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Interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; Flash Flooding in Texas; Trump Sues to Stop Tax Returns. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is responding to the Iranian foreign minister's threat to an all-out war with the U.S. if Iran is attacked.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's abundantly clear and there is an enormous consensus in the region, that we know precisely who conducted these attacks, it was Iran.

We are still striving to build out a coalition. I was here in (ph) an (ph) act (ph) of diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight until the last American. We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That's my mission set.


SCIUTTO: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, told CNN he hopes to avoid conflict and is willing to talk to Saudi Arabia and to the United Arab Emirates.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: But the possibility of a return to negotiations with the U.S. is still very uncertain. Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh sat down for -- Nick, that was a phenomenal interview, a fascinating interview with Zarif. Lay it out for us.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in short, you mentioned sanctions there. Essentially, in short, they will not be talking to the United States under any conditions unless the sanctions that were reimposed under the nuclear deal -- the one that Trump hated so much that he tore up pretty fast, getting (ph) into office -- unless those sanctions are lifted, there's no (ph) chance, really, that Iran and the United States will be talking.

In fact, it doesn't like they're even going to be getting on a plane to New York to the United Nations General Assembly. Javad Zarif, saying he hadn't got a visa at the time we were talking, and tweeting afterwards that he still hasn't got one. I should point out, when he was referring to fighting to the last

American, he was suggesting that that is likely what Saudi Arabians may end up asking the Americans to do on their behalf, questioning if they had it in them to do that. Here's the interview we had.


PATON WALSH: What would be the consequence of an American or Saudi military strike on Iran now?


PATON WALSH: You make a very serious statement there, sir.

ZARIF: Well, I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I'm making a very serious statement, that we don't want war. We don't want to engage in a military confrontation. We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful. We'll have a lot of casualties. But we won't blink, to defend our territory.

PATON WALSH: Put yourself in Saudi Arabia's shoes. If there was an attack on Iranian sovereign territory with cruise missiles launched from Saudi Arabia, what would Iran's response be?


ZARIF: Well, they're making that up. Why do they want to make that up, that it was from Iranian territory? The Yemenis have announced responsibility for that, they have provided information about that, they have answered all the Saudi disinformation about the fact that they launched this attack against Saudi Arabia in self-defense.

Now, they want to pin the blame on Iran in order to achieve something. And that is why I'm saying, this is agitation for war. Because it's based on lies, it's based on deception. But you lie and deceive when (ph) it serves your interest. It doesn't even serve their interest.

PATON WALSH: There is weakness, though, to Iran's denial about involvement in all this, and that is really the Houthi Yemeni rebels who you say, and who say themselves, were behind this. This is a ragtag group of rebels who've been under siege for years. They struggle to get medicines, they struggle to get food.

That indeed is part of your case, why the war must stop. How is the world expected to believe that they were able to magic (ph) up drones and cruise missiles of this technology, that flew across hundreds of miles of Saudi Arabia, through tens of billions of dollars of air defenses, without any external assistance, and took out 19 targets? That's a big ask, people to believe.

ZARIF: Well, you see, if you want to make your calculations based on this, Saudi Arabia should have been able to win this war against this group of besieged people exactly when they thought they would, four weeks after they started the war. But it's four and a half years. They have not been able to bring the Yemenis to their knees.

PATON WALSH: You are very sure that the Houthis did this? But there is one major inconsistency --

ZARIF: I'm very sure that Iran didn't do it.

PATON WALSH: Understood. But you have also said, consistently, you believe the Houthis did this.

ZARIF: No, no, no. I believe the Houthis made a statement that they did it.

PATON WALSH: So you're not sure they did it?

ZARIF: I cannot have any confidence that they did it --


ZARIF: -- because we just heard their statement. I know that we didn't do it. I know that the Houthis have made a statement that they did it.

PATON WALSH: They've shown you no proof?

ZARIF: Did they -- I heard that they issued some -- released some documents last night -- which I haven't been able to examine for myself, and I'm not an expert to examine them anyway -- to show that they were able to increase the range of the drones and missiles by jet engines in them. But I'm not an expert, so I cannot say.

