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Intel Community I.G. Briefing House Panel On Complaint; Acting Intel Chief Maguire To Testify Next Week; Tropical Depression Causes Dangerous Flooding In Parts Of Texas; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Says Lewandowski Could Have Been Held In Contempt For Behavior; Attorney General Barr Meets With Lawmakers About Proposed Gun Bills. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Scuitto.


Right now, behind closed doors, the House Intelligence Committee is hearing from the inspector general about a very disturbing whistleblower complaint made against the president of the United States. It's a complaint the inspector general, appointed by the president, has deemed an urgent concern.

SCIUTTO: And here's why. CNN has learned it came from a U.S. intelligence official who was troubled by something President Trump said on the telephone to a foreign leader.

According to The Washington Post, the complaint was triggered by a promise that the president made. No word yet on exactly what that promise was, to whom it was made, also no response yet from the White House.

HARLOW: All right. So we're going to dig into this. Let's begin this hour with our Senior National Correspondent Alex Marquardt. Good morning, Alex.

So which foreign leaders do we know the president met with and talked to on the telephone around this time?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's really going to be the big question because this centers around the communications by the president with a foreign leader and the alleged promise that he made to this foreign leader.

So in looking at the timeline, we know that this complaint was filed on August 12th. And if we look at the weeks prior to that, the president had communications with a number of world leaders, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, that was a phone call, the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, in the form of letters, the Pakistani prime minister, Dutch prime minister, the Qatari emir, as well as the president of Ukraine, the prime minister of Israel.

We don't know, as Jim mentioned, which foreign leader is involved in this complaint, what promise was made. But it was something that was so disturbing to this intelligence official who The Washington Post reporter was detailed to the National Security Council that that person felt compelled to take it to the inspector general of the intelligence community. In turn, the inspector general thought it was of such urgent concern that he then took it to the congressional oversight committees in the Senate and in the House.

Now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, then submitted a subpoena for the acting Director of National Intelligence to come and tell the intelligence committee what this is all about.

Just a few days ago, on Tuesday, the acting DNI defied that. He said that he wasn't going to show up and he wasn't going to hand over the complaint.

But they have reached some sort of middle ground. As we are speaking the I.G. is testifying behind closed doors to the House Intel Committee and the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to do the same in open session next Thursday. So these members will certainly be drilling down on trying to figure out who this foreign power is and what that promise was. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. Alex, thank you for that important reporting.

So right now, again, as we said, the intelligence community's inspector general, a man appointed by the president, is behind closed doors, he's on Capitol Hill, he agreed to meet with the House Intelligence Community to brief them on how this complaint has been handled or arguably mishandled.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Manu Raju, he is on Capitol Hill. Manu, the key question here is how far the I.G. goes in this hearing. Does he give all the details of this complaint or does he try to strike some sort of middle ground, which appears to be the strategy of the DNI?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you the expectation is that he's not going to be able to provide all of the details of exactly what the whistleblower said in this complaint. But we'll talk about how the complaint was handled and concerns may have been mishandled in any way and why it was not sent to Congress despite the concern from the inspector general that this was an urgent concern, something that the department of -- that the Director of National Intelligence Office said it was not. It didn't need the legal definition of an urgent concern that need to be transmitted to Capitol Hill. That process is going to be described behind closed doors here.

Now, how far he ultimately goes in describing what the nature of the complaint is, that's a separate question. There's some belief from the members of that I've spoken to that there's probably not going to be a lot of new revelation about that. We'll see if he ultimately does provide any of that information. But we do expect this closed-door hearing to happen, take place over the course of several hours. We do expect the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, to talk about it after. We'll see how much detail he gives. And, of course, next week, the public hearing with the acting Director of National Intelligence, how much he says. And if we learn anything more, we'll certainly let you know.

But the moment the members believe this is going to be a description of the process that happened and concerns whether the president or the White House intervened, we'll see if they learn anything about that too, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And the law seems to be clear here. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

CNN's Sarah Westwood, she is outside the White House this morning. So, Sarah, any reaction from the White House on how seriously they're taking this?


SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, we're not hearing much from the White House yet. The White House has not commented yet the Office of Director of National Intelligence. They are declining to comment.

But there were suspicions that there was some White House involvement in the handling of this complaint. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said on Sunday that a higher authority, someone higher than the ODNI, was potentially slow walking this complaint. That was his suspicion.

So the White House's involvement in how the information trickled down to Congress will also come under scrutiny throughout this process. And you also, as Manu touched on, do have some contradictions between two Trump appointees here. You have the intelligence community inspector general, a Trump appointee, saying that this complaint is credible and urgent. He is talking to lawmakers now. You also have the Director of National Intelligence, the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, saying he does not think that this complaint is of urgent concern.

