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THE SITUATION ROOM
Airline Mechanic Accused of Sabotage Had ISIS Video on Phone; Iran Tensions; Interview With Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Says, Acting Chief To Testify Next Week After Refusing To Turn Over Secret Whistleblower Complaint; Pompeo Blames Iran For Act Of War In Saudi Oil Attack As Trump Weighs Military Action Of Ultimate Opinion; Triple Threat: As Imelda Drenches Houston, A Major Hurricane and A New Tropical Storm Are Gaining Strength; Michigan, New York Ban Some Flavored E-Cigarettes As a Seventh Vaping-Related Death in U.S. Confirmed. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired September 18, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump says he's exploring his options, including the possibility of doing dastardly things.
Whistle-blower blowback. The acting spy chief defies a congressional subpoena, refusing to hand over the information about a whistle-blower complaint. Tonight, the House Intelligence Committee chairman is demanding to know if the White House ordered the stonewalling.
And inundated. Millions of people are at risk from dangerous flash flooding after a tropical storm smashes into the Texas coast. We will have the latest on the deluge and two other ominous storms gaining strength tonight.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
An American Airlines mechanic charged with sabotaging a commercial jet now linked to ISIS. Authorities revealing in court that he had an ISIS video on his phone, and they say he also told colleagues that his brother was a member of the terrorist group in Iraq.
Also breaking, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia tonight, and he's now calling the strikes on the country's oil facilities an Iranian attack and an act of war.
President Trump is promising new sanctions on Iran within 48 hours, while refusing to rule out what he's calling the ultimate option, a war with Iran.
I will get Republican reaction from House Foreign Affairs Committee member Adam Kinzinger. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.
Rene, this alleged act of airline sabotage was already chilling; 150 lives were in danger. And now we're hearing about, what, an apparent or a possible ISIS connection?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, Abdul- Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, the American Airlines mechanic accused of sabotaging a commercial plane with 150 passengers on board, is being held without bond, after a judge said he may be sympathetic to terrorists, and prosecutors argued Alani had troubling ISIS material in his possession.
MARSH (voice-over): In federal court Tuesday, prosecutors said they found an ISIS propaganda video on Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani's cell phone and that said he shared it with someone else, saying he wished Allah would use divine powers to harm non-Muslims.
The revelation about the 60-year-old airline mechanic came during a bond hearing where prosecutors argued to a judge that the alleged ISIS video and other disturbing connections should keep him behind bars until he goes to try.
Alani is charged with willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft after prosecutors say he confessed to tampering with part of the navigation system of a Boeing 737. The American Airlines jet with 150 people on board was moments away from takeoff from Miami International Airport on July 17, when pilots realized something was wrong and turned back.
Alani is not facing terror-related charges. And when prosecutors charged him earlier this month, they said Alani told them that he was upset about a labor dispute and that he had hoped to earn overtime for fixing the plane he tampered with. His lawyer said he never meant to hurt anyone.
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Whether or not this fellow was really involved with ISIS or not, now ISIS and other would-be terror groups have this possibility in mind.
MARSH: Prosecutors did not say today if they believe Alani was motivated by ISIS, but they did say he told a co-worker that he traveled to Iraq to visit his brother, who he said was a member of ISIS.
Alani's roommate said he traveled to Iraq because his brother has been kidnapped. The U.S. attorney on the case also told the judge Alani had a news article sent to him from an unknown sender referencing the Lion Air crash of a Boeing 737 MAX, and that the article made specific references to the role of the plane's air data module system.
That's the same system Alani is accused of dismantling on the American Airlines flight. Tonight, critics are asking if federal authorities are doing enough to screen mechanics.
JUSTIN GREEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: In terms of vetting, every mechanic has to have a clean criminal background. So they do criminal search, and they also do drug testing. But once you're behind the lines, once you're in the business, unless you show signs of something going wrong, you're kind of trusted.
MARSH: An airline official tells CNN that Alani was vetted before he was hired, and nothing derogatory was found in his background check.
But, today, prosecutors said Alani allegedly told federal agents that his actions were due to -- quote -- "his evil side."
