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Netanyahu's Future in Jeopardy as Election is Deadlocked; Pompeo Travels to Saudi Arabia to Meet with Crown Prince; Corey Lewandowski Stonewalls House Dems at Hearing. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All three exit polls from the main TV stations in Israel project that this race is too close to call.

[05:59:13]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the most important relationship President Trump has overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This election is about Israeli democracy and whether we're going to stay a strong democracy.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't think that was illegal to obstruct justice?

LEWANDOWSKI: The president didn't ask me to do anything illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was a very bad day for the House Democrats. It just looked desperate. It looked pathetic, frankly. I thought it was a very good day for Corey Lewandowski.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, September 18. It's 6 a.m. here in New York, and we have breaking news from all over the world this morning.

Overnight, the political future of one of the world's most influential leaders in jeopardy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of President Trump's closest allies, could be on the verge of losing power. Could.

Israel's second election in five months is just too close to call at this moment. Unofficial exit polls suggest Netanyahu has fallen short of a majority and is deadlocked with his main rival, Benny Gantz. If that holds, it sets the stage for weeks of uncertainty and negotiations to form a coalition government. We will watch as the votes come in throughout the morning.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also developing this morning, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way to Saudi Arabia. America's top diplomat will meet with the controversial Saudi crown prince to discuss how to respond to the attack on its oil facilities.

A U.S. defense official tells CNN there's imagery that supports their finding that the attack originated from Iran. The Pentagon is drawing up plans for a potential military response. Still, one of President Trump's biggest defenders in Congress calls his Iran response, quote, "weak." So we have reporters on all sides of this story all over the world.

Let's begin with CNN's Sam Kiley, live in Jerusalem on the Israeli elections.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, as you were saying in the introduction there, it is neck and neck, according to the exit polls. Big warning on the exit polls. They have been spectacularly wrong before.

But the indications are, in other media projections, that Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party will get about 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, but so will Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud.

Now what does that mean? Well, from the -- Gantz's perspective, he's saying he wants to set up and has already set up a committee to negotiate a government of national unity but with one important clause. That is that Mr. Netanyahu could not serve in it.

That's so far been rejected entirely by Mr. Netanyahu's calling on all Zionists to rally around him. The reason he's saying that is that the Joint List (ph), predominantly Arab party, has done pretty well, according to the exit polls, possibly between some 11 -- even up to 15 seats in the Knesset. So they wouldn't be king makers, necessarily, but they could, perhaps, be persuaded to take part in a center-left coalition.

All of this very problematic for Israel's president, Mr. Rivlin, who has a week to figure out who he can ask to even have a go at putting together a coalition government, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Sam, if Netanyahu does not win this election, what happens to these multiple corruption cases against him?

KILEY: Well, this is a point that is made by the Blue and White officials and party members, is that he hid the process, the legal process. He's facing three charges of corruption and mismanagement. They will all start to come to a head at the beginning of October, which would be right in the middle of coalition negotiations.

So even if he is asked to set out on the journey to form a government, he's going to ram straight into a judicial process that was, in the view of the opposition, at any rate, undermine his ability to put together a coalition, let alone remain as prime minister -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Sam Kiley for us. Again, the votes are coming in throughout the morning. Please keep us posted, because it is just a razor-thin margin at this point.

The other major story this morning, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arriving in Saudi Arabia to discuss a possible response to the attacks that have crippled Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

Joining us now, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh in Tehran.

Nic Robertson, first to you. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arriving in Saudi Arabia. What are the expectations out of this meeting? And does it put the United States closer to a military response?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I don't think it necessarily puts them closer, but it puts them more in lock step with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's signaling at the moment, and the voice we heard on it most recently was the Saudi ambassador to London this morning, saying that Saudi does not want to escalate this, does not want to rush into an escalation. That they don't want the region doesn't want another war at this time.

But we are also going to hear, I am sure, from Saudi officials today that they have the capacity and the resolve to strike back forcefully, if that's desired. And certainly, they would look to the United States here.

But they are looking to build a bigger and broader coalition to isolate Iran. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are in lock step on this issue that they both see Iran has a malign influence in the region. For Saudi Arabia, that thread is much more existential.