So lawmakers are going to hear from both men. They're going to hear the extent of White House involvement. And, of course, this could just deepen President Trump's suspicion of the intelligence community. We know he has long harbored suspicions about America's intelligence agencies. This is only likely to sour that relationship even further, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sarah, thank you very much for that reporting.

Joining us to discuss, CNN National Security Analyst Shawn Turner, former Director of Communications for U.S. National Intelligence. You have years of experience in this Field. So when you hear the words urgent concern and you see a man, the inspector general for the intel community, appointed by the president, elevating this and being so worried about national security on this front, what does that tell you about the severity of what happened here, allegedly, according to The Post?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first thing, Poppy, is it tells me that this is a very serious issue. And what comes to mind immediately is that I want the intelligence committees to be able to exercise their oversight responsibilities and to be able look into this.

But when we strip this down and look at what we actually know, this is not likely to be something that we can easily dismiss. We know that the president of the United States has wide authority with regard to declassifying information. If the president says something classified to a foreign leader, then in doing so, he has thereby declassified that information, so we can take that off the tape. We know this is not a complaint about classified information.

So when we think about what's left, people don't often make promises without getting something in return. So I'd be really interested in hearing not only what the promise was but what so concerned this whistleblower that he thought that -- he or she thought that they should go to the I.G.

And then the other thing is that -- one of the things the intelligence community is sensitive to is anyone in positions of authority saying that they are going to, in any way, use intelligence resources to support any effort that's not in line with the intelligence community's mandate.

So there are a couple different options here but we have to wait and see what the facts tell us.

SCIUTTO: Shawn, as you know, this is part of a pattern here, and the president's interactions with foreign leaders. He has taken Putin's side over the I.C. in Helsinki. He has discussed classified intelligence on more than one occasion with Russian official, May 2017, Oval Office, July 2017, Hamburg meeting with Putin. Why aren't these instances taken together as a pattern in the way this president deals with foreign leaders? Why aren't they sparking bipartisan criticism here?

TURNER: Well, I think that people have sort of embraced this idea that the president under his Article 2 powers has wide authority with regard to national security matters. And even if it's ill-advised and even if it causes immense concern for the intelligence community, he has the authority to share classified information.

Now, I can tell you just based on my own experience talking to former colleagues that obviously that is going to be a concern on the part of intelligence officials and previous administrations, if the president is going to share classified information or wants to share classified information, there is a discussion, there are some agreements made that would protect sensitive sources and methods. But in this case, those discussions don't happen.

So this is a concern, but, again, as the president, he has the authority to do this and something we're just going to have to get used to for the time that he's president.

HARLOW: But, look, Adam Schiff, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is saying that he acted, that Maguire was out of line in getting any sort of directive here from the Justice Department. Schiff wants to see everything, including potential communications with the executive branch on this. Is Schiff right?

TURNER: Yes, you know, he is, Poppy. See, this is a very important point. Look, the intelligence community, Whistleblower Protection Act is very clear when it comes to these matters. The inspector general of the intelligence community has the authority to assess these kinds of complaints and to make a determination as to whether or not they're credible and urgent.


And if they are credible and urgent, the statute is very clear with regard to what the I.G. has to do next. They have seven days to notify members of Congress.

Now, there is absolutely nothing in the statute that speaks to the DNI or anyone else's ability to circumvent the ICIG right to do that. And so in this case for the acting Director of National Intelligence to go to the Justice Department and for this conclusion to be made that this was not urgent is, to use an overused word, unprecedented, and it gives the impression at least that the acting DNI is trying to protect the administration.

SCIUTTO: Did we break a law then? I mean, if the law is clear, he has got to report it immediately within the timeframe and he's go to report fulsomely with all the details. And if the DNI is trying to find some middle ground that pleases everybody, isn't that breaking the law?

TURNER: Well, certainly violating -- it's certainly violating the spirit of the statute. Now, I don't know what's going to happen. We don't know what's going to happen with regard to the hearings that are going on right now and the deal that will be made with members of Congress. Maybe they'll come to some sort of agreement.

But the statute is clear. There's absolutely no provision for the ICIG to be second-guessed when making a determination that these claims are credible and urgent. So from that perspective, the acting DNI is in new territory.

And, Jim, I got to point out that I worked for the former Director of National Intelligence for quite some time, and it's a difficult job. But one of the most important jobs of the DNI is to keep the intelligence community out of the political fray. And I think that in this case, this is kind of an unforced error on the part of the acting DNI. I think that this could have been handled very differently and that he's actually now getting the intelligence community into a space that we just don't like to be in.

