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CNN Source: Low-Altitude Cruise Missiles Used In Saudi Oil Attack; Donald Trump: "Certainly Looking" Like Iran Is Responsible; Mike Pence: We Are "Locked And Loaded" Ready To Defend Our Allies; Durbin: Impeachment Is Not The Answer To Every Problem; Warren To Democratic Voters: Don't Just Choose The Safe Candidate. Aired 12- 12.30p ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET




BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: We nurture our friends and the business that we help and she has an incredible legacy.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great man Brian, that's so perfectly put. Steve has been a professor of mine, long time friends since and it's such a sad day. But will know that she will always be remembered for her strength, her fierce but fairness, and just what a wonderful human she was. Let me hold Steven's children up today. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: And thank you so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate. And welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. House Democrats are about to hold what some call their first impeachment hearing and the White House is defiant telling two former presidential aides not to show up and a third Trump adviser not to answer certain questions.

Plus Elizabeth Warren takes aim at Joe Biden and the electability argument. Then he takes 4,000 selfies. And President Trump's numbers among Latino voters are horrible. That he insists he can stretch the map again in 2020 and win New Mexico.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think we're going to win the state of New Mexico. We're going to win the state of New Mexico and I'll be so surprised if we don't.

That was a long drive, but all the way in, we had people and they were waving. I didn't see any negative hand gesture, right? No, I think we're going to do great here.


KING: Back to politics in a bit, but we begin with new tough words from the Vice President, reiterating the U.S., he says, is, "Locked and loaded" has new details and urge about those weekend attacks on a Saudi oil field. A source close to the investigation telling CNN that both Saudi Arabia and the United States now say there is a, "Very high probability".

The low-altitude cruise missiles were used in those strikes. Source says those missiles were assisted by drones and launched from a base on Iranian soil near the Iraqi border. Iran denies responsibility in these attacks. Both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, demanding a briefing for law makers, eager to see the evidence and eager to know what the President's next move might be President Trump insisting he's not clamoring for a military response here.


TRUMP: Well, one word I don't want war with anybody. I'm somebody that would like not to have war. We have the strongest military in the world. We've spent more than a trillion and a half dollars in the last short period of time on our military. Nobody has even come close. No, I don't want war with anybody, but we're prepared more than anybody.

I'm not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to.


KING: Vice President Mike Pence adding his voice to all of this just a short time ago.


MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: And in the wake of this weekend's unprovoked attack on several oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, I promise you, we're ready. As the President said, we don't want war with anybody. But the United States is prepared. We're locked and loaded. And we're ready to defend our interests and our allies in the region. Make no mistake about it.


KING: The tough talk, perhaps, in an effort to get Iran to negotiate at the table. But Iran's Supreme Leader flatly rejecting that idea today saying, "There will be no talks with the United States at any level" adding that the entire leadership of Iran agrees.

With me to share the reporting and their insights today, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Oliver Knox with SiriusXM, Karoun Demirjian with the Washington Post and Margaret Talev with Axios. Let's start with the newest words which are the Vice Presidents on the administration went to considerable lengths after the President used the term "Locked and Loaded" to say everybody step back. Locked and Loaded does not necessarily mean military response and military options. The Vice President coming out today and following the President's words again. Why? MARGARET TALEV, POLITICS AND WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: Mike Pence, unlike Donald Trump, like he's not really a freelancer with his words. He's not speaking off the cuff, he's speaking in a measured and studied fashion after a strategy has been all agreed on with everybody else.

I think part of what the administration is trying to convey is that some sort of reciprocal - if you can -gauge what's a reciprocal strike with Iran but some sort of reciprocal action could be possible. The problem is with any country, a response from one action with another kinetic action of any kind could lead to a runaway train of circumstances which is why President Trump's team are not eager to get into this.

They don't want to be projecting a position of weakness, not ahead of the UNGA meeting, not in the middle of Israel elections and not to Iran. Iran has policies at stake. Also that's why Iran is signaling to its own people, we're not going to buckle and come to the table with the United States. There is a lot of politics and posturing going on right now.

That's why Congress wants a briefing, because if they don't know what's going to happen and they want to make sure they understand what they're signing up for and what the rationale is behind it.

KING: And the conversation just a week ago before these attacks was would President Trump meet with President Rouhani at the United Nations and would there be some dialogue with Foreign Minister Zarif. But today, the Hidayathulla who calls the sharks in Iran essentially saying forget about it we're not interested in diplomacy go away.


OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Yes, it sounds a little bit tough and that we had before from Iran was no bilateral talks, which is not the same thing as now talks at all I don't speak far sees well, I can't go read the Hidayathulla's remarks in the original. But that seems like a toughening.