There may be concern here that they've heard from President Trump, say, that in essence, the strike was not against us. It was against Saudi. We're looking to Saudi to make the decisions.

The Saudis are going to look to Pompeo to -- to know that, whatever they say, both countries -- both countries are in agreement. And I think we're going to hear before they speak the ministry of defense here says that they will put forward the material evidence of Iran being behind the missile systems here that were fired at the country.

So we're going to see, through the day, a mounting of evidence and pressure and narrative against Iran. And that will be amplified when we're expecting later today Secretary Pompeo to -- to meet with not only the crown prince but the foreign minister, as well, and hold potentially -- potentially a joint press conference later in the day.

CAMEROTA: OK. Nick Paton Walsh, tell us what the word is from Iran's president and what he says about that evidence that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia say they have? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they

have consistently, Iran, said, as have the Houthi rebels in Yemen, that the Houthi rebels were behind these attacks. That is something which U.S. and Saudi officials and independent analysts have doubted that those rebels, often ragtag, have the capability.

But President Hassan Rouhani has gone back to that again, saying that such an attack by the Yemeni rebels may well have being served as a warning to Saudi Arabia. His foreign minister just yesterday tweeted, saying how this was likely the Yemenis taking revenge for the blood extracted on them during this, frankly, often barbaric and brutal civil war, much of which caused by a Saudi aerial campaign.

On top of that, too, this day we have another drama unfolding. While yesterday, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that they will not be negotiating with the U.S. at any level any time soon, the mere possibility that President Rouhani of Iran and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, might go to New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly. That's very much in doubt.

State news saying here that, if they don't get their visas in the next few hours, they simply aren't going. So that, again, throws into even more doubt, frankly, almost to the point of extinction the idea that diplomacy may occur on the sidelines there.

On top of that, too, while I'm sure the U.S. want to feel their allies are entirely united behind them in blaming Iran, we've heard from Japan very close to the Trump administration, their prime minister. They've said that they think there's a high probability that the Houthis are behind that attack, essentially agreeing with the Iranian points of view.

Now, they say they haven't made a conclusion from evidence. That's just their balance of probability, a hunch, so to speak. On top of that, too, close U.S. ally the United Kingdom's foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, it appears has spoken with Javad Zarif, his Iranian counterpart, yesterday. The content of that call not discussed. But that's certainly not putting Iran in isolation. U.K. always been more open to talking to that degree.

But we're in interesting territory here, where Iran is sticking with its consistent denial, the president also accusing the U.S. of pressure, of maximum pressure through slander at this point.

Iran isn't budging. They said they didn't do it, and it seems as though the allies you'd expect to rally around the United States are not doing so that fast.

Back to you.

BERMAN: You know, Nick Paton Walsh, it's interesting, there's some political dissent within the United States about how President Trump is handling this, including from some of his usually closest allies.

WALSH: Yes. Extraordinary how Senator Lindsey Graham, normally somebody who reads from the same script as the president, has made points that the decision not to launch an air strike in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone a number of weeks ago made the United States look weak.

Now, President Trump said that made him, in his opinion, look strong. No doubt, in this region here, might often appears right. And certainly, I think while a strike on Iranian assets in Iran during -- after something like that would certainly have boosted tensions. It's possibly not caused an all-out conflagration.

The fact that Donald Trump said, I thought about it, then I changed my mind, might have been read by some Iranian officials as him being gun shy. That is, I think, the big question hanging over this region here. If, indeed, or whoever is behind these attacks on the Saudi oil fields, they may possibly be trying to calculate exactly how willing to go towards military intervention the United States is.

And at this point, they're struggling, the U.S., to put forward evidence that shows, certainly, Iran was behind this, whether or not we see some sort of military action is in doubt, too, given what we've heard from the president at this time -- John.

CAMEROTA: Nic Robertson, final thought. What are we going to see today?

ROBERTSON: We're going to see the evidence put forward, the material evidence from the Ministry of Defense. I think they may present photographs or actual missile parts -- point to those missile parts, potentially the circuit boards, and explain to us, you know, what the markings on the circuit boards mean. What that -- what that implies about Iran.

