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Israel's Election Too Close to Call; U.S. Rules Out "Knee Jerk" Response; DNI Doesn't Comply with Subpoena. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, no clear winner in Israel's critical election.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Patience prevents stupid moves. The White House taking a hands-off approach as it plans a response to the Saudi attack.

ROMANS: And the acting spy chief misses a subpoena deadline. How will House Democrats get their hands on an urgent whistleblower complaint?

CNN is live this morning in Jerusalem, Riyadh, Jeddah, and Tehran.

We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs, Wednesday, September 18th, it is 4:00 a.m. in New York, 11:00 a.m. in Israel.

And that's where we start with breaking news overnight. A race too close to call. Counting still underway in Israel's unprecedented repeat general election. Exit poll projections show once again a very tight race. The top two parties within one or two seats of each other.

Israel's longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud party slipping a bit against Benny Gantz and his Blue & White Party.

ROMANS: Now, the exit polls have a reputation for unreliability. Remember, both Netanyahu and Gantz claimed victory five months ago.

Overnight, no one declared victory but no one was ready to concede.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER, LIKUD PARTY (through translator): Israel needs a strong and stable and Zionist government -- a government that is committed to Israel as a national state for the Jewish people.

BENNY GANTZ, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY (through translator): I hope to create a wide unity government -- a government that is willing to return to Israel its special values where one people, one society -- the polarization is behind us.


ROMANS: So which leader will get to form a governing coalition as Israel faces critical decisions at home and abroad?

Let's turn to CNN's Sam Kiley live in Jerusalem.

Hi, Sam.


So, let's unpick that dig there about -- from Benjamin Netanyahu talking about a Zionist government, that need to form a Zionist government. That is a warning, if you'd like, to his base that it is conceivable that the joint list, a predominantly Arab semi-coalition, a group of parties that got together, is or could be likely to form part of a center-left coalition. I think it's probably an outside chance, frankly, but they have emerged from the exit polls as the third largest party in the country.

So if there were, for example, a national unity government involving Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the Blue & White Party of Benny Gantz, which are both polling, we understand, around 32 seats each, again, based on fairly unreliable, frankly, exit polls, then they would be -- the Arab parties will be the official opposition.

Now, the problem for building a coalition for either Mr. Netanyahu or Benny Gantz' party, if they want to get together, the Gantz side, the Blue and White have ruled out a coalition involving Benjamin Netanyahu, because of these corruption -- three corruption court cases that are hanging over him. So that makes it fraught.

So that means the arithmetic could mean that President Rivlin has to runner to somebody else to try to knit it together. So we're looking, frankly, at what could be weeks more of coalition talks.

ROMANS: And high drama all along the way.

All right. Thanks so much for that, Sam Kiley for us in Jerusalem this morning.

BRIGGS: The Trump administration appears to be showing restraint after that missile attack crippled a huge oil facility in Saudi Arabia. Defense officials were ordered to plan potential responses, but the White House is waiting for the Saudi kingdom's rulers to decide on the next step.

The source telling CNN the administration wants, quote, no knee-jerk reactions to this. The source says it's very systemic what happens with patience is, well, it prevents stupid moves.

Nic Robertson joining us live from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with the latest. Nic, good morning. What are the Saudis saying?


It appears as if the Saudis are in lockstep with the White House on this. We've heard from the Saudi ambassador to the U.K. speaking this morning, and he has said that almost certainly, these attacks were backed by Iran, but he said they, too, are not rushing into -- not rushing into any action. They want to proceed through diplomacy, that they want to proceed and follow a thorough investigation. Indeed, he echoed what we've heard from Saudi officials along the line so far, that they want international support.


They're appealing to the U.N., to the U.K., to international allies to join them in the investigation. So, they are not rushing, it seems, on to a war footing here.

We are expecting to hear the evidence behind the assertions that we've heard from the Saudi government, that Iran did make the weapon systems that were used to attack these oil facilities. Later today, the defense ministry here said it would go on the record with the evidence that it has. But the language that's still being used, Iran-backed support, the notion here that's wildly held in Saudi Arabia, that it's just inconceivable that it would be any country other than Iran that would be behind this attack, that would have the sophistication to make these weapons systems.

So, the advice the United States is likely to hear is from the Saudis is, let's complete the investigation. Let's build a broadly international coalition, and then decide how to proceed. Both the Saudi and the U.S., of course, in incredible lockstep on this deep concern and anger about what they view as Iran's destabilizing influence on the region.

