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Autoworkers' Union Goes on Strike Against General Motors; Trump: U.S. 'Locked and Loaded' After Saudi Oil Field Attack; Trump Contradicts Mnuchin Over Meeting Iran Without Pre-conditions; NYT Details New Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Kavanaugh. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- 50,000 United Auto Workers walking out on General Motors overnight. Factories in nine states are affected. The two sides seem far apart this morning on wages, benefits and plant closures. Talks are scheduled to resume in three hours as these employees from General Motors on the picket lines -- you can see the pictures this morning -- instead of the assembly lines.

[07:00:23]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: There are also a number of new developments involving the attack on Saudi oil fields. That attack, of course, coming over the weekend.

President Trump now hinting at military action, as his administration accuses Iran of carrying out the attacks. Stock futures are down this morning. Oil prices surging. We have this developing story covered from both Saudi Arabia and Iran, but we do want to begin with CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich, who's live in Detroit where those G.M. employees are on strike -- Vanessa.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, John and Erica.

As you can see, the men and women behind me, some have been out here since midnight, striking as G.M. and the UAW has not come up with a deal to extend their contract here.

G.M. saying that they offered a very fair and strong contract, but UAW, that union, saying that it does not go far enough. They want stronger health benefits. They want a stronger starting salary for some of these workers here.

It is the largest strike by a union that we've seen in over a decade. And I asked one of the striking workers behind me why she's on strike this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAMARA ABNEY, DETROIT HAMTRAMCK ASSEMBLY WORKERS: We're striking, because we want to be treated fairly.

This job is very important to me. I am a third-generation General Motors employee. OK? I have two sisters that work here at Detroit Hamtramck with me, as well. My father was here and his uncle before him. Three generations. I have children, and my children will have children. And I want this place to still be around for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YURKEVICH: Now, these contract negotiations are scheduled to begin again at 10 a.m. this morning. But we are hearing that both sides still very much far apart in what they both want.

I asked another gentleman here behind me who is striking what he -- what advice he would give to the two sides. He says that he wants them to come up with a fair deal for both sides -- John and Erica.

BERMAN: All right. Vanessa Yurkevich on the picket line this morning. Keep us posted on the developments there. Negotiations restarting in just a few hours.

Meanwhile, a flurry of developments this morning and finger pointing about who is to blame for this large-scale attack on Saudi oil fields, about 6 million barrels per day. That's half of the Saudis' oil capacity knocked out in this strike. President Trump says the U.S. is locked and loaded, and that comes amid accusations, including from his own administration, that Iran is responsible.

Joining us now, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He's in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. And CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who joins us from the Arabian capital, Tehran. CNN all over this story.

Nic Robertson, first to you. Bring us up to speed now on what the Saudis are considering.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Saudis are looking at these satellite images that we're all looking at, and of course, they're getting a much closer look at the ground. The satellite images very clearly showed the massive burn-off. Those plumes of smoke.

But when the smoke clears, and you get a clearer shot at the -- of the actual facilities themselves. You can see these precision strikes one after another and equipment that's -- you know, literally through the pipes (ph). So the precision here and the direction of these strikes, it appeared to come from the northwest. And of course, it was the Houthis in Yemen in way the opposite direction who originally claimed that they had sent ten drones to attack these facilities in Saudi Arabia.

It doesn't add up. That's what the Saudis are mulling. Where did it come from? There is the wreckage that they've been able to pick up. Is there anything discernible from that that will tell them who originated these rockets. The Saudis have become experts at that. They've taken apart a lot of rockets that have come from Yemen but have been of Iranian origin. The U.N. backed that up.

But this is of a whole order of magnitude different scale, different size. And of course, the cleanup that's going to be rather more weeks than days.

HILL: And that is -- that is the separate part of the story, too, but that of course, obviously, garnering international attention for economic reasons, as well, including the concern over this leading to unrest there.

In Iran, obviously, the reaction far different, Nick Paton Walsh. What are we hearing from leaders there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, since the beginning, they've been very clear that this is nothing to do with Iran.