MARSH: Well, I spoke with an American Airlines official, and they point out that this man has been an employee since 1998. He undergoes recurring criminal background checks, has nothing derogatory that's come up in the past. He's not on any watch list, not on the no-fly list.
So, although prosecutors have presented these links to ISIS, they don't, at least right now, have evidence that this mechanic was motivated by ISIS. Otherwise, Wolf, the charges would reflect that. But we should also add, they can always add charges as well.
BLITZER: They certainly can.
All right, Rene, thanks for that report, very comprehensive.
Now to the White House, as President Trump considers retaliation against Iran for the attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, we heard some rather provocative language today from the president and from his secretary of state.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they are ramping up the rhetoric on Iran.
The president told reporters earlier today he's considering what he called the ultimate option in response to an alleged Iranian strike on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, an attack Pompeo referred to as an act of war.
The president, though, 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.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And there's the ultimate option. And there are options a lot less than that. And we will 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: Secretary of 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: Blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there's always risk that that could happen.
ACOSTA: 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's pressing Mr. Trump to get tough.
TRUMP: Ask Lindsey, ask him, how did going 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 there's plenty of time to do some dastardly things.
ACOSTA: Unlike his combative predecessor, John Bolton, O'Brien was much more measured when asked what advice he will give the president.
ROBERT O'BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Any advice I give the president will be something I give him confidentially, but we're monitoring that situation closely.
ACOSTA: 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 paying concessions.
ACOSTA: But in the past, O'Brien had 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 Congressman Ilhan Omar of dancing on last week's anniversary of 9/11.
But that's not true. She was dancing on September 13.
The president is also picking a fight with California Governor Gavin Newsom after the Trump administration announced it's planning to bar the state from regulating tailpipe emissions from cars, something it's 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're nowhere to be found on this.
ACOSTA: 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 will see what happens.
ACOSTA: Now, getting back to the former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Wolf, we are learning this evening that Bolton was speaking at a lunch attended by prominent conservatives earlier today in New York City.
At that private lunch, according to one of the attendees who attended this event, John Bolton did not have anything positive to say about President Trump. He criticized the Trump administration foreign policy on a variety of fronts, from North Korea to Iran to Afghanistan.
At one point, Bolton told the attendees in the room that the idea of having the Taliban over at Camp David was -- quote -- "disrespectful to 9/11 victims."
Wolf, Bolton went on to say during this lunch, according to one of the attendees, that the president and his administration is encouraging Iran's bad behavior, saying that many of Iran's actions recently have been unchecked, unanswered by this administration.
And according to one of these attendees in the room, Wolf, Bolton at one point referred to a drone strike that the administration believes, according to Bolton, according to this attendee, that was carried out by Iran on a NATO convoy in Afghanistan.
According to this attendee who was in the room, Wolf, John Bolton had some very scathing things to say about the president and the Trump administration just days after departing the administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's going to be lively, I suspect. And, apparently, there are reports out he's getting ready to write a book, do TV, go out on the speaking circuit. So we're going to be hearing presumably a lot more from him as well.
Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.
We're also following a rather tense standoff right now, pitting America's top intelligence official against Congress, the acting director of national intelligence defying a subpoena to hand over a secret whistle-blower complaint.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, the refusal to turn over the complaint is raising some serious questions.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf.
There have been discussions ongoing between the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, and his staff and the department -- director of national intelligence's office about a potential appearance Thursday by Joe Maguire, the acting director, to appear.
He has already -- his office has already balked and said he would not appear behind closed doors for testimony about this whistle-blower complaint. But I just asked Adam Schiff directly whether he would subpoena Maguire for his appearance, as he's been threatening.
Schiff declined to comment, saying that he would issue a statement later tonight. I also asked Schiff whether or not the president was directly involved in preventing this complaint from being turned over to Congress? He also would not comment about that, said he had planned to discuss more about this later.
