Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. and Saudi Investigators Recover Unexploded Missiles Fired at Saudi Oil Facilities; Sen. Angus King (I-ME) Interviewed About Possible U.S. Action Against Iran in Wake of Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities; Former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski to Testify Before House of Representatives. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- capital of Riyadh with all the new details. Nick, what have you learned?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, John, what we're hearing from a source familiar with the investigation gives us some understanding of why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have said very quickly that Iran was responsible, and perhaps gives more understanding as well why the Saudis officially said yesterday that these weapon systems were made by Iran. Now what we learned from this source is that some of the missiles that were fired at this plant fell short. They fell in the desert to the north of this petroleum facility. That gives the indication that the weapons were coming from the north, not from the south as the Houthis said.

But because they fell into the desert, they didn't explode properly, which is giving the U.S. and Saudi investigators good, quality evidence, unexploded missile parts to examine or determine who made them and where they were from. So that that's part of the puzzle.

And what they've been able to determine so far, they believe, is that with this high degree of probability these weapons were fired from an Iranian base close to the border with Iraq and then flown over Iraq, over Kuwait, and then down to Saudi Arabia. What the Saudis are saying officially at the moment is they are still investigating precisely where the weapons systems took off. They are clearly trying to internationalize this, bring in support, not only working with U.S. investigators but saying that they want to work with U.N. investigators and other international experts. They are saying that this was an attack against global peace and stability. They are trying to bring in and make -- and get a bigger coalition behind them, not necessarily for military action, but to curb what they see as Iranian aggression in the region.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson in Riyadh for us. Nic, thank you very much.

Joining me now, Independent Senator Angus King. He serves on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee, also recently traveled to Saudi Arabia. Senator, thank you very much for being with us. The breaking news this morning is that these missiles were recovered in the Saudi desert, and there's a very high probability, CNN is told, that they were fired from an Iranian base near the Iraqi border. Have you heard this information? Can you confirm those details?

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I-ME): I can't confirm things that I've seen in a classified briefing, but I think what you're hearing appears to be the truth. Even if the Houthis don't have the technology to do something like this, I just think it's unlikely from the beginning that it came from anywhere but Iran. And the details you're reporting seem to be confirming that, and that's not inconsistent with anything that I've learned over the last 24 hours.

BERMAN: And then the question becomes, what then? What if they were fired from an Iranian base close to the Iraqi border, what do you think the U.S. response would be?

KING: I've given that a lot of thought, John, over the last few hours, as you can imagine. The first thing, I think it's important to have a little historical context. I think the unfortunate and unwise decision of the administration to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal really led us to where we are today. There was no reason to do that. The deal was flawed, everybody knew that, but the way to approach it was to build upon it, build on our international coalition, and work on some of the issues like Iranian proxies, like Iranian missiles. Instead we walked away, we put all the pressure on Iran, and now we shouldn't act surprised when they strike back.

Number two, I think the president should stop tweeting altogether about this and stop making off-the-cuff remarks. This isn't domestic politics. This is war and peace. And he's already sent confusing signals. Two weeks ago, he said in off-the-cuff remarks twice on the record, let's have discussions with no preconditions. Two of his cabinet members confirmed that last week, and then over the weekend he said I never said that. It's fake news. Your reporter in Tehran this morning reported specifically that the Iranians don't know what the U.S. position is and they cited that in particular. So I think that's a real problem.

Number three, we should not be offloading this decision to a 33-year- old crown prince in Saudi Arabia who doesn't, frankly, have a great record of good decisions. The president sent a tweet over the weekend saying we're going to wait and see what the kingdom wants to do, or something to that effect. That's just not the way to go.

BERMAN: Let me read people exactly what that tweet said. The president wrote, "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but we're waiting to hear from the kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed." There are some people, and you seem to be one of them, based on your previous comments, that believe that was overly deferential to the Saudis, overly deferential to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, basically awaiting orders. Is that what you're saying?

[08:05:12] KING: That's what it sounds like. He's outsourcing the decision, at least in that tweet. Of course, that's one of the problems with tweeting in an area this serious is there is opportunity for misunderstanding. This is a case where all the discussions should be very, very, very careful.

Number four, I think, John, let's take a deep breath. There's not an emergency here. This isn't an imminent threat to the homeland. There's time to consider the facts, and then to consult with our allies, the European allies, yes, consult with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, the other Gulf countries, Israel, and also talk to experts.