Now, we've had Javad Zarif, the minister of foreign affairs saying yesterday in a tweet that the U.S. have moved from maximum pressure. That's basically them rushing up sanctions and pulling out of the Obama-era nuclear deal, moving instead, in his words, to maximum deceit. He was referring to very early comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who came out on the Saturday morning just after the attacks, saying that Iran was responsible and saying there was no evidence that the attacks originated from Yemen.

[07:05:07]

We'll have to say, at this point, there's no evidence to back up his claim that Iran is somehow involved. That hasn't stopped, though, the increased temperature in this region. I'm going to tell you, you know, the attacks that happen on those Saudi oil refineries are a whole different sea change, what we've been seeing over the past months.

Small incidents, tankers being detained. Clashes here, there, tension rhetoric. But nothing like the scale of this. A 20th of the world's oil at stake by these attacks. So many, I think, in Iran here are concerned about where this goes next. I think many people in the region are looking for the evidence. They've heard unsubstantiated claims from U.S. officials in the past, notably before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But the broad question is 72 hours ago after the departure of national security advisor John Bolton, many here in Iran thought diplomacy was the way forward. President Trump hinted at it. He still is, to some degree. It looks much less likely this morning. Iran's spokesperson at the foreign ministry saying it was pretty unlikely.

But it seems that Mike Pompeo has stepped quickly into the shoes of Bolton as the chief Iran hawk in the Trump administration and is banging the drum equally loudly.

Where we go next depends on the evidence, the details, and also, too, on Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump has made it clear he's waiting for their verdict and their advice on where to go next. And they have yet to blame Iran directly. A lot's still at stake here.

BERMAN: This is a significant attack. Not just on the Saudi economy, but its source of pride. I mean, when you hit the Saudis in their oil strong points, you're making a huge statement there, Nic Robertson. We're getting new reporting this morning from inside Saudi Arabia that getting these refineries back on line will take weeks, not days. They almost have to respond, don't they?

ROBERTSON: They have to. They have to, because they have to deter a future attack. They have to do it from -- because their, you know, strategic national interests have been targeted. The oil here, over $300 billion out of an economy of $600 billion. So that's half the economy. You can't stand back and turn the other cheek. You have to find a way to stop it happening again.

And the message clearly was on this strike, but it can happen again. Because the security wasn't sufficient to stop this strike. The Saudis didn't appear to see this coming.

So this is new at so many levels. And then, of course, in the region here, it is very clear the tough guy wins. You've got to act tough. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince chosen by his father, King Salman, because he was tough. Because he's the one that he believed could bring reform to the country. So he's going to want to send a strong message.

Layer on top of that, as well, that Saudi Arabia is the -- is the custodian or the key custodian for the two holy -- holiest sites of Islam, Mecca, Medina. That's a whole other layer of, then, responsibility to have, again, the brand image of Saudi Arabia held high in the region.

HILL: There's a lot to focus on there, and we can't ignore the fact that back here at home not only did the president say prepare to take military action, but you have Senator Lindsey Graham, who said it may be time to put an attack on oil refineries on the table, Nick Paton Walsh.

WALSH: Yes. I mean, look, this is a whole, as I say, departure from, I think, many people thought they were dealing with literally a week ago.

Lindsey Graham isn't speaking for Donald Trump, but he's someone Donald Trump listens to. And that will, of course, be part of the calibration here.

We've heard Iranian officials talking today about how words from Donald Trump last 24 hours. I think there may be a sense in the region that the departure of John Bolton maybe left a vacuum in the Iran policy. Many didn't really know what Iran's -- the Iran policy in the Trump administration was, given how Bolton's position as a whole was being eroded and they seemed to be edging towards diplomacy.

Possibly, that vacuum is where bad actors here may have tried to step in and make their point. I think the concern, really, here is that we, as I say, are in unchartered waters. A sea change of the kind of targeting.

As Nick said, the need for retaliation, probably from the Saudis, to show that they simply can't be trampled on here. Well, the off-ramp, there often is one in a region like this. where all sides are practiced on kind of winding each other up and then trying to find a way to calm it all down. I don't see it immediately here.

Mike Pompeo, who's rung the Iraqi foreign minister to talk later on today, it really is unclear, though, how this calms down. Because we even haven't had the evidence of what exactly happened yet.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Tehran, Nic Robertson in Riyadh. As we said, CNN everywhere it needs to be to cover this story.

