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Trump Announces New Sanctions on Iran for Attack on Saudis; Pompeo Heading to Saudi Arabia to Talk Possible Responses to Oil Facilities Attack; Trump Announced Robert O'Brien as Next National Security Adviser; Graham Calls for Strike at Iranian Oil Facilities in Retaliation; Acting DNI Refuses to Comply with House Intel Panel Subpoena; Corey Lewandowski Stonewalls House Democrats at Hearing. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all for being with us. We'll see you back tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"AT THIS HOUR" with our colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin. Thank you so much for joining me.

We are following breaking news on several fronts this morning. Saudi Arabia setting out to prove what they say is Iran's role on attacks on two major Saudi oil facilities. The defense minister there is holding a news conference as we speak to present what they say is material evidence. Now even before, we'll bring you more as it comes out from that news conference.

Even before that, President Trump it appears isn't waiting any longer for evidence, announcing on Twitter a short time ago, that he is ordering his administration to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran.

This, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is literally in the air, soon to land in Saudi Arabia to get a clear picture of what happened and talk about any possible response.

One important voice that has been missing in all of this has been the national security adviser, with John Bolton gone. But there's news on that front as well. President Trump announcing this morning he has chosen his chief hostage negotiator, Robert O'Brien, to fill that post.

Clearly, there's a lot to get to this morning so let's get straight to it.

Joining me is, CNN national security correspondent, Kylie Atwood, CNN White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.

Kylie, first you.

What are you hearing about this new round of sanctions that the president is ordering and also are any plans for any possible military action?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. So, Kate, we are just learning via tweet that President Trump has ordered to substantially increase U.S. sanctions on Iran. We don't know the details of what those sanctions are going to look like yet.

And we have just reported over the night that Department of Defense officials have been asked to present plans to President Trump, to draw up plans for a potential response to that attack on the Saudi oil field. But the president hasn't revealed any detailed plans yet. He just told reporters yesterday that it's really up to Saudi Arabia.

Now, as you said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been dispatched to the region. He should be landing in Saudi Arabia later today, where he will meet with Saudi officials to determine the way forward. Obviously, the U.S. is already moving on their own here with some sanctions.

But when it comes to the U.S. military posture in the region, that has been left unchanged. So we are really waiting to see what the results of this meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Saudi crown prince end up being before we know which way the administration is really going to go in charting a path forward.

As President Trump has said, he believes that this was an attack on Saudi Arabia -- I'm sorry, this was an attack on the Saudi all fields. It was not an attack on the U.S. So the question here is now, where did they go. And Mike Pompeo is on the ground there to determine that path forward.

BOLDUAN: There's a lot to be learned at this moment.

Kylie, thank you for that.

Boris, fill us in on Robert O'Brien in the midst of all this, the president's new pick for national security adviser.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, O'Brien was named special presidential envoy for hostage affairs by President Trump in 2018.

A senior White House official telling CNN President Trump wanted someone who is a consensus builder and not a showboater. The president clearly unhappy with John Bolton, who he saw as someone that would frequently speak to the press about their disagreements, someone who sort of had made a name for himself with his views on foreign policy.

In this case, going with Robert O'Brien, he's more, as a source told Jeremy, a consensus builder. He comes from Mike Pompeo's State Department, perhaps a sign that Pompeo's influence within the administration is growing. O'Brien worked for the Bush administration and did work for the U.N.

as well. He has experience with working with Afghan lawyers and judges. Perhaps that will come in handy with one of the main directives of this administration in withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan.

It's a hefty portfolio that O'Brien is inheriting. Not just withdrawing from Afghanistan, but tensions rising between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The trade war with China. Ongoing de-nuclearization efforts with North Korea.

And it is a National Security Council that has seen a tremendous amount of turnover. Remember, this is President Trump's fourth pick to be national security adviser in three years -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's right.

Boris, thank you.

Kylie, thanks so much.

Joining us right now from Tel Aviv is Dan Shapiro. He's a former ambassador to Israel. He was also a senior director for the Middle East on President Obama's national Security Council.

Ambassador, thanks for being here.


BOLDUAN: So the president announced this morning, with regard to Iran, ordering increased sanctions on the country. What impact do you think that is going to have now?


SHAPIRO: We have already sanctioned Iran almost to the full extent of our capability. So I'm not sure it will have a significant additional impact.

