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Elizabeth Warren Sharpens Electability Pitch; Iran Tensions; Spicer Deletes Tweet After Saying Judges Were Against Him; Trump Spars With California's Governor Ahead Of Fundraisers; Journalism Legend, Cokie Roberts Dies At 75. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 16:30   ET




Today, we know more about where the U.S. and Saudi governments believe those attacks on Saudi oil fields came from and whom they believe to be responsible.

A source telling CNN that U.S. and Saudi officials have determined with very high probability the strikes were launched from an Iranian base close to the Iraq border and that part of the evidence collected includes a fully intact circuit board and parts from missiles that failed to hit their targets.

Mapping the trajectory of the missiles is, of course, a key focus of the investigation.

CNN's Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio for us.

And, Tom, the missiles may have been launched in such a way so as to avoid radar detection?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, it certainly seems possible.

Look, these analysts think these were launched somewhere up here along this border with Kuwait and Iraq, flew over Kuwait, and then down to hit these oil facilities down here.

And they know that Iran has one of the most robust missile programs in the entire region, including some far-ranging cruise missiles.

One example, there's this design based on Soviet cruise missiles that's about 24 feet long. It can be launched from a mobile launcher, like a truck. And while it travels at subsonic speed, like all cruise missiles, it hugs the Earth, dodging radar for hundreds of miles, and this absolutely could produce this kind of damage.

But hold on. The Houthi rebels in Yemen say they were responsible. Why are these analysts focusing on the Iranians for this, instead of the Houthis? Several reasons. This is the largest oil processing facility in the world. There were 17 individual hits here. They appear, according to these analysts, to have come from the north.

That's the direction of Iran, not from the south. That is the direction of Yemen and the Houthis. Also, they were very precise. Look at these details on these four round tanks, almost identical hits on each one in the same spot.

That speaks to a degree of sophistication which the Iranians absolutely have, the Houthis not so much. And the Iranians have been known to hit oil targets. Again, this is not a pattern the Houthis have shown a lot of affinity for.

So you can see why the evidence is starting to point more and more toward the Iranians, and, frankly, you may see the results a little bit more too. Right now, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the United States is $2.56 a gallon. Some experts believe that the interruption in the world oil supply because of these attacks could push that up by about 25 percent in the next few weeks.

And who knows how long it'll stay there -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman in the virtual room, thank you so much.

And joining me now to discuss this is former FBI and CIA analyst Phil Mudd.

Phil, the fact that some of these cruise missiles did not explode, according to officials, is obviously providing some evidence. How would the U.S. and/or Saudis go about determining that they were Iranian?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, there's a ton of data that they should be looking at here.

Think of the launch site. It appears we know where the launch site was. Think of the trajectory. We have got a lot of allies out in the region, the Kuwaitis, the Jordanians, the Saudis, obviously, who tracked this thing.

You mentioned, on the ground, we have seen reports that there's a circuit board. You also want to see on the ground what the blast site looks like, whether there's residue.

And then think afterwards. Presumably, we're trying to listen to the Iranians, including the military in the Arabian Sea. Are they talking about this? So there's a wealth of information that should be out there.


TAPPER: And would they be able to figure out the trajectory of the missiles? And, if so, how?

MUDD: They should be by looking not only at this -- at the launch site, but looking at trajectory data coming in from friendly countries around the region that spend a ton of money trying to determine not only where missiles are coming from, but also, like the Israelis, how you can stop those missiles once you get there.

There should be technical information showing trajectory of a missile.

TAPPER: The president has expressed hesitation about getting into any sort of armed conflict with Iran. Are there proportionate measures that the Saudis or whomever -- I guess the U.S. as well -- potentially take without this turning into a full-scale war?

MUDD: Yes, but.

I mean, for example, you could talk about further sanctions. You could also talk about launch sites around the Arabian Peninsula, even places in Iran that weren't used for this kind of attack. Find some place that stores the same kinds of missiles and send a message.

Here's the problem. The Germans are out saying, for example, today, we want diplomacy. If you want to go out for an aggressive event, an attack from the Americans, who was going to be with you, beyond the Saudis? Germans, French, Brits? I'm not sure.

TAPPER: And also I think there is just skepticism. Why would anybody believe the Saudis? I mean, we have been talking for a year about how they killed Khashoggi, the columnist, and lied about it repeatedly.

I mean, why should we take anything the Saudis have to say at face value?

MUDD: Well, they -- that's half the problem. You want to go to the Europeans and say, hey, this country that murdered a journalist, we want to line up to go after the Iranians with them.

