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Saudis Says, Evidence shows Iran Behind Brazen Oil Attack; Hearing Debacle Raises Questions About Democrat's Strategy; Intel Chief refuses To Reveal Urgent Whistleblower Complaint; Interview with Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN; Israel's Netanyahu Cancels U.N. Trip White His Fate In Limbo. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 13:00   ET


TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: -- different candidate tried that approach, Kirsten Gillibrand, before she dropped out.


She was at those states.

JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Ouch. Thanks for joining us here in Inside Politics. We'll see you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a good afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.

Underway right now, the drum beat grows louder after the Saudis present evidence they say links Iran to the oil attacks and President Trump responds.

And the liar's club, the president's former campaign manager just admitted what everyone already knows.

Also, the man in charge of America's intelligence refusing to turn over a secret whistleblower complaint involving the executive branch. So what are they hiding?

Plus, why Jimmy Carter says there should be an age limit on the presidency.

And the mega Democratic donor arrested after a third overdose inside his Hollywood home.

We start with the case against Iran. Saudi Arabia today presenting its evidence to the world that it says undeniably points to Iran as the sponsor of the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure. But even before that announcement, President Trump struck back, tweeting that he's ordered substantial new sanctions against Iran.

Our Nic Robertson is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And, Nic, take us through these conclusions reached by Saudi Arabia and do they know if this was carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or where exactly this came from.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Brianna, a lot of talk by the spokesman for the military here about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the IRGC, but sot specifically saying that they are responsible for the launching of these attack vehicles or specifically saying that they were launched from Iran.

What they did was they went through the number of drones. 18 drones were fired, seven different cruise missiles. Three of the cruise missiles failed to hit their target. They had those on a stage. They had seven of the smashed-up drones on the stage. In the audience there, not just journalists but you had ambassadors, you had military attaches, because the Saudis have a really sort of got a full court press onto bring international support.

Now, I asked questions, saying how can you prove that these cruise missiles and drones didn't come from Yemen? He was very categorical about that. He said the range just wasn't there.

I said, what about -- what is it about these devices that limits that range to this point? And he said, look, we've seen these before, Iranians manufacture something very, very similar to this. It just doesn't have the range.

They also showed some CCTV footage from one of the sites that was attacked. And he says, specifically, you can see these cruise missiles flying from the north to the south to hit their target. He said, if they fly from the north, Yemen is the opposite direction, can't be Yemen.

I asked, how are you trying to find out where the point of origin, where these were fired from? He wouldn't get into detail but he did say, these devices carry GPSs, GPS devices for tracking. Essentially, they can follow the data bread crumbs back inside those devices to figure out where they came from. But he also said that the Iranians, even while the Saudis have got these devices in their hands and on test Bench, are trying to scrub the data remotely from these GPSs. He didn't get into detail on that.

What will you do if these were launched just from Iran? What will you do if it's just Iranian devices themselves? And he said that's not for him to decide. That's for the politicians.

But this was the big show and tell. This was the moment this afternoon.

KEILAR: It's pretty stunning what they laid out there just in terms of the pieces of equipment there. Nic, Robertson in Riyadh, thank you.

Robin Wright is joining us. She is a distinguished fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a contributing writer for the New York.

So while laying out the evidence here, the Saudis said that this wasn't just an attack on Saudi Arabia. It's an attack, as they put it, on the international community and the world economy. Is Saudi Arabia correct in that distinction, Robin?

ROBIN WRIGHT, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Absolutely. Anything that provides so much of the world's global oil consumption is clearly reflecting the kind of scope of this attack.

It's unprecedented in the 40 years of the Iranian revolution. It has always worked through proxies. It's engaged in kind of assaults on perceived enemies, whether it's Israel, U.S. forces in Iraq, even U.S. forces in Afghanistan through allies. So its fingerprints are on it but not visible.

KEILAR: Saudi Arabia has this history of wanting the U.S. to act in its favor, and it has an interest in that, of course, right? So that is part of the reason why it's so important the evidence that Saudi Arabia lays out.


How should the U.S. be responding to that and how should they be taking this information considering that Saudi Arabia has this prevailing interest in this having come from Iran, not from Yemen?