From the Hill I'm hearing two questions. One is what intelligence do you have, and the other is, what on earth is your strategy? You can't just go all Sean Connery in "The Untouchables" you know he sent only rush to hospital - them a lock. That's not foreign policy, you have a strategy in which to showering this stuff.


So they're asking these two questions. It's not just can you show us who did this and why you think Iran did this? It's also, okay, what does your boarder - we know that they have the slogan "Maximum Pressure" How does it apply here?

Some of us are old enough to remember February 2nd, 2017, this administration's first of many National Security Advisers coming out and saying, we're putting Iran on notice. And I don't know if you remember this, but I know you were in the room I think - We offer again and said this is incredible language. It's now almost three years later so I'm not going to get all excited about "Locked and Loaded ".

KING: Well, that's one of the interesting point so you make the point is that if you judge this, if you're in a foreign capital, and you're judging this by the traditional language, you get nervous when you hear "Locked and Loaded".

You get nervous when you hear unnoticed, one of the things that world and we in our business have had to adjust to is that these guys say what they want and they don't follow the traditional rule books. But even still just yesterday in the Oval Office, the President of United States asked about this and he says, it looks like Iran is responsible, but then he seems to hem and haw himself a little bit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen evidence that Iran is behind the attacks?

TRUMP: Well, it's looking that way. We'll have some pretty good, we have made some very strong studies done, but it's certainly looking that way at this moment and we'll let you know. As soon as we find out definitively, we'll let you know, but it does look that way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, when you said you think that Iran is responsible for the attack, do you think that--

TRUMP: I didn't say that. Why do you say that? I said I that we think we know who it was but I didn't say anybody. Certainly it would look to most like it was Iran, but I did not say it the way you said.


KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There's two ways of viewing all of this, right? First is that the President - if it is around the President is looked actually to get into a war with Iran doesn't want to actually be look like, yes, he did it, yes we have got to get him back for all the way in.

The other part of this is that, you have got to be sure in this circumstance your intelligence actually points to the person who did it. In this world in which we sell arms and fund other military and things like that and weapons move around, you can have an Iranian weapon that wasn't necessarily fired from the order that came from the top of the Iranian government.

So people on Capitol Hill want to be absolutely sure they understand exactly what went into this. Everybody has an interest in doing whatever their political objective is or what is advantageous projective and that goes for Trump, it goes for Trump's advisers, it goes for the Saudis, it goes for the Iranians, it goes for the Houthis, it goes for everybody in that region.

And so it's confusing and it's - and you can see the President is trying to like leave himself room for whatever may be the case. We don't know which side of it he's thinking on right now whether he is concerned about the intelligence or he's concerned about intelligence meaning he may have to go into a combat situation or a battle that he doesn't want to start.

But everybody is trying to just kind of hold everything back as much as they can before it all floods over and they have no choice to do.

KING: It's at that point, though, given what is going on in that part of the world, and has been for some time, but the civil war, the Saudis involved in the Yemeni war, Israelis in the neighborhood of the United States in the neighborhood, the Saudis in the neighborhood with a lot of American technology, this is the most watched, if you will, from above region in the world.

If these drones and missiles came from inside Iran, there is proof of that. The question is will that proof be made public and then what do you do with it? To the point that the President sometimes sends mixed signals on Capitol Hill not only confusion, they want a briefing, they want to see the evidence, but also differing opinions about what to do?


SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE (R): I think we need to continue with the sanctions. They are biting, they are punishing, they're making a difference.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The sanctions are hurting their economy but they're not changing the behavior. The target list I would put on the table if there is an ulterior strike, could be the Iranians oil refineries. Nobody is talking about invading Iran, but we want to make them pay a price.


KING: This is recurring as well in the sense that when there is a big issue, domestic issue where now an issue of war and peace before the President, a lot of people in his own party think he's malleable, if you will. Let's try to make our case.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And Lindsey Graham there are representing the hawkish part of the Republican Party trying to send signals there, but the President has been pretty steadfast as a candidate and now as President in terms of not really wanting to get into conflict.

He's sort of Iran poll Republican in that way, even though on Twitter in his language he often sounds like he's saber rattling and like a hawks hog in saying, for instance, that they're locked and loaded. But this has been his doctrine the idea that conflict is bad for his base also believe that.


HENDERSON: And just Americans in general sort of the specter of the wars that we've seen in the past there isn't any real appetite except maybe from sort of traditional wing of the Republican Party to engage in military action.