Now, Wolf, this complaint was deemed by the intelligence community's inspector general to be credible and urgent. But the department of -- the director of national intelligence's office did not view it the same way, saying it did not meet the legal standard of an urgent concern, saying this in a letter to Congress, saying: "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, at the same time, that same letter did acknowledge that the complaint involves confidential and privileged -- potentially privileged matters relating to the interest of other stakeholders within the executive branch.
Now, that is raising concerns about and questions about whether or not this involves something that this whistle-blower may have seen that occurred potentially in the White House or other aspects of the Trump administration, which is why Democrats in particular want to get to the bottom of this.
They say they're required by law to turn over this whistle-blower complaint. We will see how this is ultimately resolved when they move forward with this hearing tomorrow, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens on that front.
Manu, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and also an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, a pilot in the Air National Guard.
Thanks, first of all, for your service. Thanks very much for coming in.
So, do you think the administration has a strategy now in dealing with Iran in the aftermath of what Pompeo flatly says was an Iranian attack on these Saudi oil facilities?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think time will tell in terms of what the reaction is to this and whether that's a strategy.
I think, generally, overarching, yes, they have a strategy with Iran, which is to, frankly, put on such pressing sanctions, which are having an impact, that it brings them back to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, but also broaden that to behavior in the region and missiles that are designed to carry nuclear warheads.
In this terms of this actual issue, I don't know. And I hope there is some kind of a response. There's any number of proportional responses that will work. But what's obvious here -- all you have to do is look from the beginning of -- basically since 1979 to today, but especially recently. Iran is going to keep doing things like this.
It's like a bully. You know, they will flick your ear until you punch them. And that's where we're at right now.
BLITZER: But Pompeo flatly says, this was an act of war...
KINZINGER: It was.
BLITZER: ... committed against Saudi Arabia by Iran. Don't you think the Saudis -- they have a huge military. They have spent hundreds of billions of dollars building up their air force and ground force and their capability.
Shouldn't they be taking the lead in responding militarily if there is going to be a military response?
KINZINGER: And that's where the tough question comes in, because let's think about this.
A U.S. strike on whether it's an Iranian oil facility or the weapons used to actually carry out this attack, a proportional response, or what I actually think should happen, too, is Iranian assets in Syria, because it's kind of same/same at that point, that will have whatever response that is.
And I actually think it will be no response by Iran. What happens if Saudi Arabia does it? And let's be clear about this? If Saudi Arabia strikes Iran...
BLITZER: With a proportionate response.
KINZINGER: Even proportionate, I think you have just launched a regional war, because that is -- if you remember back in the '90s and '80s, all of the discussion about, why did Saddam Hussein -- why was he striking Israel during the Persian Gulf War?
Because he wanted Israel to strike back and create a wider conflict. That's exactly what this situation is. A Saudi direct response against Iran will have way more implications for national security than a U.S. response.
BLITZER: So what should the U.S. response be?
KINZINGER: So, I think you have one of three options, honestly.
I think we should have responded to the drone attack. This was a...
BLITZER: This was a U.S. sophisticated drone.
BLITZER: It sounds like a toy or something.
BLITZER: This is an equipment that costs about -- more than $100 million.
KINZINGER: Yes, it's like losing 10 F-16s in terms of that impact.
And so I think Iran, frankly, saw that as weakness, the walking back to it, so they do this. So, I think you have three options. You either strike an Iranian oil facility, proportionally.
BLITZER: The U.S. should do this, you say?
KINZINGER: I think so, yes.
And you do that, or you can hit some military assets that actually carried out this attack. Or what I think actually makes the most sense is IRGC assets in Syria, because...
BLITZER: The Republican Guard.
KINZINGER: The Republican Guard.
They have a lot of troops in Syria. Syria, as you know, is a terrible situation. Iran has blood on their hands. And Israel strikes Iran and Syria almost weekly. And it -- obviously, Iran doesn't respond to that.
I think that may be the most appropriate, but something has to happen.
BLITZER: Well, you think the U.S. made a mistake when it didn't respond to the drone attack?
KINZINGER: I do, yes.
