for the U.S. maximum pressure campaign.

But, as I said, it would be extremely unusual for Iran to use its own territory for such an attack. They like to preserve deniability.

KEILAR: Sure. And looking at the possibility of a non-military response here, a diplomatic solution, Iran says they will not talk to the U.S. until sanctions are dropped. The president is calling it fake news that he would be open to meeting with Iran without preconditions despite public statements very clearly otherwise. Let's listen to those.


STEVE MNUCHIN, 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, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president has made it very clear, he's prepared to meet with no preconditions.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I'll meet.


KEILAR: He's saying that's not true now. Clearly, it is. But you have been in the negotiating room with the Iranians. What would it take for the Trump administration to get there?

SAMORE: Well, I think -- well, the Iranian position is that the United States would have to reverse all of the sanctions that the U.S. has imposed since President Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement. I don't think President Trump is prepared to do that. So I've never thought the prospects of a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani was very realistic. The two sides are just too far apart on the critical issue of the sanctions.

The U.S., as the French have proposed, might be willing to agree to some temporary or partial lifting of sanctions as a condition for Iran returning to compliance with the nuclear deal and starting negotiations. But that's not what the Iranians are asking for. The Iranians are asking for a total lifting of all sanctions, which I just don't think the U.S. is prepared to do, and especially in the wake of this attack. That seems very unlikely.

KEILAR: All right. Gary Samore, thank you so much.

In the biggest labor strike in a decade, negotiations underway right now after nearly 50,000 auto workers walk off the job.

Plus, a curious editor's note appears in a New York Times story that made new claims against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

And stunning pictures out of Maine, a town covered in ash after an explosion that killed a firefighter.



KEILAR: This just in to CNN, sources telling us that today's negotiations between General Motors and the United Auto Workers are, quote, very tense. Nearly 50,000 G.M. workers walked off the job at midnight. More than 50 assembly plants and other facilities are all silent today.

This is the biggest strike against any company in the U.S. since the last UAW strike back in 2007. And workers say they made sacrifices when the company needed it. But now, they're seeking better pay and better healthcare among other things. G.M. posted about $8 billion in profit last year.

Vanessa Yurkevich is in Detroit. You are following this. Tell us about these talks and how they are going at this point in time, Vanessa.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICAL REPORTER: Hi, Brianna. Well, these talks are happening about ten minutes down the road from where I'm standing and a source close to these negotiations saying that the meeting is incredibly tense. Very tense were the words that this individual used.

And as these negotiations are going on today, in the meeting, they've already set future negotiation dates, which means that this is probably going to drag on for a little bit longer. And this comes after UAW and G.M. did not reach a deal to extend many of these workers' contracts behind me. G.M. saying they put together a really fair and strong deal, but UAW saying it's not good enough.

I spoke to a gentleman earlier who talked about the stresses that he has of working in this job and also the financial stresses as well. Take a listen to what he had to say just a little while ago.


MICHAEL BURSON, CADILLAC BODY SHOP EMPLOYEE: We made pretty good money, but not in this day and age. I mean, it's not that much money anymore. And we work very hard and it beats you up. Your body pays the price. I just want to have a future. I don't mind working hard to get it, either, but give us something.

(END VIDEO CLIP) YURKEVICH: And we've heard this from many of the G.M. workers that we've spoken here today, just wanting to feel like they're getting a fair wage at the end of the day.

And, Brianna, it's hard not to ignore the political impact here. In these states where these G.M. workers are protesting, a couple of them have turned red. They voted for President Trump in 2016, but he won by a very small margin, which is why we're hearing from so many of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates who have been tweeting since yesterday that they are in support of these unions.


So both the president and the Democratic Presidential Candidates realizing how key this union vote will be in 2020, Brianna.

KEILAR: Vanessa Yurkevich, great interview, thank you so much.

As some call for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's impeachment, there are new details on what the FBI knew about alleged misconduct before Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

And Beto O'Rourke slams one of his rivals on the campaign trail over gun control with a challenge to, quote, have courage.



