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Trump Threatens "Ultimate Option" against Iran; Mechanic Accused of Sabotaging Jet Had ISIS Video on His Phone; Trump's Spy Chief Refusing to Share "Urgent" Whistleblower Complaint with House Intel Committee; Interview with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, on Acting DNI Complaint; Trump Threatens "Ultimate Option" Against Iran as Pompeo Calls Attack on Saudi Oil "Act of War"; Uncertainty in Israel as Netanyahu and His Main Rival Seek Support of Minor Parties to Form Ruling Coalition; New Tropical Storm Forms as Remnants of Another Flood Texas and Major Hurricane Threatens Bermuda. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much for that, Bill.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: plane sabotage plot. New allegations against a mechanic prosecutors say tampered with an American Airlines 737 with 150 people on board.

Does he have ties to ISIS?

Ultimate option: President Trump refusing to rule out military retaliation against Iran for the attack on a major Saudi oil facility, which the president and secretary of state is now calling an act of war.

Whistleblower withheld: President Trump's acting spy chief is refusing to comply with the House Intelligence Committee's subpoena for an urgent whistleblower complaint.

And new adviser: the president picks a former critic but now effusive fan as his new national security adviser.

Was flattery part of the reason he got the job?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including very disturbing new allegations against an airline mechanic accused of sabotaging a passenger plane that was forced to abort takeoff. Prosecutors now say the Iraqi-born man downloaded an ISIS video to his phone and told co- workers his brother was a member of the terror group.

Also breaking this hour, President Trump alluding to possible war with Iran, which he blames for the devastating aerial attack on a major Saudi oil field. Tonight the secretary of state Mike Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia as the president announces new sanctions on Iran.

We'll talk about that and more with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First let's go to CNN's Brian Todd with the latest on the airline mechanic accused of sabotage.

Brian, a judge has just denied him bond, saying he may, quote, "be very sympathetic to terrorists."

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The judge did say that just a short time ago and the judge also called the suspect's alleged actions, quote, "very disconcerting." Prosecutors say in one message that the suspect sent to another person, he wrote that, quote, "Allah, we ask you to use all your might and power against non Muslims."

But as of tonight this mechanic is not yet charged with terrorism- related offenses.


TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors dropped the bombshell in open court, telling a federal judge that the 60-year-old airline mechanic had an ISIS video on his phone and had forwarded it to someone else.

Prosecutors say Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani also visited Iraq this year and sent $700 to someone living there. Alani, a mechanic for American Airlines, was arrested this summer, accused of trying to sabotage a plane with 150 people on board.

Authorities say they used surveillance video to identify Alani. The pilots were rolling down the runway in Miami when they suddenly aborted takeoff due to faulty readings. Experts say if it hadn't been caught, it could have brought the plane down.


PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You have to know how fast the plane is going to do a successful takeoff. It is a very dangerous malfunction.


TODD (voice-over): Today prosecutors said they also found an article about the deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia last year on Alani's phone. They say it referenced the same type of air data module system he's accused of sabotaging. The federal government said today that Alani had told his co-workers

his brother was a member of ISIS and he went to Iraq to see his brother. Prosecutors say Alani's roommate told them he went to Iraq because his brother had been kidnapped. No terror-related charges have been filed.

In court documents, prosecutors initially said he confessed to sabotage due to a pay dispute and wanted to get more overtime fixing the flaw he created. But tonight analysts say investigators may now be looking into whether he was somehow radicalized.

JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We've also seen these organizations be very creative and innovative and we've seen more outsourcing as they themselves could not mount a 9/11 type operation. They essentially reach out to other people that could do things for them.

TODD (voice-over): Terrorist groups from Al Qaeda to ISIS are known to be fixated on trying to bring down American planes. And the threat of a terrorist getting a job with an airline to pull off an inside job has always been a major security concern.