Look, there's no lack of belief in this region. Everyone in this country and -- and among Saudi allies believes there is no way a strike of this complexity, sophistication, and planning could have been mounted on Saudi Arabia without Iran's support.

And one of the things we understand is, you know, that communications eavesdropping has been going on in the region. That's normal. We understand that. But some of the data that may be being drawn from that can perhaps give a stronger analysis and a stronger assessment of why there is this firm belief that this was planned and plotted out of Iran to the point of understanding precisely why Iran would have come to our conclusion.

[06:10:25]

Obviously, those attacks on the tankers in the summer had a limited effect in the Persian Gulf. But they had the effect to warn the world that their oil supplies from the region were under threat and under threat from Iran.

But it had no more effect than that to get Iran what it wants, which is a lift from internationalists, specifically U.N. sanctions. So it was a real sense here that, if Iran, as is asserted by the United States and Saudi, was behind it, again, this is all an effort to draw attention to their plight, their suffering under strong sanctions and to get relief from that. A huge step to make to attack oil facilities and pull down close to 1/10 of the world's oil supply in that strike.

CAMEROTA: Nic Robertson, Nick Paton Walsh, it sounds like it's going to be an important pivotal day there. Thank you very much.

OK. Back here in the U.S., much of Corey Lewandowski's testimony yesterday sounded a bit like a broken record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussion.

The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times?

LEWANDOWSKI: The White House has directed I not disclose the substances of any discussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. We weren't looping that. Those were separate instances, just to make clear. OK? But he did make one statement that has implications for everyone in President Trump's circle. We'll tell you what, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:16:22]

CAMEROTA: So it was billed as the first official House hearing on impeachment. And House Democrats thought they had Corey Lewandowski right where they wanted him. Under oath before Congress, televised. But the former Trump campaign manager stonewalled for hours in a very contentious hearing.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live on Capitol Hill with more. So what happened yesterday, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was extraordinary, Alisyn. The House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry devolved into chaos. It now leaves a decision to the Democratic leadership whether or not to hold Lewandowski in contempt to get a court order to force him to answer their questions. And this all as they're struggling to provide oversight of the Trump administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEWANDOWSKI: It's now clear that the investigation was populated by many Trump haters who had their own agenda.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Corey Lewandowski confirming his continued loyalty to President Trump in a nearly six-hour, contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. LEWANDOWSKI: As for actual collusion or conspiracy, there was none. What there has been, however, is harassment of this president from the day he won the election.

MALVEAUX: Trump's former campaign manager appearing before the House panel under subpoena, stonewalling Democrats' questions on his interactions with President Trump that were outlined in the Mueller report.

Despite Lewandowski never working in the White House, they are trying to exert executive privilege over his testimony.

LEWANDOWSKI: The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality. And I recognize this is not my privilege, but I am respecting the White House's decision.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): When you refuse to answer these questions, you are obstructing the work of our committee; and I will remind you that Article 3 of the impeachment against President Nixon was based on obstruction of Congress.

LEWANDOWSKI: Democrats arguing that privilege is not valid.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I don't think it's anyone's privilege to waive because I don't think it exists, Mr. Lewandowski. I think the whole thing is imaginary. It's like the tooth fairy.

LEWANDOWSKI: My children are watching. Thank you, Congressman.

MALVEAUX: Democrats pressed Lewandowski on a 2017 request from Trump to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Mueller investigation and limit its scope to only include future elections. Despite never relaying that message, Lewandowski confirms that President Trump did make that request.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Did the president pick you his enforcer? He thought you would play whatever role he wanted, because it was illegal? Is that possibly why he chose you to take this message to sessions?

LEWANDOWSKI: That'd be a question for the president, Congressman.

MALVEAUX: In this heated exchange, a defiant Lewandowski admitting he was not honest with the media.

LEWANDOWSKI: I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever, just like they have no obligation to cover me honestly. And they do it inaccurately all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're admitting that on national television, you were lying there?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I'm saying is they have been inaccurate on many occasions, and perhaps I was inaccurate that time.

MALVEAUX: Lewandowski leaving Democrats frustrated.

