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WAPO: Trump's "Promise" to Foreign Leader so Troubling It Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) Discusses DNI Refusing to Turn over Documents on Whistleblower, Iran Foreign Minister Threatening All-Out War; Kamala Harris & Bernie Sanders Try to Jump Start Their Campaigns; Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes Rise Across the U.S. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 11:30   ET





And let's get back to the story rocking Washington this morning. A communication between President Trump and a foreign leader prompting a whistleblower complaint, a complaint that, by law, should be shared with Congress.

But it's also a complaint that the director of National Intelligence right now says he cannot and will not hand over.

The "Washington Post" has new details this morning, reporting this, quote, "President Trump's interaction with the foreign leader included a promise that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. Intelligence Community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the Intelligence Community."

So many questions. Not a lot of answers.

Joining me right now is Democratic Senator Gary Peters, of Michigan. He sits on the Homeland Security Committee and the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thank you for being here.


SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: As the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, you literally have a contact for whistleblowers to be able to get in touch with your staff.

You see this report in the "Washington Post" from a whistleblower that -- about this promise that was so troubling that they needed to go to the I.G. and then the DNI refusing to hand it over to Congress. What questions do you have right now? PETERS: Well, it certainly raises a host of questions. You're right.

I'm the ranking member on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. We're the top oversight committee for the United States Senate.

And whistleblowers are critical to our oversight efforts. You need to have people who can come forward. Their story can be heard. They need to be protected.

If you're dealing with something of urgent concern, that needs to come to Congress. That's fundamental to our job as providing oversight outlined in the Constitution.

The reports in the press are very troubling, particularly if it's urgent nature, critical to national security. That's something that must come to Congress.

And we have to ask questions as to why it's being delayed. That's the number-one question. It's been taking a while for this to even come forward.

BOLDUAN: The DNI's explanation is that he doesn't have jurisdiction -- he can't turn it over because he doesn't have jurisdiction over it because it doesn't involve something in the -- of the Intelligence Community. Do you agree with that?

PETERS: I think it's hard because I don't know the substance. We don't know the substance of exactly what we're dealing with here. It would be speculating.

But these are the questions that have to be asked immediately. And the Justice Department has to come forward and have their explanation for it. Obviously, you need the substance of what the whistleblower is talking about in order to move forward.

BOLDUAN: Is there a role for your committee here?

PETERS: There could be. We have to wait to see the facts. This is a rapidly revolving story that's new.


PETERS: I don't want to speculate based on media reports. We need more substance. It certainly raises every flag that you can raise as to something that we need to investigate further.

BOLDUAN: What you said just reminded me of something. You have interacted with whistleblowers because of the nature of your job. Any whistleblower is taking an incredible risk in coming forward with any information they have. I wonder, especially someone in the Intelligence Community, I mean, is this person's career, one way or the other, over?

PETERS: Well, certainly, every effort will be made to protect the individuals under our whistleblower laws.

But you're right, a person, even with whistleblower protections and they know about them, folks are hesitant to come forward. They worry about their career, their future.

I got to expect, when you're dealing with the president of the United States themselves, that's going to be something extraordinary for someone to come forward knowing that the consequences and the media attention will be intense. This is a big deal.


If I could, putting on another hat of yours, I want to ask you about the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities. My colleague just interviewed the Iranian foreign minister and he denies Iran has any involvement and also threatens all-out war. That was Zarif's terminology if the United States or Saudi responds with a military strike.

If Iran is behind this, Senator, would you support any U.S. military action in response?

PETERS: This is not a military action from the United States, no. At this point, if there was an attack on Saudi oil facilities from the Iranians, obviously, the Saudi government needs to deal with that. They have the ability to do that. They have a sophisticated military. This is Saudi oil.

I don't see any obligation for the United States to defend Saudi oil. That's something the Saudi government needs to do.

BOLDUAN: Senator Peters, thank you for being here. I appreciate your time.

PETERS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

PETERS: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, two presidential campaigns under pressure. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders are making some big moves to trying to jump-start their campaigns at this moment. What they're planning and will it be enough? That's next.


BOLDUAN: Over the past year, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires across the United States have not only destroyed homes and property, they have also devastated some of the country's biggest forest. The National Arbor Foundation is part of a nationwide effort to try to turn that around. Watch this.