For example, the deadly Metrojet crash in Egypt in 2015, claimed by ISIS, might have been perpetrated by a mechanic, according to Reuters.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: They see airport insiders as potentially very helpful recruits in launching these types of attacks and there is some track record of this.

TODD (voice-over): But terrorism experts also say it is possible that Alani's interest in Iraq and ISIS could have no bearing on the alleged sabotage.

CRUICKSHANK: Plenty of people download ISIS videos for all sorts of reasons.


CRUICKSHANK: This man was from Iraq. Perhaps he was interested in what that group was doing to his country. The question of travel to Iraq, well, plenty of Iraqis in the United States go back to their home country.


TODD: American Airlines said the mechanic has been fired. He has not entered a plea in connection to the late July incident. But he is expected to enter a plea later this week. The judge has denied him bail.

Now in court today, Wolf, Alani's lawyer did say that he never meant to hurt anyone and that he only wanted overtime pay. He said that Alani agreed to the search of his phone and now where that ISIS video was found.

And the defense attorney asked, if Alani was a terror threat, why wasn't he on a no-fly list?

These are all strong points made by the defense today in court. He should enter a plea later this week.

BLITZER: A lot of questions need to be answered. Good report, Brian, thank you very much.

There is more breaking news we're following. Tough new talk from President Trump and his top diplomat as Saudi Arabia shows what it says are Iranian weapons used in a fiery attack on a major Saudi oil facility. Iran continues to angrily deny responsibility and accuses the U.S. of slander.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president seems to strongly believe Iran was behind this attack.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. President Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo are ramping up the rhetoric on Iran tonight. The president told reporters he's considering what he called the ultimate option in response to an alleged Iranian strike on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia and an attack Pompeo referred to as an act of war. The president doesn't sound quite sold on the idea of taking a shot at Iran but he said he's prepared to do, quote, "dastardly things."


ACOSTA (voice-over): In California, joined by his new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, President Trump warned the U.S. could take military action against Iran in retaliation for what the administration sees as a clear strike by Tehran on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia.

TRUMP: It is the ultimate option. And there are options that are a lot less than that and we'll see. We're in a very powerful position. Right now, we're in a very, very powerful position. I would say the ultimate option, meaning go in war.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who just met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, sounded an ominous tone as he arrived in the kingdom, describing the attack as an act of war.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE (from captions): We're blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there is always the risk that that could happen.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But in signs he may stop short of military action, the president announced the administration will impose new sanctions on Iran and he took a swipe at GOP senator Lindsey Graham, who is pressing Mr. Trump to get tough.

TRUMP: Ask Lindsey, ask him, how did go into the Middle East, how did that work out? And how did going into Iraq work out?

So we have a disagreement on that. And you know there is plenty of time to do some dastardly things.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Unlike his combative predecessor, John Bolton, O'Brien was much more measured when asked what advice he will give the president.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Any advice I will give the president will be something I give to him confidentially but we're going to monitor that situation closely.

ACOSTA (voice-over): O'Brien appears to have won his new job in part by heaping praise on Mr. Trump.

O'BRIEN: The president has had unparalleled success in bringing Americans home, without any concessions.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But in the past O'Brien has been a Trump critic, writing in 2015 that Mr. Trump had, quote, "been playing up how chummy he will be with Vladimir Putin if he is elected."

The president also took time to slam the Federal Reserve, which just lowered interest rates for the second time in three months to ward off a recession, tweeting his own hand picked chair of the Fed didn't go far enough, complaining, "Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve fail again. No guts."

The president tweeted himself into trouble earlier in the day by sharing a false tweet from a conservative commentator who accused Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar of dancing on last week's anniversary of 9/11. But that is not true. She was dancing on September 13th.

The president is also picking a fight with California governor Gavin Newsom after the Trump administration announced it is planning to bar the state from regulating tailpipe emissions from cars, something it has done for decades to combat pollution.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): I don't know what the hell has happened to the Republican Party.

And by the way, where is the Republican Party right now?