And I -- look, if you remember Northern and Southern Watch in Iraq, we had a rule. If you use an anti-radar system or whatever you use, you will lose. It's use it or lose it. And I think the same things proportionately should actually be implemented with Iran.
And I think it will slow them down. Now, if they create a wider conflict, that's on them. I think we have to be very proportional in that. But the other thing is, if we continue to do nothing, all you have to do is look at these repeated attacks. It ain't going to stop.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the new national security adviser the president named today, Robert O'Brien. I don't know if you have met him. I don't know if you know him, but what do you think?
KINZINGER: So, I don't know a lot about him. I hope he -- it's fine if he keeps a very low profile. I hope he gives honest advice to the president of the United States.
The president doesn't need somebody around him that's just going to simply reflect what the president believes. He needs basically a team of rivals that are going to give him all kinds of input from all over. I hope that's the kind of person he is. I don't know enough about him.
BLITZER: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks, as usual, for coming in.
KINZINGER: Yes, you bet.
BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
There's more breaking news coming up on that mechanic charged with sabotaging a commercial jet. So, what's next now that prosecutors have accused him of having ties to ISIS?
BLITZER: Tonight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is blaming Iran more forcefully than ever for the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities. He's now calling it an act of war, as President Trump is considering a possible military response that might trigger an actual war.
Joining us now, Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: As you know, President Trump says he's weighing various options in response to the attack on the Saudi oil facilities.
Do you believe he has all of the information he needs right now to move forward with a specific response?
MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, the answer to that is, I'm not sure, because we have asked for briefings, an all-members briefing or a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff briefing, and we have not received it. And it doesn't seem like we're going to receive it this week, number one.
Number two is, I think the president has to avail himself of all of the information and ascertain with specificity exactly how the attack took place, where it took place from, who generated it.
And, number three, if the president is now deciding to act on behalf of Saudi Arabia, an act of war may have taken place against the sovereign state of Saudi Arabia, but it didn't take place against the United States. If we are now going to be Saudi Arabia's military, well, then, the president has to come to Congress, inform us of all of the intelligence, what happened.
He has to make the case as to why it's in our interests and security to ultimately have a military action. And he has to get the approval of Congress. Otherwise, we are in the midst of acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia, instead of being able to act with the authority of Congress.
BLITZER: What's your understanding, Senator, of Iran's involvement in this attack?
MENENDEZ: Well, I mean, there are a series of reports that suggest that Iran was involved in the attack, but I don't have any specific information, because we haven't had any briefings.
At the end of the day, this is critical for us to know. It seems to me that if the published reports are that, in fact, Iran was either at the center of creating the attack or even may have been launched from its territory, that this is a moment to galvanize the world, to bring the information, to show the proof at the U.N. Security Council, to get a Security Council resolution, to ultimately to take our allies who have not been happy with us because of walking away from the JCPOA and galvanizing them in action against Iran.
But doing it alone in a Rambo style, without the authority of Congress and on behalf of Saudi Arabia, who is the sovereign entity that was hit, not the United States, I think would be a huge mistake.
BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. was hit, and the U.S. says by Iran, back in June.
Do you agree with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said that President Trump signaled weakness back in June when he called off at the last minute some kind of counterstrike against Iran when that U.S. drone was shot down?
MENENDEZ: Listen, in this respect, I agree more with President Trump than my dear friend and colleague Senator Graham.
There was a considered determination not to make a counterstrike that actually may have created the loss of Iranian lives, which could have exacerbated the circumstances. My understanding from reports is that there was a cyberattack against Iran to disable some of their critical infrastructure and give them a message: We can do this to you.
And so -- and there have been heightened sanctions as a result of it. So, at the end of the day, I think that was a calibrated response. But, you know, if we are going to be the region's policemen, if we're going to be the military for Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, we have no NATO type of relationship with them. We have no bilateral security agreement with them.
This needs to come to Congress to make the case. And if you're thinking about even a limited attack upon some Iranian interests, at the end of the day, you have to think about, what's the next response? Iran's proxies throughout the region give them significant reach, including to our military position throughout the region and our interest position throughout the region.