What is important, though, is to make sure that we are not alone in demonstrating to the Iranians, if it's demonstrated, that, indeed, Iran is responsible for this attack, which seems very likely, and that other participants in the national community, obviously, our Gulf allies, but also Europeans, China, others who have an interest in stable global energy supplies, convey to the Iranians that that is unacceptable things to do.

There may be others who can join us in sanctioning Iran in a way that would have more of an impact.

Obviously, there needs to be at least consideration of some kind of retaliatory measure without escalating to a full-scale conflict. Because if it is demonstrated Iran is responsible, that clearly the attack on clearly the global economic system not just on one country. BOLDUAN: One question being discussed and quite extensively and

explored as we speak is what evidence there is or isn't really points the finger at direct involvement from Iran.

You have this news conference that this is ongoing with Saudi officials who say that they are presenting material evidence of what they have been able to pick up, components it looks likes of missiles that they're laying out on tables.

And I wonder, what evidence do you think is required to see publicly and presented publicly to really point the finger at Iran here?

SHAPIRO: I believe that our own intelligence capabilities, the evidence that the Saudis are able gather, is very likely to be able to demonstrate the origin of the weapons that were used in the attack. The place they were manufactured. The direction from which they came. And we have a whole range of intelligence that we can draw on to try to document that.

If again, it is proven that Iran is responsible, that's a very serious matter. And it shouldn't be only on the United States, it shouldn't be only on Saudi Arabia to demonstrate to Iran that that's unacceptable.

Now, we should be doing other things as well, such as keeping the door opened to a renewed diplomatic process with Iran on its nuclear program, something that President Trump walked away from when he cancelled the Iran --


BOLDUAN: Do you think that is possible in light of this?

SHAPIRO: It may. It's certainly difficult. But this is the challenge of vexing national security issues like this one. How do you show toughness and demonstrate there are red lines and unacceptable actions? Yet also lead the door opened to the kind of diplomacy that can deescalate and reach agreements that can prevent these kinds of things from happening.

Not easy to do, senior much what's called for at the moment.

BOLDUAN: Senator Lindsey Graham is calling for a strike at Iranian oil facilities. He is already calling for it. He says that he thinks this latest attack is a sign that Iran isn't taking the president's threats seriously, that he says Iran is seeing kind of what has happened with the downing of the drone and the response to that as weakness.

And Ambassador Dennis Ross was on. He called, what if Iran is behind this, an act of war if Iran is directly involved.

So does it require what would be you know an unprecedented then response if terms of military response do you think from the United States? SHAPIRO: Again, if it's proven, it certainly requires a response.

That can be from the United States. It can be from Gulf countries. It can be from Europeans. It can be -- it should be an international response, not something that the United States simply takes on its own, and not one that it can at all be avoided leads to any kind of escalation and a long -- in an ongoing conflict.

But there's no question that attacks like that on not just another country's sovereign territory, but facilities that affect the entire global energy supply, isn't something that should interest allowed to be conducted without Iran understanding it's unacceptable.

But there's a whole range of possible responses. Military can be among them. So can covert actions, so can economic sanctions, again, with international, a much broader international support than what we have at the moment.

So I think that's, again, the task of the administration is to build the coalition that will find the means to demonstrate to Iran that if they have conducted that kind of attack, it's unacceptable and comes with high costs.

BOLDUAN: I find, after these conversations, I am always wishing we can discuss all of the things you cannot discuss publicly in terms of the range of options. I am always fascinated if we can do that.

I appreciate your time. Thank you so much, Ambassador.

SHAPIRO: Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, why is the nation's top intelligence official ignoring a congressional subpoena? How a refusal to turn over a whistleblower complaint is raising questions about what the Trump administration could be hiding.


And if you didn't catch the Corey Lewandowski testimony before Congress yesterday, you missed quite a show. Trump's former campaign manager within those hours of testimony acknowledged that he does not feel obligated to tell the truth unless he is under oath. Coming up, was this whole thing a mess or a success for House Democrats? And what are the next steps?



BOLDUAN: Another congressional request, another denial from the Trump administration. But this one is raising more than a few eyebrows. The acting director of National Intelligence is refusing to turn over a whistleblower complaint to Congress that was deemed credible and urgent by the inspector general. Why? Well, here is the line from the DNI. And it's really quite

interesting. Because, "The information involves confidential matters relating to interests of other stakeholders within the executive branch."

Really? House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff is fighting back against the stonewalling now.