They believe in state rights. At least they assert that and they are nowhere to be found on this.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also said he's keeping an eye on the election nail biter in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could lose power. Mr. Trump suggested he could work with a possible successor if Netanyahu loses. TRUMP: Look, our relationship is with Israel. We'll see what happens.


ACOSTA: Now as for the situation with Iran, a senior administration official tried to explain why things may get worse before they get better, saying Tehran is sounding desperate these days after crippling sanctions on that country's economy, as this official put it, Iran may have nothing to lose at this point and simply continue these kinds of provocations in the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

The president's acting Director of National Intelligence is refusing to comply with a House Intelligence Committee subpoena to share a whistleblower complaint that's been deemed credible and urgent.


BLITZER: Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us.

Evan, the acting director said this complaint doesn't involve anyone in the intelligence community but rather someone in the Trump administration.

What are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. Look, there is a lot of fights like this over information that Congress is demanding of the Trump administration.

What is different about this one is that even members of Congress don't seem to know exactly what the nature is of this whistleblower complaint that the office of the Director of National Intelligence and apparently the White House are trying very hard to not let them know about.

We know -- here is what we know. Back on August 12th, the inspector general for the intelligence community received a complaint. They investigated and they determined it was urgent and credible and according to them that is why they told members of Congress that it existed.

Now the DNI, Joseph Maguire, who's the acting Director of National Intelligence, said that he is complying with the letter of the law. He said that this complaint has nothing to do with anyone inside of the intelligence community and that it has to do with some privilege, perhaps some White House privileges.

And that is the reason why he's not sharing the information. We have part of the letter from the Director of National Intelligence that said in part, quote, "because the complaint was determined not to be an urgent concern, the law did not require that the DNI forward the complaint to the Intelligence Committees." Now Wolf, under normal circumstances, these complaints are forwarded

to the intelligence community because, to the committees, rather, because they have jurisdiction over the Intelligence Committee -- community and are allowed to investigate whether these whistleblower complaints are being handled appropriately.

BLITZER: Is there anything that Congress could do to get this information if the acting DNI is refusing?

Could the inspector general be subpoenaed to reveal what he knows?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House committee, is saying he wants to do is bring the acting DNI to testify tomorrow perhaps. And perhaps he can also have the inspector general come and answer some questions.

But in the end, really, this is going to be a fight between the White House, between the Trump administration and the Congress, and the two sides may have to go to court before they get any information out of the DNI.

BLITZER: The mystery continues. Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Let's get more from Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks for coming up.


BLITZER: Let's pick up on what Evan just reported. You're on the Intelligence Committee.

How serious is this matter?

SWALWELL: We think it is serious and the inspector general said it is urgent and credible.

So the question is, what is the administration hiding and what is the risk to our national security if we aren't able to hear from this person?

Now just to clarify, we don't know much but it looks like the whistleblower comes from inside of the intelligence community. The person's conduct that they are concerned about comes from outside.

And there is a small pool of people that would be able to have a privilege that could even protect them in any way from us knowing about it. Anyway, the White House should not be involved. If they are involved -- and this is very rare, this has never happened before. And we should have been told immediately. And instead we're left in the dark.

BLITZER: So what is the suggestion here? Because if it is urgent and credible, by law, doesn't the House

Intelligence Committee at least, the chairman and the ranking member, have the right to see what is going on?

SWALWELL: That is right. And a lot of these reforms came after the Nixon administration. Of course, that's interesting because of the parallels to the Trump administration. But the idea was that if you are in the intelligence community and you see something that's concerning, this is a method for you to tell the inspector general.

It goes to Congress. It has to go to Congress within seven days --


BLITZER: But they are saying it has nothing to do with the intelligence community; it has to do with the Trump administration.

SWALWELL: They are saying that the individual who is invoked here is not in the intelligence community. Not that it has nothing to do with the --

BLITZER: So is your -- but do you have any idea what is going on here?