So this isn't necessarily a -- you know, a simple one-off that you do without the potential of greater consequences. And what we don't need is to bumble into a war.
BLITZER: Yes, remember, he called off that strike, he said, because he was told at the last minute the U.S. strike may kill 150 or so Iranians, and he didn't think that was a good idea.
The president today announced new sanctions on Iran, Senator. Are you worried, though, that sanctions might be losing their impact as Iran is struggling under the administration's maximum pressure campaign that supposedly already exists?
MENENDEZ: Well, the most significant sanctions we can levy and have levied is against their oil sector, because that's the bulk of their economy.
They're a producing nation. So, at the end of the day, maximum pressure is for the effort to bring Iran to the negotiation -- negotiating table. So we should have maximum effort on diplomacy.
This is a time to get our European partners who are part of the JCPOA to say, look, look how Iran is acting. Let's pressure them to come back to the table.
This is a time to achieve maximum pressure in the world community to get Iran to come back to the table and to negotiate. This is a time for maximum diplomacy, it seems to me. If not, if all you have is a pressure cooker that doesn't have any release valve, then it's going to explode. And so it seems to me that the administration should have been and
should be in the midst of a maximum campaign to get Iran back to the negotiating table.
BLITZER: Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.
An act of war and the ultimate option. Does the Trump team's heated rhetoric match its policy on Iran?
Plus, the growing crackdown on teen vaping. Tonight, more states are taking action.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We have breaking news on the standoff over a secret whistleblower complaint. The House Intelligence Committee chairman now says the acting Director of National Intelligence has agreed to testify next week after he defied a subpoena to turn over the complaint. And the inspector general for the DNI will brief the panel tomorrow behind closed doors.
Let's bring in our analysts and experts to discuss.
Susan, you used to work in the National Security Agency. You know a lot about this kind of stuff. Here's a part of the statement that Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee Chairman, released.
The intelligence community inspector general has agreed to appear before the House Intelligence Committee for a briefing on the handling of the whistleblower complaint tomorrow morning, September 19th, in closed session at 9:00 A.M. The acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has agreed to testify in open session before the committee next Thursday, September 26th, at 9:00 A.M. So what's your reaction?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So it's certainly a good thing that we are now seeing this type of engagement, that the inspector general is going to have this closed-door briefing with the committee. That said, there are still real reasons to be alarmed about what the substance of this complaint might be, and about why the intelligence community isn't following the rules here.
Reportedly, the whistleblower in this case is an intelligence community employee who temporarily worked at the White House and has now returned to the intelligence community. That's very common for someone to do sort of a temporary stint there. And wherever he came back to his home agency, he said he saw something, he or she said they saw something.
They told that to the I.G. The I.G. determined that it was credible and urgent. The law says if it's flagrant, serious and ongoing abuse, and it met those legal standards, and the I.G. put it up to the DNI.
Now, there is nothing in the law that says the DNI gets to decide for himself whether it's urgent, to decide whether or not he wants to transmit it to the committee. The law says they must transmit that to the Intelligence Committee within seven days.
DNI is refusing to do that. And the reasons they're asserting are just completely outside the law. The idea that this person isn't a member of the intelligence community, lacking jurisdiction, that's not what the law says. It says, if it's related to intelligence activity, that's clearly what's going on here.
Even more alarmingly, there's this sort of vague assertion of privilege, something the White House has been a fan of really, really asserting this very broad assertion of why they don't have to tell Congress things. And the acting DNI has indicated to Adam Schiff that he has been directed by a higher authority. There aren't many people who outrank a cabinet member and the president is one of them.
So lots and lots of reasons to be very concerned and to expect the I.G. and the acting DNI to get Congress answers and to get them answers quickly.
BLITZER: But it is encouraging, as Susan points out, David, that at least the inspector general will appear before the committee tomorrow, even though it's behind closed doors, presumably, the members of the committee will learn a lot more.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Just within the last few minutes, we are learning that the ball is moving forward. The committee members will learn more tomorrow in that closed session, and then, presumably, we'll all learn more next week when the acting DNI testifies.