Last week, as you mentioned, I was in Saudi Arabia. Our ambassador there, John Abizaid, who used to be the Cent Com commander, is one of the smartest guys I've run across in a long time. That's somebody who should be in the highest counsels of this decision-making. I think that's really important.

And then finally, the thing about the summit, I was thinking about a summit yesterday. A summit is the top of a mountain, but underneath it is a whole mountain of preparation. And this administration gets it backwards. They have the summit first and then try to backfill the information and the diplomacy. They should start with the quiet discussions, the long hours of negotiations, and then end with the two leaders hopefully being able to reach some kind of conclusion. They are doing it backwards. It didn't work in North Korea. I don't think it's going to work in Iran. In fact, today the Iranians said they don't want any discussions.

So this is a very, very dangerous situation. And I think one of the points that I make it let's take a deep breath, not react immediately because a war with Iran would be catastrophic.

BERMAN: You said it's a very dangerous situation given what the president has written on this, given, as you say, that he has been saying conflicting things on his position toward negotiating with Iran. What's your level of trust that he will handle this with the delicacy that it requires?

KING: Well, I'm not encouraged because, frankly, some of the people I wish were there, I wish Jim Mattis was in the room right now. I wish H.R. McMaster was in the room. He doesn't even have a national security adviser. So that's a worry. This is a decision that should be based upon a lot of consultation with allies and with advisers. That doesn't seem to be taking place, and that's why my piece of advice, number two, is, let's not do it on Twitter and off-the-cuff comments as you get onto the helicopter. This ought to be carefully considered.

BERMAN: Senator King, you had a chance to visit Saudi Arabia where you met with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And I understand, as you put it, you confronted him directly with some of the past Saudi actions, namely, what has been discovered by international investigations and widely believed in the United States to be his involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Can you talk to me about that meeting? KING: Well, I can. It was a very direct meeting. I've been to a lot

of these kind of meetings around the world. Usually they're sort of formal and, I wouldn't say scripted, but not very informative. This was over an hour, informal. He's not a formal, stuffy guy, so it was a very direct confrontation. I spoke to him. I said did you order the killing of Khashoggi. He said no. I am not sure whether I believe him. My problem is the same as the intelligence community's. He has total control over what goes on in Saudi Arabia. It's hard for me to believe that an operation of this magnitude and complexity would have taken place without his knowledge and consent.

But, again, this is a young guy. He's just taken power over the last two or three years. I don't think his decision-making has been all that exemplary going into Yemen the way they did in a very heavy- handed way as an example. So that's what takes us back to the tweet that you read where the president seems to be deferring to him as to what our response should be. I don't think that's the case at all.

BERMAN: Senator Angus King, independent from Maine, always a pleasure to speak with you. Please come back very soon.

KING: Thanks, John.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, it's also a busy morning on Capitol Hill. We are just hours away from what is being billed as the first impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. What does it look like? This morning it looks like President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski arriving and testifying. But of course the White House is trying to limit what he says.

Joining us now is CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, great to have you. So what do we expect Corey Lewandowski to say today?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's already spinning this on social media this morning, making it very clear that this is going to be about pressing the president's view of this, which is that this is all just a witch hunt.


Corey Lewandowski is one of the biggest performers in Trump world. He knows how to appeal to his boss. I think when he goes there, he's going to try his best to stonewall, to delay and, really, to frustrate Democratic efforts because that's exactly what President Trump wants from him. And in some ways, this hearing is not -- I don't know that the president views it as a particularly bad thing because Corey Lewandowski is going to be working really hard to make this as unproductive a hearing as possible. Democrats will have to be very focused about how they get him back on track because he's going to be trying to put on a big show for the president, and, by the way, for the people in New Hampshire where he might have some Senate ambitions.

BERMAN: Can I read you what Corey Lewandowski wrote about this hearing this morning? He says excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today that there was no collusion, no obstruction. There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected president. Tune in, he says. And then he says #Senate2020. So Corey Lewandowski advertising this hearing with the #Senate2020 because he wants people to watch.

That may be all well and good, but it is important to remember why he's there. He is there because he was mentioned in at least two instances of possible obstruction outlined in the Mueller report where President Trump told him to go tell Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself and then limit the entire Mueller investigation. And it may very well be that if Democrats focus their questions on Lewandowski, he may help, I think, fill in some of the blanks about those moments.