SWALWELL: No. That is what is so concerning. So again, the risk, Wolf, if we do nothing and we're not able to hear this, future whistleblowers may be chilled and not come forward. Or you could have leaks.

If people feel like I can't go through the proper channels, I'm just going to go to the press and start leaking national security. Well, then, you're in a situation that I don't think anyone in the intelligence community --

BLITZER: Because a whistleblower should go to the inspector general if the whistleblower has a legitimate complaint.

SWALWELL: That is right.

BLITZER: Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, is he going to be subpoenaed?

Is he going to come before your committee and testify on this?

Obviously behind closed doors.

And what about the inspector general?

SWALWELL: The Director of National Intelligence, the acting director has been subpoenaed. He did not comply as of yesterday with what we have asked for and so we have had to deal with this with the attorney general, with Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce and we'll go all the way --

BLITZER: So will you do another subpoena to make sure he shows up tomorrow? SWALWELL: He is subpoenaed to show up tomorrow so --



BLITZER: He already is.

SWALWELL: -- show up, we have legal means. It is not going to happen as fast as we like, Wolf, but the law is on our side. And this falls in the pattern of an administration that just disregards the law.

BLITZER: And what about the inspector general, will you subpoena him to show up as well?

SWALWELL: You know, I'll leave that to Mr. Schiff as far as the --

BLITZER: Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee.

SWALWELL: -- the chairman. But the acting DNI, if he wants to do the right thing and if it is urgent and credible, we should hear about it.

BLITZER: Do you have any sense that the whistleblower in this particular case wants to come before your committee?

SWALWELL: You know, we know it was urgent and credible and every urgent and credible threat in the past or every urgent and credible report in the past has always come to Congress. And the fact that they would want to suppress this is concerning.

BLITZER: If they respect the subpoena, what, if anything, can you do about it?

Because there is a history of this administration rejecting a whole bunch of subpoenas.

SWALWELL: Yes. I think a short-term benefit to them is it creates confusion and chaos and gets tied up in the courts. But I think there will be a cascade of court decisions against this administration on the attorney general and Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin and the tax returns and if it has be, it'll also be on --

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, if the acting DNI, Director of National Intelligence Maguire, if he refuses to comply, could you subpoena the inspector general and force the inspector general to come before your committee and release details of this issue?

SWALWELL: That is one of the options that's out there. And again I'll leave it to the chairman to decide. And my message, if the acting DNI is listening today, do the right thing. Do not allow this president and the administration to bully you into doing anything that is lawless.

BLITZER: I mention that there is obviously a history over the past 2.5 years of the administration rejecting House requests for specific information, including subpoenas. We saw Corey Lewandowski's testimony yesterday. He refused to answer a whole bunch of questions.

And the Democrats didn't seem to know how to handle him appropriately.

What is the next step, what are you guys going to do?

SWALWELL: Well, he may be held in contempt. We also are able to find witnesses, two other witnesses, just refused to show up. What is so frustrating about Mr. Lewandowski is he never worked a day at the White House and the White House is saying that the privileges that protect them should keep Mr. Lewandowski from testifying.

So all law and order is off with this White House and we so have to again just go to the courts. It's not going to happen as fast as we want. But we believe in the rule of law and I think ultimately good will prevail over lawlessness.

BLITZER: Well, it must be for you so frustrating. You were questioning Lewandowski and you had a bunch of questions. He really didn't answer your questions.

SWALWELL: Yes. But at the end of the day, we brought out that the president told Mr. Lewandowski to go to Jeff Sessions and end the Russia investigation and fire Mr. Sessions if he didn't take the meeting.


BLITZER: But we knew that from the Mueller report.

SWALWELL: But we wanted to bring it to life and the Mueller report is a long, lengthy document. We wanted the actual living and breathing witness to tell the committee that. It shouldn't have taken so long. And innocent people, by the way, Wolf, don't conduct themselves the way that Mr. Lewandowski -- if you don't have anything to hide, just come forward and tell the truth.