BRIGGS: 11:06 there in Riyadh. Patience winning the day. Nic Robertson, thank you.

ROMANS: Our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo en route this morning to Saudi Arabia to consult with the kingdom's rulers. Global oil prices dropped Tuesday, following that surge on Monday, which sent financial shock wave around the world.

Why did prices fall? Largely because the Saudis announced plans to sharply ramp up oil and gas production.

CNN's John Defterios was at the Saudi news conference in Jeddah.

John, what's the time frame?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR AND ANCHOR: You know, it's interesting, Christine. Remember, we talked about, it won't be days, but weeks. But now, the subtlety appears it's not going to be four to six weeks, but two to three weeks for Saudi Arabia to get back up to 100 percent. And that is a huge difference for the oil market, because that means that Saudi Arabia doesn't have to drain its reserves.

At the press conference last night, we heard from the minister of energy, the half brother of Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince, and the CEO of Aramco. I talked to the CEO afterwards and said, what is timeline now? You're around 70 percent. Is it realistic to get to 100 percent by the end of the month?

Here's Amin Nasser.


AMIN NASSER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF SAUDI ARABIAN OIL COMPANY SAUDI ARAMCO: We'll be back at our production levels before the attack by the end of this month.

DEFTERIOS: If not earlier?

NASSER: If not earlier, but by the end of the month, more comfortable, we will be definitely.


DEFTERIOS: So capacity going to 11 million barrels a day, but they'll produce just under ten. That is the target, Christine.

And some news out of Amin Nasser, at the end of our interview and discussion. He said, we don't need the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve. Donald Trump did offer it, because they don't have to deplete their own reserves. They don't think the U.S. needs to step in, and they love to be the swing producer or the one that steps up because of the pressure of higher oil prices on U.S. consumers. It plays well in the White House.

To Nic's point here about international coalition, what the Saudis are looking for and this is what the minister of energy was suggesting, is almost an international coalition, not only to patrol the Straits of Hormuz, but to protect the oil installations here in Saudi Arabia. It's almost admitting they can't do it on their own, despite all of that military spending and the air defenses as well, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. John Defterios for us, thank you so much for us in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this morning.

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, refusing to comply with a deadline to hand over a whistleblower complaint to the House Intel Committee. The Intelligence Committee inspector general deemed the complaint, quote, credible and urgent, but the DNI's office says the complaint does not meet the definition of urgent concern because it does not relate to intelligence activity.

ROMANS: The letter does acknowledge the whistleblower complaint involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interest of other stakeholders within the executive branch. The acting DNI's office says he will not be available to hear at hearing tomorrow to explain his decision on such short notice.

Chairman Adam Schiff says he expects Maguire to appear under subpoena if necessary.

All right. Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders sparred over health care for union workers Tuesday as union autoworkers -- United Auto Workers patrolled the picket lines in their strike against General Motors. Biden and Sanders appeared separately at a union forum in Philadelphia.

During his remarks, the former senator took a not-so-subtle shot at Sanders and his Medicare-for-All plan.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a significant health care plan, but guess what? Under mine, you can keep your health insurance you have bargained for if you like it. If you don't, you can move and come into a public plan.


ROMANS: Sanders took issue with Biden's assessment.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's wrong. The United States has got to join every other major country on Earth and guarantee health care to all people, union workers and non-union workers, as a right.


ROMANS: Labor groups have raised questions about what would happen to the benefits they have negotiated in collective bargaining agreements if Medicare-for-All becomes law. Sanders argued under his plan, striking GM workers at risk of losing their insurance during the walkout would still be covered.

BRIGGS: The latest polling, the first since last week's debate shows Senator Elizabeth Warren second and gaining on the 2020 Democratic front-runner Joe Biden. While you were sleeping, Warren paid a visit to the "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert and was pressed on remarks she made at a rally in New York City Monday.


STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST/COMEDIAN: You said, we can't choose a candidate we don't believe in just because we're too scared to do anything else. Now, some people saw that -- by some people, I mean everyone -- saw that at a veiled shot at Joe Biden. Is that accurate?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. It's -- no, the way I see this is these really are scary times. It's scary times, because Donald Trump is truly a terrible president. Not just bad, terrible!


ROMANS: You've been seeing these candidates make their rounds to late night, trying to talk to --

BRIGGS: Cory Booker made an appearance last night. Sure seemed like a knock on Biden. I mean, that was a good pivot there, but not buying it.

ROMANS: All right. Eleven minutes past the hour.