DAN LAMBE, PRESIDENT, THE NATIONAL ARBOR DAY FOUNDATION: Make no mistake about it, our forests are in trouble. Whether it's increasing frequency and severity of storms, like hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, to wildfires, last year alone the United States, we lost millions of acres of forest lands because of wildfires. Fires that burned so hot, these forests will not naturally regenerate.

That's why we say if ever there was a time to be planting trees, that time is now.

It is urgent that we act and that's why at the Arbor Day Foundation, we have launched the time for trees initiative. We're committing to planting 100 million trees by 2022 and engaging five million tree planters to get that work done.

CHAD CARLSON, VOLUNTEER, TREES ATLANTA: It's very rewarding to go plant a tree. It gives you a sense of fulfillment and commitment to something that's greater than yourself.

LAMBE: We're working with the U.S. Forest Service, state forestry agency, national parks, to help replenish these critical lungs of our nation.

Anyone who becomes a member of the Arbor Day Foundation, we'll send 10 sapling trees that they can plant.

People who want to get involved in local volunteer tree planting opportunity, you can go on our Web site and find local organizations for you to engage in.

CARLSON: Trees that I planted 10 years ago, that were basically twigs, are now full-grown trees. It's a great legacy.


BOLDUAN: For details on how you can help, go to



BOLDUAN: A staff shakeup and going all in. Two Democratic presidential candidates are under mounting pressure and it seems to be showing.

Kamala Harris' campaign, according to "Politico," is now saying that it is Ohio or bust for them. Stuck in the single digits in the polls, Harris' team is saying she's going to be making weekly visits to the state and even saying that they need to now finish in the top tier in Iowa in order to survive.

This comes as the Bernie Sanders campaign is facing its own trouble. Shaking up staff in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The shuffling comes just after he lost the endorsement of a progressive group that backed him in 2016. Instead, endorsing Elizabeth Warren this week.

How much impact do these changes, are these changes going to have?

Joining me now, CNN senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten, and CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon. My unfortunate and wonderful co-host --


BOLDUAN: -- of our new podcast, "The Forecast." A new episode dropping today, friend. Just so you know.


BOLDUAN: Harry, on the changes that -- the new focus, the Iowa-or- bust mantra for Kamala Harris and her campaign, you have seen some of the poll numbers that the Harris campaign is kind of focusing on that is kind of showing them troubling signs in Iowa. What are they telling you?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER & ANALYST: Look, the fact is David Binder, her campaign pollster, is in line with another group, they put out a poll essentially having her dropping double digits from after the first debate. She's well behind Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren basically tied in that survey.

Kamala Harris' campaign is in trouble. Right? She's been losing ground in Iowa, nationally the past few months. Can she get that back? They've made the decision, we're going to try and try and compete there. We know if we can win in Iowa, that can change the entire campaign.

BOLDUAN: John, what do you think of the -- seems like a big admission hearing from folks around the campaign that they need to finish top tier in Iowa or --


BOLDUAN: -- something. What does that say putting that out there?

AVLON: Top tier or toast. It's a sign of a campaign that's flailing.

Remember, campaigns begin and they look at the map, they say Super Tuesday has been moved up. California is in there. Kamala Harris is somebody who can really get a lot of the imagination. She's a candidate, voters want to know the most about. After she attacked Biden, she got that boomeranged back on her big time.

This poll in Iowa is brutal. She goes from 18 to five in three months. She knows she's got to go all in. It's also a concession that New Hampshire is unwinnable for anybody not named Elizabeth Warren or possibly Bernie Sanders, who won it last time.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

AVLON: You know, Biden has been strong in South Carolina. So this is a sign of a degree of desperation by the Harris campaign. It's still relatively early. She's still a candidate --


BOLDUAN: Staff shakeup in Iowa and New Hampshire from any candidate is a sign of good things?

AVLON: I used to mock the late-inning staff shakeups and then Donald Trump brought on Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway three months out. It seemed to work out. So you're saying there's a chance.

BOLDUAN: Stop stealing my lines.

ENTEN: He steals my lines all the time.


BOLDUAN: Can we not waste --



BOLDUAN: Quickly on the new polling from FOX News, Biden still in the lead. Warren and Sanders in a battle for second.