BLITZER: Let me get a final thought from you. You heard our report on this American Airlines mechanic, who had some ISIS video on his cell phone. He was apparently attempting, the allegation is, to bring down an American Airlines 737 with about 150 people on board.

Did someone miss something, if, in fact, there is really an ISIS connection to this mechanic?

SWALWELL: Well, thankfully, law enforcement was able to intervene.

So thank you to the men and women who are part of that investigative team.

But Wolf, I am concerned that our airports are vulnerable. I've written legislation and I've funded pilot programs to protect our perimeters. But I'll also be looking at what we an do to know more about the people who are touching the airplanes and whether we need to increase some of the ongoing background checks that may need to take place.

But thank God nothing happened here. But it is cause for us to go back and look at what more we can do.

BLITZER: Thank God that flight was aborted almost upon takeoff and those people, the 150 people are OK.

SWALWELL: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much --


BLITZER: -- for coming in. Appreciate it very much, Eric Swalwell.

Stay with us. We have more on increasing tensions coming up between the U.S. and Iran following that attack on the Saudi Arabian oil facility. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo who met with Saudi officials today calls the attack an act of war.

And later we'll have more on the mechanic accused of sabotaging an airliner carrying 150 people. Prosecutors now say he had ISIS propaganda on his cell phone.





BLITZER: Tonight there is a new flashpoint between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats. The acting Director of National Intelligence missed the deadline to give the House Intelligence Committee information about what an inspector general is calling a credible and urgent complaint from a whistleblower.

Let's ask our legal and political experts about this.

So Jeffrey Toobin, does the House Intelligence Committee right now have any recourse?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they could make noise and they could issue more subpoenas and if the subpoenas are defied, they can go to court to try to find people in contempt.

It is a slow process and that is something the Trump administration has counted on in defying subpoena after subpoena. But there is some recourse, which is the contempt power.

BLITZER: Basically to go to court.


TOOBIN: To go to court to force the disclosure of these documents and to force the Director of National Intelligence to produce whatever this report is and who the whistleblower is and what his or her complaints are. BLITZER: Gloria, listen to House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff when he told our Anderson Cooper about the whistleblower.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The DNI acknowledged that this involves someone apparently outside of the authority of the DNI someone above the DNI. There aren't that many in that category.

And they also suggested that there may be privilege issues here, which means that it would have to involve communications of the president or people around him.


BLITZER: That is pretty significant.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. It is very mysterious. It is -- it could potentially be significant. And the question you ask after that is, well, what are you hiding?

What are you trying to hide here?

If there -- I mean, the suggestion that there are privilege issues, there are only certain people that that could apply to, either the president or people who work in the White House.

So the question is, who are they trying to protect and why?

Is it just an embarrassing thing or is it something worse?

We don't know the answer.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, whistleblowers, they're protected by law, including in the IC, in the intelligence community, so that they can report on bad things that they see happen, things that shouldn't be happening.

And this -- it seems -- it is obvious that the acting DNI is in a pickle because at least according to what he told Adam Schiff, technically, this person doesn't work for him. So he doesn't have technical jurisdiction.

But if he actually did tell Adam Schiff that this -- whoever the person, who is -- did something wrong is senior to the DNI and is in the executive branch, it really does leave a handful of people, even smaller than a handful.

BLITZER: It could be Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, Director of National Intelligence, they want him to testify, come before the committee behind closed doors clearly and speak out tomorrow.

He now said that tomorrow won't work because he's -- according to a spokesperson, he's not available on such short notice.

So what options -- you've covered Congress for a long time.

What options does --


BASH: -- Listen, you could just kind of cut and paste the frustrating attempts to get information or witnesses across the board, across the issues that the Democrats have had since they've taken control and gotten the power of oversight.

It is stonewall. Issue after issue, administration official after administration official. And the administration is successful, it has been so far, for the reason that Jeffrey said, because their only recourse is that third branch of government, the courts, and they're not known to move very quickly.