PATON WALSH: But it puts you in a similar position to the Saudi Arabian government, to some degree, in that you're saying someone did this, based on a hunch, and you would say the same thing about their accusations.

ZARIF: No, I'm not accusing anybody.


ZARIF: You can have a lot of accusations flying around based on who may benefit from this. Iran doesn't have anything to benefit from this. Iran wants security in the region, Iran wants stability in the region, Iran does not want war. Iran wants an end to all wars.

PATON WALSH: Would you call on the Houthis to release evidence that they did do this, to clear this misunderstanding up?

ZARIF: Well, I think they did release the evidence, but it's not up to us to ask the Houthis. I think the Houthis know what they did, and they know what they need to do. They released some evidence last night, and I think it is important for the Saudi government to understand what they're trying to achieve.

Do they want to fight Iran until the last American soldier? Is that their aim? Because if that is the aim, they can be assured that this won't be the case.


ZARIF: Because Iran will defend itself.


PATON WALSH: Now, you hear some of the rhetoric there, a little bellicose. But I have to tell you, the overall tone, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was one of hoping that conflict would be avoided, saying directly that he didn't believe that was what Donald Trump sought at this point. And in fact, at times, Donald Trump, he said, had tried to be coaxed into a war with Iran by bad advice, but had stayed away from that particular problem.

But, still, negotiation seems like a very slim chance. You heard the reasons why that is the case earlier on. And, as you heard, Mike Pompeo himself responding to that notion of all-out war is still a possibility, I have to say.

HARLOW: It was interesting, Nick, to hear him essentially praise the president's restraint.

SCIUTTO: Prudence.

HARLOW: And prudence, you know, not something you expect to hear from the Iranians. Thank you, Nick, it's a great interview. We appreciate it.


Right now, unrelenting rain drenching parts of Texas, causing really dangerous flash flooding. People are trapped in their homes, in their cars. We'll speak with someone trapped in his apartment there, next.


HARLOW: All right, welcome back. Let's take you to Texas now, where more than two feet of rain has fallen in just the last 12 hours. Look at this video. This is out of Beaumont, Texas. Residents in these counties northeast of Houston are trapped after heavy rain from Tropical Depression Imelda has slammed that area.

SCIUTTO: Among those stranded now by these flood waters is Michael Stephens in his apartment in Vidor, Texas, about a hundred miles east of Houston. Michael joins us now on the phone. Michael, tell us what you're seeing around you there, now.


MICHAEL STEPHENS, STRANDED TEXAS RESIDENT (via telephone): It's pretty, I'd say, catastrophic. You have cars that are in the apartment complex that are beginning to float. The lower-level apartments, the first floor, they're -- those tenants, for the most part, that can have now come up to the second floor, and everybody's trying to be as neighborly as they can and help out as much as they can.

We have some people who are elderly and disabled that are still being rescued because we can't get them out of their houses due to their being on wheelchairs. One lady in particular is on oxygen, and her oxygen tank is about to run out or it has run out. So we're trying to get rescue out here.

But we're cut off, we're cut off from everybody. All the highways and roads are cut (ph) or shut down, so we're literally cut off.

HARLOW: You know, just -- I -- we're looking at this video, and it's just startling to see. And we can see why you guys are cut off.

One thing that I read, you were talking to our producers and said that there are some people that actually have snakes in their apartment --

STEPHENS (via telephone): Yes.

HARLOW: -- because of this flooding?

STEPHENS (via telephone): We actually had -- one of the neighbors downstairs, she actually had a snake in her apartment. One, actually, it was on her foot. She kind of freaked out. They are now staying upstairs with us.

But, yes, there are people, other apartments, that have snakes in their apartment from the creek that is behind the apartment complex.

SCIUTTO: All right. That scares the heck out of me. I've got to as you. I mean, I imagine local authorities, overwhelmed. But are there any attempts to rescue, to evacuate people like you and your neighbors there?