WRIGHT: Well, I think there are four different things the United States can do. One is to impose new sanctions, which the president has indicated he plans to do. There's not much that's going to have an effect but any little bit does further cripple the Iranian economy and its ability to trade its own oil to the outside world.

It can engage in cyber attacks, which is what apparently happened in the aftermath of the Iranian shooting down of the drone, U.S. drone, in June.

It can go to the international community at the United Nations, which convenes next week, to ask for action.

Remember, the five other signers to the nuclear deal in 2015, Russia, China and the Europeans, continue to do business with Iran. They still honor the deal. And so this puts the squeeze on them.

And the fourth thing is, it can support Saudi Arabia if it decides to attack, to retaliate against Iran itself.

KEILAR: Senator Lindsey Graham, who has called this attack an act of war, says the president's lack of response to Iran downing of a U.S. drone in June was seen by Iran as, quote, a sign of weakness.

Now, Trump disagreed with this. He said that was a sign of strength. Do you think that Iran's view of the U.S. response to that drone informed their calculus of this attack on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia?

WRIGHT: Maybe somewhat. But I think at the end of the day, the Iranians are gaming the bigger picture, and that is that they feel they're paying a price.

They signed the nuclear deal. They haven't received the rewards. They are now under sanctions. Their oil exports have gone from 3.2 million barrels a day to somewhere around 300,000.

And it's trying to signal to the United States and to the world if you really cut off our economy, if you make us pay a price, if you corner us, there will be a price.

And I think we've seen that, whether it's the attacks on the tankers, the shooting down of the U.S. drones. There's been a pattern here over the last three or four months that changes its visibility and how bold it's going to be in showing that it will strike not just through its proxies.

KEILAR: All right. Robin Wright, thank you so much for your expertise in this.

Washington is still reeling from the circus that played out on Capitol Hill yesterday. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, the first hearing of its impeachment inquiry, was meant to be a moment for Democrats to bolster their argument that President Trump obstructed justice. Instead it really devolved into quite a mess.

And Lewandowski took Democrats for a wild ride. He refused to answer some questions. He mocked Democrats. He promoted a possible Senate run in New Hampshire. But he did make one significant admission. He confirmed that President Trump asked him to pressure then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take control of the Russia investigation. And Lewandowski did not follow that order.


REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Either you were willing to break the law for politics and Mr. Trump, or you're some kind of a Forrest Gump relating to corruption.

So maybe let me ask you this. Did the president pick you his enforcer? He thought you would play whatever role he wanted because it was illegal? Is that possibly why I chose you to take this message to Sessions?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: That would be a question for the president, Congressman.

COHEN: This has been more obstruction of Congress by this administration and you followed their instructions and you're doing just exactly what they thought you'd do. You are a loyal soldier, except you didn't follow Trump's instructions. You chickened out at the last minute, you got cold feet.


KEILAR: Congressman Steven Cohen is the person who was just questioning Lewandowski there. He's with us now.

And, Congressman, thank you so much for talking to us in the -- I mean, it feels like the aftermath of this hearing yesterday. There is this aftermath. And I was watching this yesterday with legal experts, long-time political watchers and they all wanted to know how the committee didn't see this approach coming, how the committee wasn't better prepared for this approach by Lewandowski who was appearing under subpoena and is quite frankly known for being petulant?

COHEN: We knew he was going to be petulant, we knew he was an enforcer and a thug and we knew that he would try to protect the president and run for the Senate in New Hampshire. That's what he did. We were prepared. I was prepared. I think a lot of our members hit him with really good questions.

Lou Correa asked him about not reporting to the FBI, the interactions with Carter Page when they knew about them and how he didn't do that. The congressman from Washington, she was fantastic. Eric Swalwell was good. We have lots of good questions.

And I think we did a good job at hitting him and Barry Berke tore him a part. He was shown to be a liar. He obstructed Congress live and in person and he shows us how Trump tried to obstruct justice through his enforcer and his previous history of working around Bob Ney, a corrupt congressman and fraudulent activities toward voting that kind of kicked off.


KEILAR: So you mentioned Barry Berke. He was the committee attorney, and he was very effective. But why did the committee wait so long, the last half hour of a hearing that lasted several hours to bring him out and actually get somewhere in the questioning of Lewandowski?