SCIUTTO: Plus, he's acting, like so many Trump officials, which means he has not been approved by the Senate, which creates a whole host of other issues.

Shawn Turner, great to have you on. We're going to stay on the story.

Still to come this hour, after a messy hearing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes that Corey Lewandowski should have been held in contempt. So will Democrats act?

HARLOW: Plus, Iran's foreign minister threatening, quote, all-out war if the U.S. or Saudi Arabia were to launch a military strike against Iran. This as tensions mount following the attacks on that Saudi oil facility -- multiple Saudi oil facilities. We will show you CNN's exclusive interview with Zarif.

And breaking overnight, heavy rain pounding parts of Texas. This morning, roads, homes, hotels flooded. We'll talk to people stranded by those floodwaters.



HARLOW: All right. Right now, severe flash flooding is taking place in Texas. It is swamping roads and trapping people inside of their homes and their cars. Most of this is happening in counties northeast of Houston.

SCIUTTO: The tropical depression is still expected to drop five to ten more inches of rain on the area. That could bring the three-day total to as high as three feet in places.

CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now with more. So, Chad, I feel like so often we're talking to you about major weather events like this, whether it'd be flooding or particularly powerful storms. Tell us exactly what Texas is in for here.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, this was Imelda, the storm that really was only a tropical storm, didn't really ever turn into a hurricane, but that's not the point. It has tropical moisture with it. And the tropical moisture has just been sitting right from Houston and then points eastward all the way toward Beaumont.

And I-10 is completely underwater, completely shut down around Beaumont we are going to see now, this water, going to take a long time for it to run off. Even now toward Woodland and Houston getting in on a little bit more rainfall from the north here coming down. You'll see heavy rainfall here.

What the biggest story here is this white area here. From Winnie, this is over toward Beaumont. There's 350 square miles of 20 inches of rain or more. That's 15 times the size of Manhattan covered with 20 inches of rain or more. And some of these gauges now are out of control. We don't know if we believe them or not, but up to 40 inches of rain in some spots there to the southwest of Beaumont.

The rain is going to continue for the day. It's going to finally start to taper off in about three or four hours. But some spots, even around Conroe, they had 5.11 inches of rain in 60 minutes. Think about that in just one hour. Where does that go? That goes into houses and businesses.

HARLOW: And we're going to talk to some of those folks trapped in their homes and their cars in the midst of this in just a little bit. Chad, thank you very, very much for that reporting.

So right now, the House Intelligence Committee is speaking with the inspector general who determined a recent whistleblower complaint about the president's communication to the foreign leader was credible and urgent. This is comes after the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, refused to turn that complaint over to the lawmakers.

SCIUTTO: The Washington Post reports the whistleblower's concerns involve a promise that the president apparently made to a foreign leader, the promise, the leader is still unidentified.


We're joined now by Seung Min Kim, White House Reporter for The Washington Post, and Margaret Talev, Politics and White House Editor for Axios. Great to have you both here.

Margaret, you're covered this administration for some time, you've covered Washington for some time. There was a law here that requires something very clear, the DNI has got to report this to the House and he's got to do it in a certain timeframe, and he hasn't done either of those things. I mean, he's testifying behind closed doors. It's not clear though he's going to go into detail about what the complaint is. I mean, what's happening here? Why can the administration ignore what the law is?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, Jim, we're looking at two things. And one is the specific case, is the I.G. going to feel empowered by law or that it is appropriate to talk behind closed doors in that confidential setting with lawmakers or is there an effort by the administration to hold that person back. And we really don't have full visibility on that. We have not heard publicly from the White House today. But we know that the acting director, the acting DNI is in a dialed back position.

But then there's the broader issue, and we saw it earlier this week in Corey Lewandowski's testimony about the White House's posture and those close to the president whether or not they are now or ever were inside the administration, sort of a reflexive posture not to give any more to Congress than basically a court tells them that they have to do. And so we're seeing sort of case-after-case get pushed to the courts.

This obviously is potentially of much higher significance if it involves national security and presidential duties. But it is all of appease (ph). And what we're seeing with the Democrats now, Jerry Nadler the other day not immediately proceeding with contempt, although he could have, and apparently Nancy Pelosi sort of thinks he should have. We may see Adam Schiff take a different tackle, though we won't get to see a lot of this play out if it's behind closed doors. But after the fact, I expect to hear more from the Democratic leader of that committee in terms of how he approaches this and what comes next.