STEPHENS (via telephone): We've seen them go by the complex. None have come into the complex. I've been outside and trying to help since about 2:00 a.m. this morning. So have other people.

And it's just one of those things, because everybody's been so overwhelmed, we understand, it is -- even (ph) we've got trucks out here that are lifted (ph), with (inaudible) up (ph), they can't move. They're just stuck.

HARLOW: Wow, wow. Any (ph) --

STEPHENS: So (inaudible) been (ph) saying (ph) it's worse than Harvey. And I can imagine -- yes, I can go with that. I know parts of this town, Vidor, is under 22 foot of water, so. You know, we're talking about feet --

HARLOW: Wow, worse than --

STEPHENS: -- not inches, 22 feet.

HARLOW: Worse than Harvey is what you're feeling like there. I'm so sorry. Michael Stephens, thank you for calling in. These images are startling. I hope that you guys can get some help there very soon.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

We have breaking news coming into CNN. President Trump has sued his longtime accounting firm and the New York District Attorney in an attempt to stop his accounting records from being sent to the local prosecutor. It is quite a development. We're going to have more right after this break, stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news. President Trump has now sued his longtime accounting firm and the New York District Attorney in an attempt to stop his tax returns from being released.

HARLOW: Kara Scannell joins us now with the details. Look, this -- we knew that this was likely coming after Cy Vance's office subpoenaed Mazars for all of this information earlier this week.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes. I mean, this is really not unexpected, especially when you look at the president's general approach to any subpoenas, whether it's from the House Democrats or from the New York District Attorney's Office --


SCANNELL: -- here, to try to gain access to both the accounting records, his taxes and his financial records. So this was not that unexpected.

But they're suing here today, saying that this is an unconstitutional subpoena because even though it's a grand jury subpoena, coming from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, saying it's unconstitutional because you can't have a criminal investigation of a sitting president. And so they're asking the judge that will eventually get this case to throw it out and say that this has to be, essentially, put on pause until the president's out of office.

SCIUTTO : So this is the second effort to get to the accounting firm here. The House Committee (ph) do it. That lawsuit by Trump was rejected, though it's on appeal. But this one has more likelihood of surviving, does it? Because it's a grand jury subpoena? Explain that.

SCANNELL: Well, it's a very different path because the first one is, you know, challenging the House and Congress' attempts to gain access to the --


SCANNELL: -- president's records. This is part of a grand jury investigation. And grand jury material is secret material. It is protected. It's not likely to leak or become public, which is what the president's concern was, mainly. And they argued this in court at the hearings, that Congress was going to make all of this public.

Now, this is a different process. It's the criminal process. I mean, I think -- a lot of lawyers I've spoken to think that the grand jury would be entitled to this information, but it's not going to go without challenge. And here, they found this area to say it's unconstitutional.

We'll ultimately see where a judge comes down on this, you know, as part of this investigation, which is, you know, at least as it's playing out so far, is looking into these hush money payments and whether the Trump organization had improperly recognized them in their business records.


HARLOW: Play this out for us. So if this judge moves against the president on this, this can just get elevated up?


HARLOW: Right?

SCANNELL: I mean, there's always an opportunity for an appeal, same in the state as in the federal system. So if the judge here throws out this lawsuit and says, the subpoena is valid --

HARLOW: Like, we can go ahead with this?


SCANNELL: They can appeal it up the level in the state system.

SCIUTTO: Which happened the other --


SCIUTTO: -- when Trump lost that case, it's now currently in the appeals system. Kara Scannell --

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: -- of course, we know you're going to continue to follow it. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: We do have other breaking news this morning. The president just responded to that "Washington Post" reporting, reporting that a whistleblower made a complaint because of what they saw was a promise the president made to a former (sic) leader.

TEXT: Donald J. Trump: Another Fake News story out there -- it never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!

HARLOW: Must more about that as we continue to cover this breaking story. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the president, calling that another fake news story. Of course, we know that it is going through the whistleblower process as well. I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR" is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)