TOOBIN: I'm sorry, just what is so maddening about this situation is that this whistleblower has done the right thing.

BORGER: Exactly.

TOOBIN: Has gone through channels. That is why these laws exist. This is not Edward Snowden, who just took the secrets and gave them to the press. This is a person who is trying to follow the rules and is being thwarted by a process that is supposed to allow --


BORGER: And it makes you wonder who the whistleblower is, too, because it is somebody who clearly understands this process.

BLITZER: It is probably a significant person.

April Ryan, the stonewalling tactic that we're seeing in this case, it is clearly the preferred tactic of the Trump administration in dealing with the House majority on so many other issues right now.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well we've seen this over and over again. But someone that I've talked to just before we came on the air, who is very close to this inner circle within the White House, said this is a very sensitive issue.

This one is one that they are not talking about. It is mum. It is not necessarily what is at issue but it is more so who is at issue. And that is the big piece.

Who is once again, going back to this, who is above the DNI?

Who has privileges?

And that is one person that we could really think about but it could be other people. But it doesn't look good. The sources saying they are mum and they are normally not mum. They talk amongst themselves but this time they are keeping this close to the vest. BLITZER: In a related development, Gloria, as we've been reporting, the president now has appointed a new national security adviser for the White House, Robert O'Brien.

Is he qualified for this kind of a job based on what we know about him?

BORGER: Well, he's obviously qualified because the president picked him. This is my guy. He believes he's loyal so that makes him national security adviser.

BLITZER: And he doesn't need Senate confirmation.


BLITZER: This is a White House job.

BORGER: But it is curious in a way and he also recommended and promoted by the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, whose influence is growing every single day. The question that I have is that he worked with John Bolton and was a big -- has written about Bolton, worked with Bolton.


He's -- he shares many of his hawkish views on foreign policy. So it's interesting that the President would replace the guy he fired with a guy who is very complimentary of the guy he fired.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But he also has a different personality.

BORGER: Oh, well, that's it.

BASH: Which is huge.

BORGER: And loyal, different personality --

BASH: And probably doesn't -- isn't going to be accused, at least in the next 24 to 48 hours, of leaking to the press.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: I'm sorry, go ahead (ph).

BORGER: And complimentary of the President publicly.


BORGER: Constantly.

TOOBIN: This job is the drummer in its final tap, right? I mean, this -- how long can you really expect this being --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He's the fourth national security adviser.

TOOBIN: He's the fourth security adviser.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a fair point. All right, everybody, stick around. Much more on all the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Gloria, it's very interesting. The President says he's considering what he calls the ultimate option of going to war with Iran, but earlier in the day, he announced new sanctions against Iran, clearly stopping short of any military action. What is the White House policy towards Iran right now in the aftermath of this attack on these Saudi oil facilities?

BORGER: So in the immediate aftermath, it is increased sanctions. The Secretary of State, today, came out and declared this an act of war against the Saudis. He said, but we're working to build a coalition to help develop -- to develop a plan to deter them.

So he is there in the region trying to develop some kind of plan, but the President, as you heard today, is very reluctant to use what he called the sort of ultimate option. He's not interested in that, and it's causing him to clash with some of his best friends, like Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, who says that people in the region, leaders in the region, will see this as a sign of weakness.

And Trump said today, look, getting into one of these conflagrations is easier than getting out of it. And so, it's very clear where the President stands, so increasing sanctions -- which, by the way, are already very tough -- and then we'll see what happens from there.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: The President is clearly struggling right now with the response.

BASH: Yes, he is because there's another factor here, and that's gas prices. Oil prices. Which he was so worried about that he talked about the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve, like, in a nanosecond after this oil field in Saudi Arabia was bombed, you know, all signs, according to the administration, pointing to Iran.

Because in addition to just in the raw politics of this -- which are, I think, not as important maybe as the immediate question of war or not war, but that's definitely a frame through which the President looks at this kind of issue, I'm told.