Gentlemen, keep us posted as to what you hear. In the meantime, let's talk more about this with Anthony Scaramucci, who was for a brief time, White House communications director, now no longer supports President Trump.

Anthony, thank you for being with us.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Serious situation.

BERMAN: It is a serious situation. And you have said you see evidence that the president is suffering from mental decline. Those are words that you have used. So my question is --

SCARAMUCCI: It's pretty obvious.

[07:10:02]

BERMAN: But given that, given what you see, how would you describe your level of trust right now in the president to handle this serious situation?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, listen. It's a super serious situation, so I just want to talk very precisely. I mean, there's three issues going on now.

One, because there's a vacuum of leadership inside the White House, he's more or less moved out everybody that could potentially disagree with him or offer some level of dissent.

Secondarily, when the leader of the free world, who's controlling the largest military in the world, continues to use the words locked and loaded, it's the opposite of somebody like Teddy Roosevelt.

You know, speak softly and carry a large stick. And this is send out military threats over Twitter. So it's -- it's a precarious situation. I think it's very, very serious.

You actually -- right now, there's no evidence as to what is really going on. You could have Sunnis, you know, being attacked by Shias inside of Saudi Arabia. You know, that -- those drones could have launched them from inside Saudi Arabia. And Shias could have launched them from inside of Saudi Arabia. We have absolutely no idea who did this right now. But the notion that we're going to go to war again in the Middle East after the president ran on a strategy of removing us from these wars and these conflicts, I think it's going to be a disaster for the United States if we continue on that path.

BERMAN: You focused in on the phrase "locked and loaded." What's the impact of the president using words like that?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, the great irony of these words is that they have less and less of an impact, because it's a predictable level of irrationality that's coming from him.

You would want somebody in that position that had way more temperance. You would want somebody in that position that understood, as a guardian of democracy and as a beacon of hope for people. You know, our grandfathers, through 75 years of good policy, enabled the United States to have the largest military in the world. And so talking like that from that position, in many ways, is anti-American.

BERMAN: I want to bring up two what seems to be flatly contradictory statements on the president's policy toward Iran right now. And look. It may no longer be operative, because if these things were from Iran, then you would imagine the president would negotiate with Iran when they come to the U.N. next week.

But Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, said that President Trump would be willing to speak with the Iranians without conditions. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I would say Secretary Pompeo and myself and the president are completely aligned on our maximum pressure campaign. I think you know we've done more sanctions on Iran than anybody. And it's absolutely working.

Now, the president has made clear he is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions. But we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The president has made clear he's happy to take a meeting with no preconditions.

The president sends out a message on Twitter over the weekend. "The fake news is saying I'm willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement," the president says, "(as usual!)"

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I mean, there's more tape of him actually saying it himself. At the G-7, he said it a few times, he'd be willing to meet with them without preconditions. You can always find a contradictory statement with the president.

But the real difficulty now is Secretary Mnuchin is a very competent guy. So is Secretary Pompeo.

But you're -- you're on the Trump merry-go-round. Some days you're meeting without conditions. Some days you meet with conditions. And they're jockeying, trying to figure out where -- where he is at any given moment.

So they're trying to defend him. They're obviously doing the best job that they can do. But there's a duality to his personality that's sort of shocking to everybody that's involved right now.

BERMAN: So when he comes out and denies that he had said that he would be willing to meet with preconditions, how are we supposed to take that?

SCARAMUCCI: So it's either he's a pathological liar or, worse than that, he doesn't realize that he actually said no preconditions. And so now he actually believes what he's saying. So that's the worse of the two. So it's one or the other. Both are very bad.

BERMAN: Now, do you think that there is some world actor, whether it was the Iranians that was behind this, and we don't know or someone else taking advantage of what could be a vacuum in the administration now with the departure of national security advisor John Bolton.

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I do think that that's a possibility. And that's something that a lot of ex-military officials are concerned about. When you think about the United States in its rules of engagement since the Second World War, there has been a process put in place. Whether you go back to Eisenhower. You look at the Richard Neustadt model of White House executive management and our cabinet executive management, there are protocols in place and there are procedures.