HARLOW: I think the question then becomes, and that's a good point, Margaret, what will, Seung Min, Republicans do, if anything? Because how many times have we seen this story play out where there is a question about the president, how he has handled classified intelligence. Jim has pointed out those instances time and time again. And you will hear some Republicans balk about it but then nothing happens. Is there any reason to believe if this reporting pans out and the details are learned by Republicans on that committee, if not, the general public, that anything will be done about it?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it depends on what the promise is and who the foreign leader was and what the president actually said to this world leader which are details that are not yet known, but we're trying to find out right now. Because we have seen in certain areas of foreign policy where what the president has done has really alarmed a congressional Republican, and one example obviously was his summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last year.

And also this whole situation just kind of really does underscores how little we do know about the president's conversations, his private discussions, his phone calls with these key world leaders. A lot of times we get readouts of these foreign leader calls from the White House. They're very brief, pretty perfunctory.

Oftentimes, we actually find out that these calls even happen from the other country. I believe one of the calls is now getting a renewed look because of our reporting at The Washington Post is a July 31st phone call with Vladimir Putin. I believe we found out about the existence of that phone call from the Russians.

But there is just a lot of questions right now that Congress is trying to dig into there and there's just a lot of questions about what exactly is going on in these phone calls and its private closed-door conversations between the president and other world leaders.

SCIUTTO: Well, there are things we don't know. There are also things we know. We do know that the president is -- there have been instances where he's discussed classified information with Russians, Oval Office, elsewhere, and that can be equally disturbing.

Another topic, Margaret, if I can, divisions within the Democratic Party over how to proceed on impeachment. The first chapter in this official impeachment inquiry did not go as they imagined, Nancy Pelosi saying that Lewandowski could have been held in contempt. Are Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee regretting that he was not?

TALEV: I think this is another one of those divided opinion things, right? I mean, there are divisions of opinion about whether or not to proceed with impeachment and then divisions of opinion about how to maneuver those procedural rules and really clamp down on stuff. Now, you can argue whether or not Corey Lewandowski helped himself if he were to actually go forward with this Senate bid in New Hampshire when he gave all those sort of memorable and imminently amicable (ph) statements about not having to be forthcoming with the president, so on and so forth. But in the process, he did managed to kind of diminish the Democrats' leverage and raise questions about what was the purpose of the hearing, what did they get out of it?


So I don't think fundamentally that the public's numbers have changed and the numbers in the Senate hasn't changed. And those are the only two numbers from Nancy Pelosi's perspective that matter at all. If the general public, if the swing voters who you're trying to compete, are they going to stay home or are they going to vote for a Democrat, might they go for Trump a second time, if you're pushing impeachment and they don't want that and the Senate is never going to finish the job, what is the point of doing it? And that's still Pelosi's argument.

But, increasingly, we just keep seeing these numbers tick up and the number of House Democrats who favor impeachment.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That was the one poll that president tweeted about with confidence, saying that the polling does not support impeachment. Of course, he just misses other polls. But that one --

HARLOW: Yes, that's a good point.

Seung Min, just before we go, let's turn to gun control, because this was a big moment yesterday. Of course, it got a little bit overshadowed with important The Washington Post reporting, of course, but let's keep the spotlight on guns and if anything is going to change this time around, if Congress is going to act. You've got Bill Barr on the Hill taking those meetings yesterday. You've got a memo with the Justice Department suggestions for gun control legislation making the rounds on Capitol Hill.

You, after learning about this tweeted, quote, Washington 101, if you want to kill something, leak it. Tell me more.

KIM: I mean, that's clearly what happened yesterday. Because a lot of the senators that I talked to who were privy to this document of Bill Barr and a top White House official legislative official had been passing around among Republican senators on Capitol Hill, they acknowledge that this document was not ready for primetime. It was not supposed to have been leaked. It was really one of many ideas that Bill Barr, in conjunction with certain White House officials, have been batting around and trying to get some feedback from senators.

But, clearly, it was put out there and then almost immediately all the arrows came out for this document. The NRA lined up immediately against it. You had Republican senators reviewing that memo and saying this looks a lot like the Manchin/Toomey background check legislation, the expanded background checks bill that could not -- that only got four Republican votes back in 2013 in a Democratically- led Senate.

If you're a Republican, you say something as pretty much Manchin/Toomey unless you are some of the more moderate Republican senators who support that legislation. That is a death knell for any bit of background checks bill.

So I think, if anything, yesterday showed just how difficult it would be for the president -- for this administration, the White House to advance any sort of even the most modest background checks measure on Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: And so here we are again. We ask the question after every shooting, will it be different? If you're right, Seung Min, the answer is no.

Margaret, Seung Min, great to have both of you.

HARLOW: Thank you, both.

SCIUTTO: Iran threatening, quote, all-out war if a military strike is launched against the country by either the U.S. or Saudi Arabia. What the U.S. Secretary of State is saying about that this morning coming up next.