TALEV: It is willing to do a calculated strike with Syria; Iran is a completely different proposition in terms of size, scope, power, implications for the rest of the world. The other part of what's going on in the Hill is that, there is a lot of frustration, by the way, in both parties directed toward the Saudis.

Not just because of Jamal Khashoggi's murder almost a year ago but because of Saudi engagement in Yemen, which has fueled the situation that has got Iran engaged on behalf of its proxies. And so there are really two sides. I think everybody agrees the U.S. has to defend a strategic interest and Iran is a bad actor in the arena but there is not uniform agreement on when the Saudis are - or how much the Saudis are kind of worth coming to the rescue.

KING: Well, the Saudis have dirty hands here to Secretary of State Pompeo the Vice President announces on his way to Saudi Arabia, and the question was when would he go? And Mike Pence saying he's going today and where.

KNOX: And where if is it just Saudi? Because he do a loop around the region to the other American partners, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordon a lot of other countries or does he go to Europe? One of the big problems here for the Trump Administration is that they have been sundered from European allies. China and Russia also not on board, that might change if you give a detailed intelligence explanation for what you saw there but where Pompeo goes is the question.

KING: So we'll watch that in the days ahead. When we come back we move to a big question up on Capitol Hill, a big name witness and a big debate over impeachment.



KING: Big event here in Washington next hour, House Judiciary Democrats will gabble in what some Democrats advertise as the first impeachment hearings against President Trump. Never mind, that there are no articles of impeachment. The Democrats struggle to agree if what Chairman Nadler is doing next hour constitutes an impeachment investigation.

Alongside to continue Democratic confusion, continued White House defiant. The star witness today, Corey Lewandowski, he is the Former Trump Campaign Manager and Robert Mueller's star witness. But the White House last night laid down a big marker and said it will limit what Lewandowski can say, despite the simple fact Lewandowski never worked in the Trump White House.

Let's get straight to Capitol Hill, CNN's Manu Raju. Manu, what is it the Democrats hope to accomplish with this hearing and is it an impeachment hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Democrats have had a hard time getting fact witnesses to appear before the House Judiciary Committee people who are listed in the Muller Report who apparently witnessed allegations of obstruction of justice.

The President apparently trying to fort the Mueller probe because the White House says block those witnesses from going forward saying that a lot of these former and current White House officials are immune from testifying. That's why they have not gone Don McGahn the Former White House Counsel to appear.

That's why they're - Democrats have not been able to get two other White House officials to appear today. Former White House officials Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, because the White House says they are immune from testifying. That is part of a court battle that is already playing out over the McGahn testimony.

But Corey Lewandowski is different because he never served in the White House, even though the White House is trying to limit exactly what he can say today. So Democrats are trying to hoping that Lewandowski will reveal what the Mueller Report said, which showed that the President directed Lewandowski to try to setup a meeting with than Attorney General Jeff Sessions' to limit the scope of the Mueller probe to not include the Trump campaign and said to focus on future campaigns.

He had several conversations about that. So expect that to be a significant line of questioning for Democrats today, but the questions are ultimately what will Lewandowski say? How much new will he reveal and how feisty will this get? The last time he appeared before House Democrats before the House Intelligence Committee behind close-doors John that turned out to be a very contentious affair.

He cursed at a number of Democrats we'll see how he approaches it today as he considers his own political future, including a Senate race in New Hampshire. John?

KING: I'm guessing confrontation is going to be the word of the day when we come back from this one. Manu, an interesting afternoon for you on the Hill, I appreciate the live report there. I want to get back to, number one, what is this?

I'm sorry, I'm a broken record on this one, but what is this? The Democrats, so many Democrats, want to use the impeachment word, and then other Democrats say well we should gather facts before we write the last chapter of the book, why don't we gather facts first?

Dick Durbin, Member of the Senate Leadership on the Democratic side, Former House Member, told this to "Politico" "Get real. We have got to get beyond this impeachment is the answer to every problem. It's not realistic. If that's how we're identified in Congress as the impeachment Congress, we run the risk that people will feel we're ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families".

Meaning Democrats had a great year in 2018 when it was about health care and about other bread and butter issues for Americans, and he is worried, both from the Senate landscape, and we know Speaker Pelosi is worried about this from the House landscape, that if every time something happens they use the impeachment word is supposed to let's investigate, let's gather facts but they will hurt themselves. DEMIRJIAN: That's definitely the political concern. It's very similar to what Speaker Pelosi has been saying about let's not focus so much on impeachment. There is a whole other issue that people actually care about that matter on the campaign drill. They turn into votes; they turn to majorities that will win us back the White House.