The president said from the South Lawn last week that only he himself makes these decisions. When you hear that sort of stuff and that rhetoric and you're involved with the military at some level, you get very concerned. Because what you want is you want a group of people that can help you reach consensus, even if they disagree with you.

You know, go back to John Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He disagreed with his generals, but there was a protocol and a process in place which you don't have right now. And a lot of people are very concerned about it. Not just me. These are former military officials that, unfortunately, because they're military officials, they're not going to speak out about this.

[07:15:16]

BERMAN: Are you talking about Mattis?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I would say General Mattis has already spoken out to the extent that he's capable of. But I'm talking about other people.

Remember, I've been to Iraq. I've been to Afghanistan. I know a lot of these four-star generals. I'm in touch with them on a regular basis. And they would all say the same thing. That you have to speak out about this. Civilians need to speak out about this. You can't have the military involved in this thing.

BERMAN: When it comes to Bolton, though --

SCARAMUCCI: This is serious.

BERMAN: -- Bolton was tougher on Iran than we think the president was. Bolton wished the president had engaged in the attacks there.

SCARAMUCCI: But that's -- that's good in the following respect, that there is some dissent in the room, and there is some cross roughing of ideas. Whether you're in a business situation, a military situation, a policy situation, you can't have one person dictating the whole thing. It becomes very dangerous.

BERMAN: Can I ask you? Before you became Anthony Scaramucci, you know, political figure, brief communications director --

SCARAMUCCI: Accidental nightmare for me, yes.

BERMAN: -- you used to be on TV a lot, talking about the economy.

SCARAMUCCI: Yes.

BERMAN: I'm curious what you think the economic impact will be of this Saudi refinery being hit the way it was.

SCARAMUCCI: I think -- I think the impact will be slight, actually. You know, I think 5 percent of the oil, it's a lot, but I do think the president is making a smart decision to release strategic petroleum reserves if necessary. My guess is it won't be necessary. Just the notion that that's going to happen will calm down the oil markets.

I think what's more convincing is why those areas, who those refineries are not more protected. I think you have to be worried about that. Because there will be future attacks.

BERMAN: You know, the president uses the phrase "locked and loaded." But we know for a fact it was the president who called back the attack on Iran a couple months ago. How do you think he feels about actual conflict if it comes to that?

SCARAMUCCI: You know, listen, I mean, when you're using phrases like "locked and loaded" and "fire and fury," you know, there's almost -- like, you can almost sense the trepidation and fear in his personality. You don't -- you just don't need to use phrases like that if you're not worried. And so to me, I just think it's -- it's an overbite, if you will, coming from the administration and coming from his specifically.

So -- so I hope it doesn't happen. I think it would be very necessary for the world. Again, I'm not a friend of Iranian policy, and I'm not a friend of what Iran has done over the last 40 years. Like I said, I've been in Iraq. I understand the insurgency there, and I understand how much the Iranians, as a form of terror, have gone into Iraq and hurt that country. And they've hurt U.S. interests around the world. But I certainly don't want a hot war with them, if there weren't two

wars right now for the last 18 years. And our military needs -- needs the chance to rest and get refilled. I think it's -- it's in a depletion position right now.

And by the way, we shouldn't be fighting wars for other countries. I think the president made that clear in 2016. People like Tulsi Gabbard are making it clear right now. I think America, by and large, is fatigued from all this stuff.

BERMAN: Anthony Scaramucci, thanks for coming in this morning.

SCARAMUCCI: It's a pleasure to be here.

BERMAN: Erica.

HILL: New allegations facing Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Several Democratic 2020 candidates now calling for the justice's impeachment, as President Trump comes to his defense. Jeffrey Toobin is here to sift through it all, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:22:56]

HILL: Several 2020 Democratic hopefuls calling for Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh to be impeached after "The New York Times" published new information about sexual misconduct allegations against him.

President Trump standing by Justice Kavanaugh, insisting the Department of Justice should, quote, "come to his rescue."

"The New York Times" has since updated the story to note the accuser declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the incident.