PHILLIP: Potentially, if they do it in a careful way. It will be interesting how he explains what he thinks President Trump meant when Trump said to him, go and tell Jeff Sessions this, right, because a lot of people in Trump world like to say, well, the president told me this thing, and I didn't really take him that seriously. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the argument we saw Corey Lewandowski try to make.

BERMAN: That's not a great look necessarily.

PHILLIP: It's not necessarily a great look, but he would not be the first in Trump world to do it. And he might struggle, frankly, to explain, what did Trump mean? And why would the president tell you to do something if he didn't really mean it? These are the kinds of questions that can create some atmospherics and some context around what's in the Mueller report. Will we learn anything particularly new that is damaging to the president? I really doubt that.

CAMEROTA: When he says no obstruction in his tweet, what is he talking about? The Mueller report was filled with examples of obstruction.

BERMAN: Including some that he was directly involved with.

CAMEROTA: What's he talking about? You can't just undo what we read in 400 pages. But I guess he's going to attempt to do that.

PHILLIP: I think he's going to try. The president himself has made the argument in other cases, when it comes to Don McGahn and what he told Don McGahn to do that Don McGahn thought would be obstructive. His response to that has been, I didn't mean it as an order. Well, you're going to have to explain why when the president tells you to do something it's not an order. And I think that's going to be harder than it seems. But it seems Corey Lewandowski is definitely going to try today.

CAMEROTA: It will be very interesting. Abby, thank you for the preview. Great to have you.

So there are new revelations about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in this just released book. There's also new controversy surrounding the book. So the authors join us next to talk about both.


CAMEROTA: President Trump attacking "The New York Times," calling on everyone involved in the reporting of the new allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh to resign.

Much of the controversial stems from a piece in Sunday's "New York Times" about this new book regarding Kavanaugh's controversial confirmation process.

So, let's get into all of it.

Joining us now, we have Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, authors of this new book that is out today called "The Investigation of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation".

Ladies, great to have you here in studio.




CAMEROTA: So, there are your new revelations that you have in the book and there's the controversy surrounding the book. So, let's just start with the controversy, OK?

So, much of it seems to stem from what happened in the Sunday "New York Times." You guys excerpted a piece of this, wrote an essay in "The New York Times" about the book. Some of it revolves around this new incident. There was a third incident that you all uncovered, or an allegation, I should say, of a third incident.

So, not Christine Blasey Ford, not Debbie Ramirez, both names that we heard about during the confirmation process, yet a third one that sort of involved other -- an allegation of other disgusting drunken behavior by Brett Kavanaugh.

But the woman who it allegedly happened to wouldn't speak to you both, as far as I understand it. And her friends say she doesn't remember it happening.

So, why did you include it in the book?

KELLY: So what's interesting about this one, Alisyn, is that you have a witness to this situation. A very respected, good governance advocate in Washington named Max Stier. And the issue with Max Stier is that he went to senators last year and also tried to approach the FBI to tell them about his recollection of this incident you mentioned involving the woman you mentioned and allegedly Justice Kavanaugh.

Because of Stier's respected stature in Washington, and because he runs this bipartisan group, we deem it to be credible information and it was not followed up on. So, in that sense, we thought it was a credible incident worth reporting with the details that we did have in the book. And there is more context in the book, although it's not a focus of the book.

CAMEROTA: Did you talk to Max Stier?

KELLY: We can't address who are sources for this book. There are people that are quoted on the record within the book and those are obvious, but there's not a notes section talking about other interviews we may have done with other ground rules, and nor are we talking about it publicly. So, we can't get into that unfortunately.


CAMEROTA: I mean, I think the controversy for the Sunday, at least the Sunday excerpt in the Sunday "New York Times," part of it was that in that essay, you didn't disclose that the woman -- that you didn't talk to the woman and that the woman herself or her friends say she doesn't remember it. And those seem like vital tidbits of information.

POGREBIN: Right. I mean, all we can talk about here is that, you know, in our book, we do have that. It was in the original version. And in the editing process, I think there was some debate about naming her because "The Times" has a history of not necessarily naming a victim.

And so, in the course of that reporting, I think the judgment was made to omit her name and that sentence also included the fact that she didn't remember it.

Upon realizing that omission, that oversight, "The Times" decided to put it back into the story and to issue an apology for having left it out in the first place.

CAMEROTA: So, basically, from where you sit it was an editing -- a flaw in editing, or an editor's decision?

KELLY: We're a team at "The Times". We have lots of processes for these stories. So, I hesitate to say it that way. But, obviously, there was an oversight made and it was corrected as quickly as possible.