Because, you know, in addition to just basic job numbers and the economy, looking into the 2020 election, gas prices is front and center, always has been, on his mind because he understands now as a politician, and before that as a businessman, how much that helps to drive voters.

TOOBIN: But why is our policy so solicitous of Saudi Arabia?


TOOBIN: First of all, Saudi Arabi isn't as powerful in the oil market as it used to be. Second, remember when they killed an American --

BASH: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- I'm sorry, a journalist who lived in America, and everyone was so outraged at Saudi Arabia? Now, we're talking about American weapons and American troops going to protect this corrupt dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.

I don't understand why this is our business. The President is always bragging about how much military we -- you know, equipment we sell to Saudi Arabia. Why don't they use all that equipment? Why is it our fight?

BLITZER: Well, that's a good point, April, and I want -- because you've covered this for a long time as well. The Saudis have purchased hundreds of billions of dollars of the most sophisticated U.S. military equipment, fighter jets, missiles, all sorts of very, very lethal weaponry.

Why is -- aren't the Saudis taking the leadership? If this were an act of war as Pompeo says against Saudi Arabia, shouldn't the Saudis be taking the lead as opposed to, let's say, the United States?

APRIL RYAN, WASHINGTON D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: You would think so. I mean, we've sold that equipment to them. You know, in the Oval Office, when the President was meeting with one of the leaders from Bahrain, they even acknowledged the weaponry, the power that they had.

But Pompeo and Mnuchin are creating this strategy. It's not the President, from what I'm told. This is the Mnuchin-Pompeo strategy with Pompeo at the lead. And they are the ones who are propelling this war of words that could go into the war of militaries, Iran versus the United States.

And, you know, the President has said, you know, in the Oval Office just a few days ago, that he will exhaust diplomacy until the last 12 seconds. And that's saying that there could be war or something -- something could happen that is of force. So they have power to do it, but this president is not leading this charge. It is Pompeo and Mnuchin, so it's about what 3they are saying.

And that's the question, why are they wanting to go to war? When Pompeo is the man of peace and Mnuchin is the man who put the sanctions in, why are they wanting to go the war -- to war? That's the question.

BORGER: Well, you know, and also, there are all kinds of mixed signals here from day-to-day. You know, the President one day saying he's willing to meet with Rouhani of Iran without, you know, saying --


BLITZER: With no preconditions.

BORGER: With no preconditions. And then he says, well, that's not true. And then, I'm not going to meet with him, and I don't care whether he's going to be in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. And then, you know, Pompeo spending an awful lot of time today with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

We don't know what the -- what the overall strategy is. It seems to change day by day by day. And, you know, it doesn't matter what we know; our allies don't know. And I think that is a problem.

BASH: And what Jeffrey said is so important about, well, wait a minute, what about Saudi Arabia? I was listening to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on with Brianna yesterday, talking about the fact that the Saudis, historically, have a strategy of come help me and I'll hold your coat.


BASH: And you know this better than, you know, all of us, Wolf. You've covered so much of, like, what goes on there, of the strategic kind of toing and froing. But it's heightened so much right now --


BASH: -- given what is going on with Iran and Saudi and other important countries in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Stick around, guys. There's a lot more news we're covering, including confusion and uncertainty in Israel right now after a national election fails to produce a clear winner. Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be able to hold on to power?



BLITZER: In Israel right now, the scramble is clearly on to form a ruling coalition after the national election failed to produce a clear majority for either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his main rival, Benny Gantz.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's joining us from Jerusalem right now. Oren, neither side is claiming victory; neither side is conceding. What's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the only thing that looks certain right now and the only safe bet in Israeli politics right now is a political deadlock.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party looks on track with 32 seats while his rival's party, former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's Blue and White party, looks to be on track with 33 seats. Crucially, as you point out, neither of these men can form a coalition which means nobody can claim victory, but nobody has any good reason to concede defeat.