COHEN: I think -- I'm not sure, but I think that's traditionally the way the questioning goes, is that the counsel is the cleanup hitter. I think he had much --

KEILAR: Do you wish that he had come out sooner? Are you going to rethink that for future hearings? Because he is the one who got Lewandowski to admit that he doesn't feel obligated to tell the truth to the media and he also zeroed in on why Lewandowski didn't deliver Trump's message to Sessions, which is something that members Congress were not able to get at.

COHEN: Well, I think that he had that on tape and that could have been shared with a member of Congress to ask that question earlier, which maybe it should have been. It wasn't necessary that he go first. I think what's more necessary is that the news media covered the whole hearing and maybe had been prepared for the 30 minutes of hearing that Barry Berke was going to be involved in because we knew that was going to be a sequential hearing, that was so important, the type of riveting cross-examination that caused Bill Barr not to show up at our hearing and to be given the appropriate title of Chicken Barr. He chickened out and wouldn't face Barry Berke.

KEILAR: I mean, the news media -- sir, the news media covered this hearing. But if you were --

COHEN: The news media covered at the beginning. The news media covered it live at the beginning but -- KEILAR: The news media covered quite a bit of this hearing, as you know. This was very long, six hours long. And if you know -- I mean, knowing as you do as well about what you would want to emphasize, and this is the case in anything, don't you put the good stuff up front? So why wouldn't you consider a different approach for a witness who is going to be very definite?

COHEN: I think it's going to be considered. Several members have mentioned that. We communicated with each other through text, and that's been part of the discussion this morning. It may or may not happen in the future. It maybe be broken up in a different way.

Barry Berke was strong. But I do think the media should have covered it. And, of course, as it turned out, it showed the fact that he thought lying to the media was not consequential and he did it all the time because he said the media lies.

KEILAR: I am going to take issue with that because the media did cover this and that sound bite which Barry Berke was able to bring out from Lewandowski has been all over television everywhere today.

But nonetheless let me -- but let ask you about this -- I mean, I would actually beg to differ and say that it's more effective when it's repeated over and over and zeroed in on versus --

COHEN: Brianna, I don't want to get into it because you're my friend and I like CNN. But the fact is, if that's the case, then Barry Berke doesn't have to be first. Being last and getting repeated on the news for the last 18 hours worked just as effectively.

KEILAR: Except that instead you have Democrats who do not look very good. I mean, you may take issue with that. But Democrats did not -- they looked flatfooted from the jump.

I do want to ask you though, this strategy of letting the Mueller report be animated by testimony of people involved in all of this, like Lewandowski, do you think it's backfiring?

COHEN: I don't think it backfired at all. And I think that it was Congressman Jayapal, Congressman Cicilline, several like Correa, and I would submit myself and others did, I think, outstanding jobs. And if you look at the public response on Twitter, they thought so too.

There were some beginnings where it stumbled and Doug Collins and running for Trump's recommendation to be Senator from Georgia got a lot of time and he battled with Nadler, and that was unfortunate, and they got some time there. I think we should have held him in contempt on the spot, adhering (ph), but that's something we haven't done.

But as far as the proceedings, I think we were successful. We're showing how they obstructed justice, obstructed Congress in live time and how they lie and lie constantly and lie with the thought that if they don't raise their hand to God, which is what Lewandowski says he doesn't lie, if he's not under oath, he's just out there fabricating, just like his boss, Donald Trump.

KEILAR: All right. Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you so much for joining us from Capitol Hill.

COHEN: You're welcome, Brianna, and I still love you.

KEILAR: All right, sir.

A whistleblower in the intel community files a complaint. The independent inspector general deems it credible and urgent. But the nation's intel chief refuses to show it to Congress. What is he hiding?

Plus Jimmy Carter says, 80 years is too old to handle the presidency.

And with Benjamin Netanyahu on the brink of losing power in Israel, what happens to the relationship with the U.S. if he's gone?



KEILAR: Another day, another refusal from the Trump administration to hand over materials to Congress. But this time, it's the acting Director of National Intelligence, usually an apolitical figure who is refusing to turn over a whistleblower complaint to Congress even though that complaint was deemed, quote, credible and urgent by the independent inspector general. This move is raising questions over what the Trump administration could be trying to hide.

CNN's Senior National Correspondent Alex Marquardt is here to break all of this down for us. And, Alex, what's the reason here that this acting director is giving for not turning over this whistleblower complaint?