But the problem is that if you say let's investigate, let's just do the investigations, you are dealing right now with a White House that is not cooperating with this investigations or there are subpoena, so everything is going to the court process to be able to find the information that they might use for an impeachment--


DEMIRJIAN: --for the actual impeachment if they get that far. It's getting in the court's world, and for the court, the word impeachment does seem to matter and the argument that the numbers can make for getting this information for forcing the White House's hand is that much stronger if they say the word impeachment. So you'll in this weird - thing where impeachment is bad politically but it's necessary to actually be able to do the investigations in a procedural fashion, and that's why we have a mess.

KING: And I mean two things can be true at once, and that the Democrats are confused about what they're doing here. At least a lot of moderates don't want anything to do with the word impeachment, and the White House is essentially thumbing its nose at what it supposed to be a co-equal branch of government.

You mentioned they wouldn't let two witnesses even come. They said no those guys work in the White House, we're not even sending them up there Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn. And for Corey Lewandowski, who was the campaign manager, but then has remains since the campaign when he was fired in the middle of the campaign, 2016, but he has remained close to the President.

He's one of the people the President calls when he wants them business done in Washington or whether he just wants to get advice. The White House Counsel saying this, Mr. Lewandowski's conversations with the President and with Senior Advisers of the President are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting Executive Branch confidentiality interests.

And, as a result, the White House has directed Mr. Lewandowski not to provide information about such communications beyond the information provided in the portions of the report. So they're essentially saying either nod your head and say yes or contest the Mueller Report but saying nothing else. He never worked in the White House. He never earned a penny of taxpayer money. Does he have privilege?

KNOX: I'm not sure - I didn't read the letter from White House Counsel's. I don't know if they're actually invoking an actual court case, but the last I looked there has been court actually ruled on this. There was no absolute immunity even for west wing aide's right against testifying. So private sector folks probably don't benefit either. To your point of the politics, they identify it for Obama's First Communications Director, I'm going to paraphrase here said this on Twitter. The politics of impeachment might be good for us. They might be bad for us. But the strategy of telling the base it is an impeachment process and telling moderates it's not is disastrous. No one's happy.

DEMIRJIAN: No. We've been arguing about this privilege arguments for years at this point. When the House Intel Committee was doing its investigation that was GOP led, there were all these questions where when can you invoke the Executive Privilege? And the fight was even Republicans were saying you can't invoke that over the transition period.

You can't invoke that before you get to the White House where things that didn't happen on the Oval. We've been re-litigating this over and over and over again, and it seems that Congress has one very clear argument with the White House they can't get the White House to actually fall in the line they've set.

KING: And so all these become stuck your base, the White House - if the White House Counsel is an Attorney but he's stoking the Republicans, he's trying to drive the Democrats to do more. The Democrats are trying to keep their base happy by at least pretending they're open to the idea of impeaching.

I don't know if that words fair and I'm trying to be unfair to the Democrats. I just don't know what they're doing with this because they're not clear about it? Corey Lewandowski might run for Senate in New Hampshire.

A lot of Republicans up there wish he wouldn't, but he is thinking about which is why you see this. Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion, no obstruction. There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President. #Senate2020. He's using this as a campaign ad.

TALEV: Yes, Democrats might actually regret doing this because there is no circumstance on which Corey Lewandowski is going to be like you know what you're right. I'm going to tell you what really happened. I mean, we're privilege, conversations at Maryland, I'll be legally privileged. I'm kind of dump on the President.

That's never going to happen. He's going to use this to test the waters for his Senate bid. He will relish the confrontations with Democrats. The Democratic Party will remain split on the efficacy of making it look like they're proceeding with impeachment. Whether they proceed or don't proceed, impeachment only actually works as like an actual tool if either both parties want to impeach person X or one party as if just super majority in the Senate that they can make it happen on their own.

We all know that number doesn't exist now and that's why - that's not just moderate Democrats, Nancy Pelosi only in today's standards is a moderate Democrat doesn't see a win at the end of this strategy. KING: Right, every element of this from the White House to Capitol Hill and beyond is you wonder why people don't like Congress? Don't like Washington? Today is a good textbook example of that. Up next, Elizabeth Warren takes on her critics and has a big message for Democratic voters. Don't pick the safe candidate.



KING: You see Elizabeth Warren there on stage. She's at an event today in New York, the National Abortion Rights Action League. She also staged a big event in the city last night. The official reason was to detail her ideas to fight corruption in government. But her bigger goal was to directly address what team Warren views as the two obstacles to her winning the 2020 Democratic Nomination. One, Joe Biden, two, the worry Warren is too liberal to win a General Election.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a lot at stake in this election. And 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. And Democrats can't win if we're scared and looking backward. I am not afraid. And you can't be afraid, either.