Yet another escalation between California and the Trump administration. The White House plans to roll back tougher admission standards in the car-heavy state.



ROMANS: Welcome back. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

President Trump is in California where his campaign says he'll add $15 million to his 2020 re-election effort. This unfolding in a state that is the center of resistance to his agenda. Trump's trip to one of the wealthiest areas of the country marked by clashes on a pair of local and national issues.

Trump criticized Los Angeles and San Francisco over homelessness, saying the cities are destroying themselves by allowing people on the streets top ruin their prestige. And he suggests he may step in.

But California's leaders are concerned that a heavy-handed intervention from the Trump administration could upend plans for building thousands of new units of affordable housing. The White House also signaled an environmental clash with the Golden State on admission standards.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins traveling with the president in Los Angeles.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dave and Christine, the president is waking up here in Los Angeles today continuing this West Coast tour. It's the final day where he'll be over here before he heads back to Washington.

But something else notable is happening today and that's that back in Washington the president's administration and the EPA is expected to revoke one of California's signature environmental policies.

Their ability to institute those tougher pollution -- tailpipe pollution laws stricter than the federal guidelines -- something the president is going to roll back, and not only in a blow to California but also a blow to his predecessor, President Barack Obama and his environmental legacy -- something that we've seen the administration keeping their eye on, wanting to do for a while now. And now, sources say they are expected to follow through with that today -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Kaitlan, thanks.

This morning, we are remembering a giant of broadcast news, Cokie Roberts. The legendary journalist died Tuesday from complications of breast cancer at the age of 75. Roberts worked in television, public radio, and publishing for more than four decades.

She was a best-selling author and three-time Emmy Award winner. She's survived by her husband, two children, and six grandchildren.

Back in 1978, Cokie Roberts joined the upstart National Public Radio and left her imprint on the network. The president and CEO calls Cokie one of NPR's founding mothers. "ABC World News Tonight" anchor David Weir saying: You made us all better. Your brilliant mind, sharp wit, and above all, your kind heart.

ROMANS: Former President George W. Bush remembering Cokie Roberts as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor.

President Obama says Cokie was a trailblazing figure, a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men.

As for the current president, he had this to say: I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional and I respect professionals.

BRIGGS: A very revealing comment, how this president views people.

ROMANS: The president views everything through --

BRIGGS: Flattery.

ROMANS: -- a self-focused lens, really.


ROMANS: A lens that goes through his own self.

BRIGGS: She will be missed.

Ahead, a trio of storms in the Atlantic. One of them could bring the most rain to Houston since Hurricane Harvey.



BRIGGS: A trio of tropical threats emerging in the Atlantic, expected to swamp the Texas Gulf Coast. Flash flood watches and warnings are in effect, Houston bracing for a foot of rain, the most the city has seen since Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The severe weather threat prompting school closures and cancellations in the Houston, Galveston area.

ROMANS: Democratic donor Ed Buck arrested and facing felony charges for allegedly operating a drug den out of his West Hollywood apartment. Prosecutors say Buck injected a 37-year-old man with methamphetamine last week. He overdosed, but survived. Two other men have been found dead in Buck's home over the past few years from overdoses.


Buck is scheduled to be arraigned today. Prosecutors are recommending bail be set at $4 million. CNN has reached out to Buck's attorney for comment. No response so far.

BRIGGS: A medical setback for Alex Trebek and his battle with pancreatic cancer. The "Jeopardy!" host says he has restarted chemotherapy treatment. He recently returned to work after his medical reports approached normal levels following a first round of chemo.

But, Trebek says he suddenly began losing weight and his warning numbers went even higher than when he was first diagnosed.


ALEX TREBEK, HOST, "JEOPARDY!": I realize that there is an end in sight for me, just as there is for everyone else. One line that I have used with our staff in recent weeks and months is that when I do pass on, one thing they will not say at my funeral is, oh, he was taken from us too soon.

Hey, guys, I'm 79 years old. I've had one hell of a good life.



Trebek says he does not fear death. He says, quote: The thought of passing on doesn't frighten me. It comes with the territory.

ROMANS: I think it's so wonderful that he's talking about it so openly and talking about the feelings that he has. It kind of takes away some of the stigma of disease and cancer and also, you know, terminal cancer.

BRIGGS: And just his perspective on life. We could all learn a thing or two from that.

ROMANS: All right. Has time run out on Benjamin Netanyahu? The Israeli election still too close to call, but votes appear to be tilting to his opponent. We go live to Jerusalem.