I think the Europeans are going to be tougher than us, saying, why would we want to do that? The flip side is, the Europeans are a lot closer to the Iranians than we do -- they want to alienate the Iranians far less than we do. They're not going to sign up for this.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thanks so much.

MUDD: Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up next, how Sean Spicer may have just conceded that he went too far with the Trumpian twist, a tweet he sent about his salsa last night.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our 2020 lead.

And, right now, Democratic presidential hopefuls are courting one of the party's most crucial voting blocs, union workers. This comes just hours after Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking to one of her largest crowds to date, making a veiled, but fairly pointed argument about why Democrats should not support any candidate, like, say, Joe Biden, just because they think he's the only one who can beat Trump.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know people are scared. But we can't choose a candidate we don't believe in just because we're too scared to do anything else.


WARREN: And Democrats can't win if we're scared and looking backward.


TAPPER: Let's chew over all this.

What do you think about that argument?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is the case that a woman has already beaten Trump in the popular vote. So the ability for a woman to beat Trump has already been proven.

And, look, this is the message she's got to convey right now, right, because the whole challenge in this primary is head over heart. People want to be inspired, but they want to win, right? And in their minds, they keep going back to, who can win, who can win?

So all the other candidates, besides Biden, have to keep making that case. I thought it was interesting that she chose to do anti- corruption, given -- End Citizens United have had a number of candidates who ran on that issue in the 2018 midterm and won.

And I think something like 78 percent of battleground state voters, Republicans and Democrats, actually support that. So that struck me as a way to try to reach -- say I can reach out to some of those moderate Republicans as well.

TAPPER: So this electability argument isn't new, obviously. I remember in 2004 people saying, Howard Dean's inspiring, but he can't be George W. Bush, et cetera.

Take a look at who voters think can beat Trump in this ABC News/"Washington Post" poll from earlier this month; 42 percent of Democratic-leaning voters think they're the best shot is Joe Biden. Then there's a huge drop-off, 14 percent for Bernie Sanders, 12 percent for Elizabeth Warren.

What do you think?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I think if Elizabeth Warren wants to persuade people that she's electable, which she might be, she should abandon those of her positions that may well make her unelectable.

This isn't about like some weird prejudice people have or looking backwards. It's are people going to vote for a candidate who wants to take away private health insurance, basically decriminalize all crossing of the border, basically has endorsed confiscation of 15 million guns held by law-abiding Americans, and what else is something, and is going to carry Pennsylvania by running for a national ban on fracking?


KRISTOL: I mean, those are just -- those are her positions. And maybe someone, maybe there's -- look, I myself think there might still be a case from removing Donald Trump from the White House, even for someone with those positions, but I do think it's a heavier lift than something than a Democrat who doesn't have those positions.

FINNEY: But it is also the case, I mean, particularly look at Hillary's numbers, that it is hard for a woman, particularly when you're talking about executive office, to get elected.

And men tend to be -- white men, African-American men, Latino men, we still -- that is still a hurdle for women, period.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me just say I know the headlines are focusing on the fact that Warren is making the electability argument against Biden.

But the meat of her speech, which you look at it, she is stealing the Bernie mantle. The whole thing was about how corporations are supposedly to blame for the health care crisis, for gun violence, for climate change, you name it.

And that is exactly the kind of message that Bill is pointing out that will turn off people that might want to give her a chance. She needs to come knock Bernie out of the way, but by stealing the mantle, she is going to force a choice in the Democratic Party primary between a moderate, probably more likable message for independent voters, and then this extreme Bernie version.

And if she loses, it won't be because she's woman. It's because she's adapting that extreme mantle.

TAPPER: What do you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think that those positions are that extreme. And I think that, let's face it, she's not really going to win with Republicans voting for her.

I know the Republicans who don't like Trump are very much looking for somebody who's going to appeal to them.

TAPPER: We've got a couple of them here.



POWERS: Yes, but that's not really, you know, sorry your anomalies, you really are. I mean that's not in the Republican --

TAPPER: You're a lovely anomaly.

KRISTOL: I'd take anomaly as a compliment. I'd take anomaly as a compliment.

POWERS: Yes, but the truth is you know, most Republicans will vote for Trump. That's what's going to happen. That's the way these things work. And it doesn't really matter what's happening in the polls right now because until there's a one-on-one race, we don't -- we don't really know where people are going. So I think it's important for her to be speaking to Democrats than to Independent- leaning Democrats.

TAPPER: OK. So I do want to bring in this latest sign of the pending apocalypse, Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars. I'm just going to let this live. It's an extremely weird, beyond flashy salsa. But -- so it wasn't enough for Spicer, he went and put a Trumpian twist on it. He tweeted, "Clearly the judges aren't going to be with me. Let's send a message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won't be discounted." He since deleted that tweet.