CNN senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is following the latest here.

Alex, what is going on?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, what we have here is the acting director of National Intelligence rejecting politely but still rejecting this subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee that the Chairman Adam Schiff issued on Friday night.

The acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, saying it's for two reasons. First, there wasn't enough time. The subpoena came Friday night. He had two business days to respond.

The second much bigger reason that you touched on is that he disagrees this whistleblower complaint is of urgent concern. That's despite the fact the Intelligence Community inspector general says it is urgent.

The reason the DNI doesn't think it's urgent is this complaint, according to this letter we obtained from ODNI, doesn't have to directly do with intelligence activity. Instead they write, quote, "The complaint here involves could have had confidential privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the executive branch."

The executive branch, as you just mentioned, so that is the Trump White House or the various departments that fall under it.

Who have these executive state branch stakeholders the whistleblower complained about? We don't know. That is the big mystery.

The acting DNI, Maguire, is asking for more time for what he calls appropriate consultations. The Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff immediately responded saying, quote, "The acting DNI cannot provide the complaint as required under the law or he will be required to come before the committee to tell the public why he is not following the clear letter of the law."

Now, Schiff had demanded that Maguire's testimony happen on Thursday. It doesn't look like that will happen. Maguire's lawyer says it's so short notice it wouldn't be available and it wouldn't be a productive exercise -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It definitely will be an exercise in something coming up. We will see. It will be an exercise of wills it seems coming up.

Great to see you, Alex. Thank you.

Joining me right now is a former U.S. attorney, Harry Litman.

I got a lot of questions, Harry. I'd like your perspective on this.

There's a whistleblower law. What does that mean for this situation?

HARRY LITMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It means the administration position is bankrupt and directly contrary to the law.

Remember, why we have whistleblowers in the first place? We've seen them in DOJ and other places. It's because you want to bypass the normal supervisory structure because they may be blowing the whistle on people in the supervisory structure. Here, it looks like they may be blowing the whistle on people in the White House.

The law here is completely plain, Kate. It says, once the inspector general makes that determination, Maguire or the DNI "shall." No room, no wiggle room at all, nor has there ever been wiggle room asserted transmitted to the director of the Intelligence Committee. It's plain as day and always been honored.

And the argument to the contrary in any event makes no sense. It has nothing to do with whether it's a matter of urgent concern that it might involve also some people in the White House.

BOLDUAN: Though, so the level of urgency of said, any complaint is not relevant to what the law actually instructs?

LITMAN: That's true, too. Once the I.G. determined that it's covered, it simply gets transmitted. It seems so basic. How can it be that the executive is just violating basic law. But it's now a recurrent them. We saw it in the Ways and Means Tax Committee request and other places.


LITMAN: They are willing --


BOLDUAN: I want to quickly get from you, that line, it sticks out so much "the complaint involves confidentially privileged matters relating to other stake holders within the executive branch."

When you saw that, what did you think that could be?

LITMAN: It's tantalizing, right? But what it has to mean -- has to mean -- my best supposition is it's about people in the White House up to and including the president, they would be covered by something a whistleblower in the Intelligence Committee might say. But technically, they are not of the committee. They are not supervised by DNI. Of course, it doesn't matter under the statute. It must be provided.


BOLDUAN: What would happen if the whistleblower would go around the DNI and directly to Congress?

LITMAN: Well, he could be in a heap of trouble, because the actual law doesn't provide a concrete way for him or her to do so. And they have to get permission from the higher ups. Which, of course, they'll never give here. It could happen. But the statute makes it unclear. It's not supposed to have to reveal their identity. That's the whole other point of a whistleblower law.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting. Much more to come.

Harry, thank you.

LITMAN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So while that was happening on Capitol Hill, this was happening as well. House Democrats had their first hearing in their impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

It became a bit of a side show, though, as President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, sat before the House Judiciary Committee. For almost six hours of testimony, Lewandowski consistently refused to answer questions. He says he answered them, which was he's had an agreement he wasn't going to answer anything about confidential conversations with the president. That is in essence refusing to answer questions.

One moment stood out. It was Lewandowski's admission that he may not always be telling the truth and doesn't feel obligated to do so. Listen.


REP. BERRY BERKE, DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL: The question is, are you a truth tell in that interview?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'm a truth teller every time I stand before Congress or a committee of jurisdiction and raise my hand and swear to God under oath.