But they also have a head to head with the president. They do these head to heads with the president, and if anybody listened to our podcast recently, you know how I feel about head to heads.

Once again, I ask, how much stock should people actually be putting in the matchups and President Trump at this point?

ENTEN: I think it's still very early, but two things from that poll. Number one, if Joe Biden is making the electability argument over and over again, he's the one who does better over the president of the United States.

And the second thing I'll point out, if you go back to 1943, essentially, the Second World War, what you'll find is no president at this point was trailing by as much as Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden right now. He's the worst of any incumbent right now.

BOLDUAN: It's 1942, when Harry likes to say he was born.

ENTEN: I was.


AVLON: Here's what we can confirm. Trump is really in trouble if you look at the polls. The state by states aren't any better. The argument that Biden's electability is viable, that's a huge gap he's beating Trump by. Everybody is beating Trump by a smaller margin, though.

BOLDUAN: All right, boys.

AVLON: All right.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back, friends.


BOLDUAN: Right now, a preliminary hearing is happening for the man accused in a deadly shooting at a synagogue outside San Diego. That, of course, happening back in April.

This coming as some of the Jewish community raising the alarm that they feel more targeted now than ever before.

CNN's Jason Carroll has more on the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes across the country.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the year following the shocking attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 people were brutally gunned down and the shooting in San Diego where one woman was killed, anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise.

In Santa Monica, swastikas and hate speech scrawled across a popular pedestrian bridge in late July.

In northern California, students and staff at this high school shocked to find anti-Semitic graffiti spray painted on walls two weeks ago.

In Chicago, synagogues targeted this past May in a rash of suspected hate crimes.

The reports coming in across the country alarming.

But one part of the Jewish community feeling more vulnerable.


CARROLL: Rabbi Avraham Gopin is Orthodox. He's still recovering from a vicious attack after a man assaulted him in a park in Brooklyn last month. A suspect now in custody charged with a hate crime.

GOPIN: The hate of Jews says something. Certainly looking to kill. No doubt about that.

CARROLL: The New York City Police Department is also investigating another possible bias crime involving a Jewish Orthodox man attacked outside this Brooklyn synagogue several days after Gopin was attacked.

DERMOT SHEA, NYPD CHIEF OF DETECTIVES: We've seen mental illness we've seen some that just hate.

CARROLL: The year, anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City are up 63 percent from last year.

While those numbers don't specify the type of Jewish person attacked, Orthodox members of the Jewish community say, because they're more visible, they are an easy target.

Akiva Perl says it has been decades since he's been so unsure about his surroundings.

AKIVA PERL, JEW LIVING IN NEW YORK: I grew up in England and that was how it was 50 years ago. It's returning somewhat.

CARROLL (on camera): Why is it returning?

PERL: I really don't have an answer for you.

CARROLL (voice-over): Bob Moskowitz volunteers on a civilian safety patrol in Flatbush, Brooklyn, an area with a large Orthodox community.

(on camera): You have one of these mobile command centers right next to a synagogue community.


CARROLL (voice-over): Moskowitz said he was not surprised to hear about those disturbing numbers coming from the NYPD.

MOSKOWITZ: I would like to think we have our fingers on the pulse of the community. And we do. We're hearing a lot of stuff. People are afraid. If they're not afraid, they're certainly concerned.

CARROLL: City officials say they hear those concerns.

CHAIM DEUTSCHE, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: We are taking this very seriously and unpacking this head on, because no one should have to change the way they dress, whether they wear a facial beard or they wear a yarmulke on their heads.

CARROLL: The Anti-Defamation League said what is needed in a time of tolerance is more education, especially about the Holocaust, and less rhetoric from elected officials.

AMANDA SUSSKIND, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Standing up and denouncing hate in all its forms, it's not just words, it really makes the difference in the aftermath of a hate crime or worse.

CARROLL: As for Akiva Perl, he offered this advice.

PERL: Increasing goodness and kindness to one another, all walks of life. That increases in goodness and helps, because a little light, you know, elevates and illuminates all darkness.


CARROLL: And those that we talked to say also what is needed is more of a police presence in these Orthodox communities. In addition to that, the New York City mayor's office has also opened an Anti-Hate Crime Prevention Office. That is something that should help as well.


BOLDUAN: More police needed. You wish they wouldn't need to be, but that is needed right now.