I'm wondering -- you're a person of faith, what -- is Jesus really invested in Sean Spicer winning Dancing with the Stars? Is this --

CARPENTER: Jesus loves Sean Spicer. He loves every one of his people.

TAPPER: He loves all of us.

CARPENTER: But he doesn't care about who wins Dancing with the Stars. Listen, I like Dancing with the Stars. I think we need light-hearted, happy, fun television. But they made a choice to bring Sean Spicer in the program, OK. And that was blowing back on the show because he's making crude plays for votes by playing the Jesus card on Twitter. It's weird.

TAPPER: It's -- I didn't -- what do you think of it all?

POWERS: We live in a majority Christian country. You're not persecuted if you're Christian. I'm sorry, you're just not.

TAPPER: He thinks he is. He thinks those judges are --

POWERS: I know.

FINNEY: OK, but that shirt was a sin. That was a sin. And I'm a Catholic so --


KRISTOL: It's the end of the Republicans. It's the last days -- it's the last days of Rome.

TAPPER: Three-headed dogs walking down the streets. Thanks one and all. President Trump today in prime enemy territory. How he's calling out his critics in California as leaders there are pushing back on his policies. Stay with us. [16:50:00]


TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" today, President Trump is arriving in California this afternoon for a series of high dollar fundraisers for his reelection campaign. But he's doing so in a state the L.A. Times says has embraced its role as chief antagonist of President Trump, as CNN's Kyung Lah reports for us now from Los Angeles.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): One thing I won't do is rollover. One thing I won't do is capitulate.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: California's governor Gavin Newsom clutching tighter the unofficial mantle as the leader of the Trump resistance.

NEWSOM: We are nothing less than a progressive answer to a transgressive (ph) president.

LAH: This week, the President is fundraising in his backyard, enemy territory for the Trump agenda.

NEWSOM: Look, stay out of our way. Let California continue not to survive but thrive despite the headwinds, despite everything you're doing to try to put sand in the gears of our success.

LAH: California is involved in nearly 60 lawsuits against the Trump Whitehouse, jamming the proverbial crowbar in Trump's agenda from immigration to climate change regulations. Newsom wields California's $3 trillion economy with heft. It's a potentially risky play with Newsome's progressive agenda on the line, a booming state economy with an exploding homeless crisis.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at Los Angeles with the tense and the horrible, horrible disgusting conditions. Ahead of Trump's West Coast Swing, the White House floated a plan to deregulate housing to increase supply, a clear dig at California.

NEWSOM: So he's got to find the areas where we're not performing and that's the issue of poverty, affordability, and homelessness, and exploit those as a way of tearing down any new governing philosophy.

LAH: If you look at some of the barbs you both have shared on Twitter --

NEWSOM: There's a few.

LAH: There's few? There's a good bit.

And it's offline too.

TRUMP: How about this clown in California?

LAH: Newsom responded by tweet saying Trump is literally locking up kids like Penny Wise, the scary clown from the movie It.

Do you relish that fight?

NEWSOM: No, but if he calls me a clown, I called him Penny Wise, forgive me. Interestingly we communicate not in public, on the phone, in person. And he's very gracious in those calls and I hope in turn I am as well.


LAH: Now, these leaders have been known to work together. But here's a story, Jake, that gets to the complexity of this relationship. Earlier this summer, Governor Newsom was prepared to sign a bill that would require any presidential candidate like Trump to hand over his or her taxes in order to make the state primary ballot.

Governor Newson didn't want President Trump to hear this news just through the regular channels like you know the news. He called him personally, Jake, so he could hear his reaction. Jake?

TAPPER: Kyung Lah in Los Angeles, thanks so much. Coming up, a goodbye to a broadcast pioneer, a trailblazer, and a dear friend. That's next.



TAPPER: A sad day for people who knew Cokie Roberts. She blazed the trail for women and journalism. She told the stories of those who paved the way for her that were overlooked. And today we're saying goodbye to veteran journalist and my friend and former colleague at ABC News Cokie Roberts.

Her family announced she died from complications from breast cancer at 75 years old. Roberts has worked four decades in broadcast journalism starting when few women held prominent roles in smoke-filled newsrooms. She enjoyed over five golden decades with her husband Steven with whom she wrote a weekly news column. One just this week titled Truth Tellers are Heroes.

Our thoughts are with Steven, their children, and grandchildren, all of those whose lives she touched including her friends at ABC News. May Cokie Roberts' memory be a blessing. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.