The only thing I would add to what Susan was saying is that in addition to the fact that that information that's considered urgent and credible has to be transferred to the committee, even if the position of the DNI was, well, we're trying to determine whether it was urgent, once the chair of the House Intelligence Committee says, we decide if it's urgent, game over. It's urgent enough that it should go to Congress.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And if it's not urgent, why not just hand it over to Congress?
BLITZER: Listen to what the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pamela, Adam Schiff, told our Anderson Cooper about this whistleblower. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The DNI acknowledged that this involves someone, apparently outside 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is there a concern that somehow this whistleblower has some information involving the president?
BROWN: Well, I mean, basically, we're working off of what Adam Schiff is saying. And he is certainly implying that this could involve the president. Though it's not clear that he knows the full scope of what's actually happening here.
But I can tell you, in talking to White House officials, people are being very squarely (ph) aware of what exactly is going on here. We still don't have full visibility into whether the White House Counsel's Office is involved in all of this and consulting with DOJ and ODNI. All of this raises so many questions. And if it is true that ODNI cited privilege communications, and that would indicate that these were communications having to do with the president or senior advisers.
So it really raises a lot of questions and the mystery continues. And the more that it appears that they're trying to hide something, the more it raises questions that it has to do with someone as high up of stature as the president.
HENNESSEY: And I think it's worth noting how incredibly unheard of this is. I have never heard working in the intelligence community, including in congressional affairs, I have never heard of an assertion of privilege over a whistleblower complaint, the suggestion that you couldn't provide a whistleblower complaint. The law provides a mechanism for this person to go directly to the committee if necessary. So everything about this, this is not business as usual. There is something seriously, you know, wrong and different going on on a process level. And, really, we have never seen anything like this before.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow. This could be very, very significant.
Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss on all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our experts and breaking news on the U.S. response on the attack to Saudi oil facilities, the Secretary of State blaming Iran for what he calls an act of war.
You know, Pamela, you've got some new reporting on how the Saudis are viewing all of this. BROWN: That's right. In fact, we know that the Deputy Defense Minister, Prince Bin Salman, actually came to Washington in late August. And he spoke to top officials in the CIA and the Pentagon. He left a clear message. He said, we do not want the U.S. to get into conflict with Iran. We're okay with economic pressure, putting the squeeze on Iran with sanctions, but not a conflict that the Saudis could get dragged on to.
So that message is now taking on a new significance a couple of weeks after that message was given, now after the attacks on the oil refineries in Saudi Arabia, with Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, going to Saudi Arabia to talk to them in person. And we're told by sources that the administration wants to wait until after that visit to determine whether it will take any military action.
But others say, look, given that the administration already knows where the Saudis stand, given that message that was given in late August, that basically this is just a way to give the administration cover and not take any military action. Because, basically, Pompeo could come back and they can say, look, the Saudis, we're leaving it up to them. This was an attack on their soil. They don't want to take military action. We're following their lead.
BLITZER: If the Saudis don't want to take military action, Susan, why should the U.S. take military action? This was an attack on Saudi Arabia. It was an act of war, whoever did it, against Saudi Arabia.
HENNESSEY: Well, certainly, the Saudis shouldn't be dictating U.S. defense policies and we shouldn't be doing things because the Saudis want us to do it or not do it.
We should be doing things based on what is in the United States' strategic interests. That said, what the interests of -- I wouldn't call them allies, but nations like Saudi Arabia that have close relationships with the United States, important, strategic relationships with the United States, that's certainly important.
You know, one thing that's difficult to know, though, is where exactly the president stands at any given moment. We've seen a lot of vacillation between sort of diplomatic and military options. It's good to see a president being thoughtful and weighing those sorts of decisions. We certainly wouldn't want someone to just commit to a particular path.
That said, the way this information is coming out, it seems a lot like this is really just about whim and this really, really consequential decision about whether or not the United States would engage in a military confrontation with Iran may depend ultimately upon the president's mood and what kind of panel he may have watched on Fox News that morning.