LEWANDOWSKI: Don't ask me a question if you don't want to hear my answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm reclaiming my time. This is the House Judiciary, not a house party.

LEWANDOWSKI: Confidentiality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not going to stonewall me in my questioning.

MALVEAUX: And making a mockery of the hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you the hit man, the bag man, the lookout, or all of the above?

LEWANDOWSKI: I think I'm the good-looking man, actually.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Are you ashamed of the words that you wrote down?

LEWANDOWSKI: President Swalwell, I'm very happy with what I've written, but you're welcome to read it if you'd like.

SWALWELL: Are you ashamed to read it out loud?

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm not ashamed of anything in my life, Congressman, are you?

MALVEAUX: Republicans hitting Democrats for the hearing turning into political theater.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Why we continue to engage in a charade that is overwhelmingly opposed by the American people and fundamentally misunderstood by my Democrat colleagues.

[06:20:08]

LEWANDOWSKI: You know, Congressman, I think they hate this president more than they love their country.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): They still can't get over it today. So what do we do? We have public hearings, lots of flashbulbs, embarrassing the president, not gathering facts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: This was the first big test for the House Judiciary Committee to make its point -- the point of impeachment, rather, and it is far from clear, with all of the stonewalling, as well as no new bombshells, whether or not they made any progress in convincing the public that impeachment is the way to go -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill. Suzanne, thank you very much. We want to bring in CNN legal analyst

Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor. And CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip is here, as well.

Let's stipulate this was a hot mess and an "S" show.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So stipulated.

BERMAN: OK, so stipulated. However, underneath the chaos, there was an important admission, and it came in this exchange right here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): That's what he wanted you to deliver to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe that's an accurate representation.

JOHNSON: And he wanted you to deliver it to Jeff so that Jeff could say it to the people, right?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Corey Lewandowski just told Congress that President Trump wanted him to go tell Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself and to narrow the scope of the Mueller investigation. That's significant.

HONIG: I think, first of all, that is obstruction of justice right there. And in normal times, that should be a huge deal.

You have one of the president's biggest, most enthusiastic cheerleaders saying yes, the president ordered me to limit an ongoing criminal investigation of him.

But I think the whole thing underlines sort of a paradox that we're in now. But so what? What's going to happen? It's already in the Mueller report. That was not new. He confirmed that Mueller had it right. Donald Trump has argued he did not.

But it's in the Mueller report already. And Congress has put itself in this strange position of what are you going to do about it? Right? Congress has sort of moved the goal post on itself. To the point where what's in the Mueller report they've put out there is not enough.

So I would ask Congress what's it going to take? Is there enough to impeach in the Mueller report, or do you need something more? If you need something more, what is that?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I mean, what were they hoping to get out of that yesterday?

HONIG: I think what they're trying to do, I think to some extent it's political theater. I think Congress and Nancy Pelosi in particular are walking the fine line. They're trying to -- they're saying, we want to draw more attention to the Mueller report; it needs to come to life. But ultimately, it feels like a slow walk to me.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think Elie is right. There's nothing in what happened yesterday that is brand- new.

However, I do think there is value in, for the record, the entire public understanding that what was in the Mueller report is correct. And that Corey Lewandowski lied about it publicly. So -- so it really calls into question a lot of the public denials of the accounts that are written about in the Mueller report. So that -- that has some public value.

Does it have impeachment value? I really don't know. Because I think if Democrats felt like this was enough, they would have moved forward with it already. Because it's already laid out there.

And I think, at this point, catching Corey Lewandowski in a lie is -- is fine. I think it's useful for public knowledge about how much we can trust him. Is it useful for moving forward with the impeachment probe? I don't know.

CAMEROTA: You know what was interesting is that we had heard that they wanted to animate the Mueller report, turn it into a movie. Corey Lewandowski refused to read the script for that movie yesterday. OK? They kept trying to get him to read it.

PHILLIP: Alisyn -- Can I just say, Alisyn, I told you so?

CAMEROTA: You did.

PHILLIP: We did talk about this. You know?

CAMEROTA: I was about to say that. You predicted this.

PHILLIP: I do -- It's no surprise. We've all dealt with Corey Lewandowski before. We know that he is putting on a show for the boss. And that is exactly what he did yesterday.