KEILAR: There are new questions being raised about the investigation into alleged misconduct by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh before his confirmation. CNN has learned that Democratic Senator Chris Coons sent a letter to the FBI requesting the agency talk to a witness who had key information about Kavanaugh's time at Yale.

News of the letter comes after The New York Times published excerpts from a new book detailing sexual misconduct allegations Kavanaugh has previously denied.

2020 Democratic Candidates Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg are all calling for Kavanaugh's removal. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar are not going quite as far. They want further investigation.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump called on his Justice Department to, quote, rescue Kavanaugh. And The New York Times has since updated its story noting that the female victim in their original story declined to talk and that her friends say she does not personally recall the incident.

We should mention, CNN is not reporting any details of this claim because we have not independently corroborated it.

This case though brings up a number of legal questions, and we have CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams here to help us wade through those. He is a former deputy assistant attorney general and former federal prosecutor.

Okay, first off, let's talk about the president's reaction to this tweet where he said that the Department of Justice should rescue Kavanaugh. What's your reaction to that?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Okay, let's put this to bed. The Justice Department's job is not rescue anybody. And this is -- this follows the trend of the president thinking and speaking about the Justice Department like they are his lawyers.

The biggest example was Jeff Sessions. He fired the attorney general over the fact that the attorney general wouldn't carry out his political sort of favors. And I think it's a misunderstanding of what the role the DOJ should be. So that's purely inappropriate, but we're used to that from the president at this point.

KEILAR: The book referenced by The New York Times calls into question Kavanaugh's confirmation process. According to the book, the legal team for Deborah Ramirez, who is Kavanaugh's second accuser, gave a list of 25 people who might have corroborating evidence. No one was interviewed. Why would the FBI not follow up on that?

And also, I'd like to do a little rewind. I mean, we knew that the scope of what they were looking at was pretty narrow at that time. But given this information of these are people you should talk to, why wouldn't the FBI talk to them?

WILLIAMS: So let's split up two different questions. Brett Kavanaugh's conduct and whether it happened or whether it didn't, put that aside, and did the FBI do it and did Congress do its job in vetting Justice Kavanaugh. It's clear that the FBI failed in its obligations here.

Now, what can happen is Congress or the Justice Department's inspector general can and ought to look into the job the FBI did.

But now, again, this isn't about Justice Kavanaugh's conduct. We know of more than two dozen individuals who were not interviewed for this process. That's a failing of the FBI and it's a failing of government and a failing to vet a nominee.

So, again, set aside Jessica's -- people were very emotional on all sides, about what -- believing survivors and so on, and I'm here for that. But another question is did government fail, and it did in a pre-core (ph) duty.

KEILAR: The New York Times updated this story yesterday to say that the female victim in the original story, the alleged victim in the original story, declined to talk, and according to friends, does not recall the incident. What -- I guess, what does that tell you and also what does that mean for this, especially as you look at all these candidates saying he should go?

WILLIAMS: Okay. So, again, a few different things, a victim -- a survivor not remembering details isn't dispositive. So what's --

KEILAR: But it should have been mentioned initially here.

WILLIAMS: But that's a fact that needs to appear in the story from jump, and that is a failure of The New York Times, and everybody should agree to that.

Now, it's a question of whether the president -- whether Justice Kavanaugh should go. I think the most important people, this gets back to the point I was making before, Julian Castro and Amy Klobuchar, I think, have been the most full-throated in saying Congress needs to investigate this.

Now, some of them are saying, this needs to reach the level of an impeachment proceeding, and that's for them to work out. But, really, you have to look into the failures of Congress and the FBI here, Brianna.

KEILAR: Okay. Real quick, would he be impeached?

WILLIAMS: Would he or should he -- I --

KEILAR: Is there any path where you think that would actually happen?

WILLIAMS: I don't think there is any path where it actually ultimately does happen without more information on the record. And we have to get that information and that falls to Congress.

KEILAR: To the investigatory duties of Congress. Elliot, thank you so much, Elliott Williams.


Beto O'Rourke has a swearing problem, but is that what it takes to put attention on gun violence?

Plus, Democratic leaders give President Trump an ultimatum on guns.