Joining us now, CNN's chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

There's a lot in here. But you know what -- and I know you want to focus on this, too, just in chatting with you during the break. There's the issue of the president saying the DOJ needs to come to the rescue, which is -- we're not even sure what that means.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't even know what that means. I have no idea.

HILL: But just -- I do think it's important, just remind us. Is it the job of the Department of Justice to come to the, quote, "rescue" of Supreme Court justices or anyone?

TOOBIN: I don't even know what that -- how they could come to the rescue. There are -- Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly have this very interesting new book out about the confirmation process, among other things, and the president is upset about the -- you know, the accusations in the book. But the Department of Justice is not a party to this. You know, they

have -- they have no role in this. So I don't really know what the president is talking about.

HILL: So there's that.

TOOBIN: Yes.

HILL: Let's move onto the other part --

TOOBIN: OK.

HILL: -- which is also fascinating. So you have all of these Democrats, as we mentioned, who are calling for impeachment. That's a lot, perhaps, for people when they look at it and they say, wait a minute. You know, is it a possibility? Sure, it can be done.

However, there are some very real questions that are raised in here about the FBI, the background investigations as -- as they stand and as they were done. And whether those, perhaps, are right for an investigation, based on what was -- was or was not done as part of the investigation.

TOOBIN: Right. So much has happened. I suspect a lot of people out there in the real world don't remember how this story unfolded.

But, you know, Brett Kavanaugh was having a fairly routine, if contentious, confirmation process. Towards the end, a -- Dr. Blasey Ford, who was in -- who knew Brett Kavanaugh in high school, came forward and said she was sexually assaulted by him and others.

[07:25:02]

She testified. And then, after some very contentious negotiations, the Republicans who ran the Judiciary Committee agreed to a very brief FBI investigation of all the charges that were suddenly swirling around -- around Brett Kavanaugh.

The real message, I think, of what I've seen of Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly's book, is that that investigation was basically a joke. That they interviewed just a very short few people. They didn't come forward with any conclusions at all. And it -- the so-called investigation was really a device to allow the Republicans to jam Brett Kavanaugh through. And I think the process, as much as what came out of it, is what is still angering so many Democrats today.

HILL: So what are the chances -- and just -- just to put this into context for people, so part of what they -- they write about is that Deborah Ramirez, who we know, that her legal team, according to this piece, gave the FBI a list of at least 25 people who might have corroborating evidence. No one was interviewed. A number of them reportedly tried to reach out to the FBI on their own, and then Ramirez's legal team is saying, too, that FBI agents who interviewed her told her they found her credible, but that they were almost apologetic as they said they needed to wait for more authorization for anything else. And then ultimately, that was kind of it. TOOBIN: Well, that's right. And what that illustrates is that the

Republicans who were running the confirmation hearings were leaning on the FBI, get it over with; don't pursue every avenue. And that's why it was the -- the illusion of an investigation, more than a real investigation.

And, you know, what's come out in this book, perhaps, a third accuser. The editor's note complicates that story about whether that is to be believed.

Dr. Blasey Ford, Ramirez, all of those stories -- you know, if you were doing a serious investigation by the FBI, you would bring in all the, you know, people who were allegedly there at the time. You would bring in possible corroboration, anybody who incriminated their story. The FBI did none of that.

And, you know, one role Congress could have is to look at the quality of that investigation.

As you point out, the -- Supreme Court justices can be impeached, just like presidents can be impeached. Federal judges have been impeached. A Supreme Court justice has never been impeached. It's not going to happen. I mean, there's not majority support in the House of Representatives, and there's nowhere near two-thirds support in the Senate to remove Brett Kavanaugh from office. But, you know, the process does exist. And that's what Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, and several of the other candidates are referring to.

HILL: It will be interesting to see.

TOOBIN: We'll see.

HILL: Jeffrey Toobin --

TOOBIN: I hope that it brings the Supreme Court into the campaign conversation more than it has so far. What's always striking to me, especially among Democrats, is how little they talk about the Supreme Court during the campaign, where Republicans, Donald Trump in particular, talk about it all the time.

HILL: Yes. Yes. Thank you much -- John.

BERMAN: All right. A new state announcing it is not waiting for the federal government to act to keep e-cigarettes away from kids. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with a new strategy, next.

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[07:30:00]