I mean, he -- The level of disrespect and contempt for sitting members of Congress, this is a pattern of Trump officials. This is what they do. And they do it, because they know President Trump is watching.

And he was watching so carefully that the minute that Corey Lewandowski finished his opening statement, he tweeted, Great job. And then later tweeted out the video.

So from Corey Lewandowski's perspective, it was a massive success. And it really did kind of, unfortunately, make a mockery of a very serious process. I mean, going before Congress and testifying under oath is a serious thing that, if you don't do it accurately and honestly, you can go to jail for that. So it's -- we've really come to a pretty low point in this whole process.

BERMAN: Let me make the case that something else significant did come of it, and it has to do with honesty and accuracy. Corey's statement that, I'm under no obligation to be candid. Now, he went on to say to the media, but it isn't just the media.

Because before that he would preface it by saying, Unless I'm under oath, I can say whatever I want. That's a staggering admission from someone from inside the inner circle with the president of the United States. One of the president's close advisers just said, the truth doesn't matter to me at all unless I'm under oath.

[06:25:02]

Extrapolate that out to the implications. I have to say, it took my breath away to see that.

Think about what's going on in Saudi Arabia right now. The president is trying to convince people that Iran was behind the attack. He's not under oath. So why is he under any obligation to tell the truth? Corey just told us that unless he's under oath, he doesn't care.

HONIG: Yes, it's what we call a credibility killer in the business, when you openly admit, 99 percent of my life when I'm not under oath, I feel free to say whatever I want.

And remember, this is the same testimony that Donald Trump publicly applauded and retweeted. And I think by doing that is encouraging.

Corey Lewandowski only seemed to have one uniting principle throughout his testimony yesterday, which is, if it's good for Trump, I'll go there. If I think it's good for Trump, I'll go there. And if it's bad, I won't. And even in the way that he invoked this made -- I believe made-up privilege of the White House.

BERMAN: There's absolutely no precedent for a privilege for someone who doesn't work inside an administration.

CAMEROTA: Hold on a second.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I want to know about that.

HONIG: Yes.

CAMEROTA: So the president, if he's speaking to somebody who's not in the administration, there's no executive privilege?

HONIG: No. Yes, you're correct the way you said it. In other words, executive privilege is supposed to be very narrow, even within the executive branch. It's not any conversation between the president and someone who works for the executive branch. It's supposed to be about guarding military secrets, national security. That's from the Richard Nixon Supreme Court decision.

And now to extend it to people who are not in the executive branch just takes it outside of all boundaries. And the thing that was so interesting about Lewandowski is he invoked this privilege yesterday but not across the board. Sometimes he said the White House has instructed me, blah, blah, blah, and sometimes, he answered openly. And I think the only thing that -- that made any sense of that is, do I think this is good for Trump or bad for Trump?

PHILLIP: Yes. And sometimes, he seemed to invoke it at times when he just didn't want to answer the question. Not necessarily in cases where it involved conversations that they claimed were protected.

Sometimes even on things that are written in the Mueller report, he did not want to answer those questions and invoke that kind of, you know, as you say --

BERMAN: Faux privilege.

PHILLIP: -- faux privilege. So I mean, it's -- it was a mockery of a hearing.

But I will say, John, I mean, the idea that White House officials are lying to the public regularly is not new. I mean, the Trump tower meeting was a classic case of that. They knew the reports were accurate. They lied about it publicly. And the then press secretary Sarah Sanders basically admitted as much.

BERMAN: They've admitted it. We've known it's happening, but now they tell us they think it's OK. And I think that's really interesting and notable, and I think it has implications behind just this. That's all I'm saying. And I'm not lying about that.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Elie, thank you very much. And you know who we could ask about this? Is Corey Lewandowski. Because he is joining us live in the 8 a.m. hour.

BERMAN: He will not be under oath during that interview.

So given Corey's admission about lying, can the Trump administration be trusted with telling the American people the truth about, say, something important like the attacks on the Saudi oil fields? Who's behind it? How do you know that the president's telling the truth? We're going to assess the credibility crisis facing the Trump administration on the world stage, next.

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