CAMEROTA: OK. There's also controversy about a tweet "The New York Times" sent out. And this one was about the Debbie Ramirez experience. This one did come up. This one was that she says that it was during a dorm party that Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself and actually sort of thrusts his crotch, unclothed, into her face.

And the way the tweet characterized that moment was as harmless fun. You might consider this, quote, harmless fun.

Whose wording was that?

POGREBIN: You know, I think -- we decided to try to not necessarily excavate blame for this tweet, but to realize that in a vacuum, it was, you know, ill-worded and poor judgment and shouldn't have gone out. And so, we took it down and apologized.

I think the reason we decided to run this excerpt was to contextualize the allegations of Deborah Ramirez, which is what our book does, which is one of these stories that we felt got passed over too quickly in the confirmation process, and to give her story sort of the fullness of real true investigation and the fact that we have seven people who remember it. And that was sort of (ph) purpose of the excerpt and to really kind of flush that out, when it never really got its due.

CAMEROTA: Yes, for sure, and we will get into the substance of that, because it is really important. But it's just the wording of something like that happening at a party being harmless fun, and according to "Politico" -- "Politico" is reporting that a "Times" insider says that it was you, Robin.

So, I just want to get your response to that.

POGREBIN: All I can say is the tweet was written and the tweet was sent out, and it shouldn't have -- it shouldn't have happened.

CAMEROTA: But do you want to respond to "Times" insiders who say it was you?

POGREBIN: You know, I just feel like it's a distraction on all these things to try and go back over that.

CAMEROTA: Also, there's a question about why these new revelations, these new allegations weren't in the news section of "The Times", the front page or the front section. So, this was relegated to the Sunday review which is an opinion section.

Did news editors turn down your approach to them, to say, hey, we have some new information?

KELLY: So, I disagree with the word relegated. I think that the Sunday review section is frequently a place where "Times" authors run excerpts of their books. And it's happened recently with Jim Poniewozik, our TV critic. It happens on a regular basis. So, we thought that was a very good home for the piece.

I know there's been some reporting that suggest that we pitched it to the news section, it was turned down. What really happened was we shared the book early with our leadership on the news side, as well as in other parts of the paper, and we had a sort of iterative discussion amongst ourselves about the best way to handle this.

And the feeling was we wanted to write a nuanced piece that would focus on Debbie Ramirez's story which we felt we were telling with fresh detail and much more context. Robin spent hours and hours with Debbie, kind of hearing about her experience, and we thought it was an interesting framing of her allegations that went far beyond just that one incident and into what Yale was like at the time, how she fit into the firmament, how now Justice Kavanaugh fit into the firmament of 1983 and '84 (ph) there, which we thought would be interesting for readers. And that's really the message of our whole book, is sort of what are

the facts that the American public really craved hearing last September and October that they just didn't get because of the brevity of the situation, because of the shortness of the FBI investigation?

We tried to sort of finish the inquiry. Doesn't mean we have perfect answers to everything.

CAMEROTA: No, of course. I think all of that is really interesting context, of course. But don't you think that a new allegation, that Americans hadn't heard about, does belong in the news pages of "The New York Times"?

POGREBIN: Well, I think, actually, in our book, if you see that -- and I think this is kind of the politic -- politicized sort of climate we're living in, in our book, it's a couple of paragraphs this Max Stier allegation, as a matter of fact.


It's not the thrust of the book or the focus of the book.

The point of the book is to take a step back from all these events that happened fast and furious in real-time and because of our kind of polarized climate, were not really examined in any great depth.

And part of that is to look at Brett Kavanaugh's record and what -- who he was as a person and his professional and personal development, as well as the allegations of these women. And so, to us, it was really that that -- the reason we explored the Max Stier allegation was because it added credence to Deborah Ramirez's experience. It happened the same year, freshman year, at another drunken party.

It's not to say -- it was not about, you know, lynching Brett Kavanaugh.

CAMEROTA: OK, Robin, Kate, stand by. We'll get into the substance of the book.

NEW DAY will be right back. We're going to take a very quick break.


CAMEROTA: OK. We are back with Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, authors of the new book just out today, "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation".

OK. Let's get into the substance of the book. So, one of the things we've been talking about is this other revelation. So, not Debbie Ramirez, not Christine Blasey Ford but a third woman who eyewitnesses or an eyewitness says the same thing that happened to Debbie Ramirez, which is Brett Kavanaugh --