You know, early in the administration, we had this conversation about the axis of adults, Rex Tillerson, and Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster. All of those people are gone and who's left are sycophants and yes-men and highly political actors. So I think it's good news we're tamping down the military talk, but it's still a very dangerous moment.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes. And we did have some new reporting from our Jim Acosta at the White House about one of those guys who's gone, John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser, at an event today in New York City, according to Jim Acosta, Bolton was blasting the president's policies on the world stage from Iran to North Korea to Afghanistan. He said it would have been totally disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 if the president had gone to Camp David and met with these officials from the Taliban.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Not every day that I would say that I agree with Ambassador Bolton, but I agree with him that it would have been disrespectful to have the Taliban come to Camp David.
That being said, it's not that hard for him having this across-the- board complaint about President Trump's approach to foreign policy. Ambassador Bolton was known as the ultimate hawk. President Trump kind of takes things kind of as Susan was saying them, depending on the situation, the optics, you know, the finger to the wind, he takes them as one-off situations. Doesn't have a clear ideology.
Ambassador Bolton wanted to be more belligerent with Iran and North Korea. President Trump has sort of a bromance with Kim Jong-un and he's got a completely muddled Iran policy. Bolton had to have been --
BLITZER: You covered the White House when -- Bolton didn't say anything positive about the president at this event in New York. How do you think the president is going to respond to all of this?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I wouldn't be surprised if he responds in kind. As we know, he fights fire with interesting. But it is interesting that he did announce the new national security adviser today, Robert O'Brien, someone who doesn't have a lot of national experience or -- national security experience or foreign policy experience.
But he is someone that the president really likes and sources say that he was looking for someone who could collaborate with others, get along with others, not be brash, not be a show boater, sort of someone different in their view from John Bolton.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around.
There's more news we're following. There are some new forecasts out for not one, not two, but three dangerous weather systems. We're going to tell you who's at risk. Stand by.
BLITZER: Tonight, nearly 8 million people in Texas and parts of Louisiana are at risk of dangerous flash flooding a day after Imelda hit the coast as a tropical storm. That's not the only severe weather threat we're following right now.
A major hurricane and a new tropical storm, they're on the move and they're gaining strength.
Let's check in with our meteorologist Jennifer Gray.
Jennifer, so what's the new forecast for these storms?
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Imelda is the one that's impacting Texas and that's the one that's having the biggest impact right now. It has dumped almost two feet of rain across some places in southeast Texas. Winds of 30 miles per hour moving to the north at five, but the biggest impact with this system now is definitely the rain. It's slow-moving.
We're seeing rain fall over and over on the same spots and it's called training and that creates a lot of dangerous flooding. That's what we've seen on the east side of Houston for today and we're going to continue to see this push to the north as we go through the next few days.
That gulf moisture is going to continue to feed in and you can see these areas shaded in pink in east Texas and right on that Louisiana- Texas line. We could see 10 to 18 inches of rain in those areas over the next couple of days. So, something to watch, of course.
Also, Hurricane Humberto is now crossing just to the north of Bermuda and that's continuing its northeastward journey at 20 miles per hour. Bermuda has actually already had a wind gust of over 100 miles per hour despite the storm being well to the north.
So, a dangerous category 3 there producing high surf, wind and rain for Bermuda and this is going to head to the north and east and then tropical storm Jerry here, Wolf, we already had tropical storm watches up for portions of the leeward islands and this is expected to miss the U.S. and much of the Caribbean, but something to watch in the next few days.
BLITZER: We will watch it together with you, Jennifer. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, after another vaping-related death here in the United States, multiple states are now banning e-cigarettes that are very popular with teenagers.
BLITZER: Tonight, multiple states are cracking down on teen vaping saying the health risk is simply too great to wait for the Trump administration to act. Michigan's governor just ordered a ban on flavored nicotine vaping products, giving retailers two weeks to comply.
This comes a day after New York state officials agreed to take emergency action to ban most flavored e-cigarettes, and California's now launching a $20 million add campaign to warn of the dangers of vaping.
At least seven deaths in the United States have been linked to e- cigarettes and nearly 400 cases of lung illness.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.