BERKE: My question, sir, when you said the president never asked you to get involved with Mr. Sessions --


LEWANDOWSKI: I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media, whatsoever, just like they have no obligation to cover me honestly.


BOLDUAN: This isn't the first time we've learned that folks inside Trump's circle inside the White House may not always be telling the truth, to say the least. The Mueller report found specifically -- speaking about the Mueller report, the Mueller report found that both of the president's press secretaries lied to the media. First, on former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the report

said this, "Sarah Sanders recalled that in her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made, quote, unquote, "in the heat of the moment." That was not founded on anything.

The report also concluded that Sean Spicer lied to reporters about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Here's that part of the Mueller Report. "Spicer told reporters it was all Rosenstein. No one from the White House. It was a DOJ decision."

That evening and the next morning, White House officials and spokespeople continued to maintain that the president's decision to terminate Comey was driven by the recommendations the president received from Rosenstein and Sessions. That decision, we know now, to have come directly from the president, himself.

Here with me now is CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, from the beginning, this administration has acknowledged that they are trying to work with what they call alternative facts. But now, with Lewandowski sitting before Congress and the way he very candidly said he doesn't feel -- that he lied to the media and that was OK because he wasn't under oath.

But it kind of crystallizes this whole thing have you three close advisers to the president forced to acknowledge they don't feel an obligation to tell the truth unless they are under oath. I know they will say, high horse here, the president lies all the time. This really shouldn't be overlooked. What does it say?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. Number one, it wasn't that long ago that press secretaries, especially, really relied on their credibility. Their credibility with the press and their credibility with their boss. And it's a very fine line and a hard line to walk.

And that also goes for people who speak to the press like a former campaign manager. If you want the press to believe you when you are telling them something, you have to show that you are worthy of that.

That's out the window and it has been in the Trump era. It's just a fact of the matter. Because it doesn't behoove them to tell the truth because it doesn't come from the top.

And there's one focus and one path that the president takes and expects people underneath him who follow him to take. And that is to fight like you know what. That's exactly what Corey did.

There's almost no one I can think of in Trump's orbit who understands the man and what makes him tick, and how he expects people to behave around him, particularly in public, than Corey Lewandowski. Boy, did he show it yesterday. And it should surprise nobody.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Remember when Corey came back in, the campaign manager, the whole mantra was let Trump be Trump? He knows that better than anybody. I also just so find that candid admission of. unless I'm under oath --


BASH: It's depressing.

BOLDUAN: -- there's no real obligation to tell the truth. Not just depressing but, forget the media, someone who is seriously considering running for public office, that's also problematic to the public.

BASH: Well, it is, but also he understands the, at least, in the short term, if he decides to run for the Senate --


BASH: -- the pool of people he's going to be appealing to. And those are people who have a total distrust of all institutions, especially the media.

So the reason is, it is even more depressing is because that is a likely winning statement for, in the short term --


BASH: -- for winning a primary potentially to get into the United States Senate.

BOLDUAN: A depressingly perfect point.

On here yesterday, do you get a sense that Democrats know what their next step is on this impeachment path? I do not get the sense from folks --


BOLDUAN: -- that I am speaking to that there's one.

BASH: No, there isn't. Look, yesterday was really a crystallizing moment in so many ways. One is what we were just talking about is truthiness or lack thereof.

But more importantly, it is the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee especially reaching for something. And they got something with Corey Lewandowski saying, OK, fine, fine, I'll come testify when everybody else said no, obviously, thinking through the consequences of that.

Like, the spectacle that everybody who has ever watched Corey Lewandowski or might talk to him knew that he was going to be eager to participate in. And in some ways, it just in talking to some leadership folks who are not that eager to run on the impeachment track, in some ways, yesterday's hearing slowed things down. Because it's proof of how hard it is to go the administration route and the oversight route.

And listen, it's so frustrating and it is nailing Jell-O to a wall for the House Democrats. The more likely route, on the short term, on Russia is going to have to be the courts and that is taking a long time.

BOLDUAN: A long time.

Good to see you, Dana. Thank you.

BASH: You, too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We are awaiting a big potential announcement from the chairman of the Federal Reserve today. President Trump has been calling for another cut to interest rates for weeks. Basically, he wants it cut to zero or negative at this point. Will it happen today? Will any cut happen today? And if it does, what does it mean for the economy right now?

We'll be right back.