Given that situation, Netanyahu went on the offensive, saying he's united the religious and right-wing Zionist parties behind him, which means he stands at their head, and that he says there are only two options, one is a strong government led by him or a weak government that relies on the support of the Arab parties.

So he's keeping up that anti-Arab rhetoric that we heard throughout the campaign and trying to cast himself as in a strong position. His rival, 3333Benny Gantz, says he is looking to form a national unity government. But nothing has moved in what is essentially political limbo here, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Prime Minister was scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York. I take it that's no longer happening?

LIEBERMANN: He has canceled that upcoming trip, and that, perhaps, gives you an idea of how difficult this situation is for him right now. Because the United Nations General Assembly was basically his favorite international podium for bashing Iran, and that's what he's done there for most of the past decade.

Crucially, it was also a chance for him to meet President Donald Trump, and we've seen that Netanyahu will never pass up a photo-op with Trump. He sees it as good for his politics, good for Trump's politics, so it's good for both of them. The fact that he's not going, Wolf, means he's in a tight spot right now, and it could get worse.

BL333333ITZER: Certainly very, very tight. All right, Oren, thank you very much. Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem.

We're going to have much more on all the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. As the slow-moving remnants of a tropical storm cause flooding in Texas, a major hurricane is threatening Bermuda and a brand-new tropical storm just formed.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. As the remnants of a tropical storm cause dangerous flooding in Houston and southeast Texas, a major hurricane, by the way, is close to Bermuda and a third storm is gaining strength out in the Atlantic.

Let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, what's the latest forecast?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the tropics are definitely active. And not only those, we also have a couple of areas to watch over the next five days. Those are the areas shaded in yellow. But, yes, we all have Imelda, Humberto, and Jerry that we're watching right now. So Tropical Depression Imelda, right now moving to the north at five

miles per hour, has caused some dangerous flooding across portions of Houston and points east. Look at these rainfall totals from the storm. San Bernard, Texas, 21 inches of rain. And Sargent, 19 inches. So quite a bit, almost two feet of rain.

And the rain is still falling, will continue to do so as we go through the overnight. But this will slowly lift to the north, so we will get some very high rainfall totals across east Texas as well as northwest Louisiana as we get into tomorrow.

So the flooding is not over. As this gulf moisture continues to lift to the north, you can see those areas of 10 to 18 inches of rain possible right along the state line of Louisiana and Texas and then right along I-20 between Tyler and Shreveport. So areas to watch there.

Hurricane Humberto right now, winds of 120 miles per hour, gusts of 150. There's Bermuda, and this is going to pass just to the north of Bermuda as a strong Category 3 storm. And even though it is passing well to the north, they've already had a recorded wind gust of more than 100 miles per hour, so definitely producing the wind and also some rain. So this one will just head out to sea.

Last but not least, we have Tropical Storm Jerry. I just found out we have a few tropical storm watches in place for a few of the Leeward Islands with winds of 60 miles per hour, moving at about 15. Now, on this current track, it looks like it's going to pass through the north of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and then not impact the U.S.

Of course, we will be watching it closely as we get into the weekend, Wolf, because we know, of course, forecasts can change. But most of the computer models right now definitely agreeing that this is going to take that northerly track and then take a turn out to sea. So hopefully, that will hold true, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does. Let's hope Jerry moves away from all of us. All right, Jennifer, thank you very much.

There's breaking news next. An airline mechanic accused of sabotaging a plane is denied bail as a judge says the man may be sympathetic to terrorists.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Ties to ISIS? Authorities now say an American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a commercial flight had ISIS propaganda on his phone. Was he hoping to bring down a 737 with 150 people on board in the terror group's name?

Act of war. That's how the Secretary of State is now describing the attack on Saudi oil facilities as he clearly and flatly blames Iran. President Trump says he's exploring his options, including the possibility of doing dastardly things. [18:00:06]

Whistleblower blowback.