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Brianna. There is a lot to break down here.

This was a letter that we obtained from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It's a politely worded letter from the general counsel, for acting DNI Joseph Maguire to the Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. But the message is clear, we're not going to comply with this subpoena because we just didn't have enough time, just two business days, but more importantly because we disagree that this is of urgent concern. Those are the words that we're looking at here.

According to Schiff, the intelligence community inspector general found that this whistleblower complaint was credible and of urgent concern, but the acting DNI Maguire says that's not true, it's not of urgent concern because it doesn't involve intelligence activity. Instead, the DNI says it involved confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the executive branch, executive branch, two very important words. That means the Trump White House and/or his cabinet.

Who are these stakeholders that the whistleblower is talking about? We don't know. That's the big mystery. As a result, Maguire is saying they need more time for appropriate consultations.

Now, this excuse, this letter fell flat with Adam Schiff, who immediately responded, saying, the acting DNI can either 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.

Schiff had demanded that Maguire's testimony happen on Thursday, that's tomorrow. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. Maguire's lawyer is saying that, at such short notice, he won't be available and therefore it wouldn't be a productive exercise.

So here we have what's really shaping up to be a dramatic showdown between the nation's top intelligence official and the committee that is assigned to oversee it on a, really, potentially explosive claim about the Trump White House. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much for that report.

To Israel now where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just announced he has canceled his upcoming trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and his hold on power is hanging in the balance right now.

CNN Global Affairs Analyst Aaron David Miller is here. He is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly, he served as a State Department Middle East Analyst and negotiator on both Republican and Democratic administration.

So, Aaron, the votes are still being counted right now in this election yesterday, but Netanyahu's Likud Party is slightly behind the centrist Blue and White Party right now headed by his rival, Benny Gantz. This is serious. I mean, he just pulled out of the U.N. General Assembly. How surprising is this to you?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it's very surprising because I think he's looking for Trump either with presentation of a peace plan or some action on Iran to somehow redeem him and boost the notion that only he, Mr. Indispensible, can deal with the president. That's now denied him. And now, he's forced to stay at home and deal with the realities of a very unfortunate and difficult political situation.

KEILAR: Let's look at the possible outcomes. If Gantz wins, what does that mean for the peace process, what does that mean for Israel's relationship with the U.S.?

MILLER: Right now, the dilemma, Brianna, is that neither Gantz nor Netanyahu have enough votes to cross the magic 61 threshold. The president of Israel, who is largely a ceremonial figure, Mr. Rivlin, is going to play a very important role. Because if in fact no one can form a government, there are only two options here. We go to a third election in January. Israel has no formal constitution, but this would constitute a constitutional crisis. Or, alternatively, he urges, implores, begs the parties to come together in a national unity government.

I think that's the most likely. Israel has had six of them in their history. The longest lasted four years, the shortest, a year plus. That's probably at this juncture the most likely outcome. And since Mr. Netanyahu is still prime minister, since he will not be formally indicted until after his pre-trial hearing, which might last until December --

KEILAR: He's facing corruption scandals.

MILLER: He is. Breach of trust, fraud and bribery, I mean, serious business. He may actually, believe it or not, never count this guy out, actually be able to join a national new government even though Mr. Gantz has said he will not sit with him.

KEILAR: He may be able to. Why is that?

MILLER: Well, again, I've -- well, because he has --

KEILAR: Never say never?

MILLER: Well, he heads one of the two largest blocs, 31 seats. Mr. Gantz has 32. If they're going to do a national unity government, probably join with Mr. Lieberman and we'll be off to the races.

Last point though, I think it's clear that this is Mr. Netanyahu's worst nightmare. He failed to gain a Knesset majority and his party did not even pull the most seats.

Is this the beginning of the end for Mr. Netanyahu? That's a very good question.

KEILAR: You can't rule it out.


MILLER: I hate to say it's over. He's quite talented and very willful and willing to do and say just about anything to maintain power.

KEILAR: We have seen that. Aaron David Miller, thank you so much for your insight here.

MILLER: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Two fast-moving stories that we're following right now. The first word of a document circulating around the Hill outlining new gun control proposals, plus, news out of the hearing involving the American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a flight.