Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: Intel Inspector Suggests Whistleblower Concerned About Multiple Acts Amid Reports Complaint Involves Trump; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) Is Interviewed About The Inspector General Prevented Sharing Of The Report; Trump Denies Making Improper Promise On Call With Foreign Leader, Claims He Knows Others Are Listening; WH & DOJ Advised DNI To Withhold Whistleblower Complaint; Democratic Stronghold In Minnesota Turning To Trump; Democratic Stronghold in Minnesota Turning to Trump; Iran Vows "All-Out War" If U.S. or Saudis Launch Military Strike. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, sources telling CNN the Intelligence Community's Inspector General revealed the damning whistleblower complaint was about multiple actions that involve more than just a call with the President. So what's the White House response tonight? Plus, the 2020 Democrats zeroing in on a new target, Elizabeth Warren. So will their attack stop her surge? And Trump's National Security team meeting to discuss a plan of action against Iran as Tehran tonight threatens all out war. Let's go out front.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, Trump's White House silencing a whistleblower, a whistleblower with an urgent and credible report about President Trump. Today, sources tell us that the independent inspector general for the Intelligence Community would not tell lawmakers details about the complaint when he met with them behind closed doors today.

And we are told tonight that the White House and the Justice Department were involved in that decision. And the mystery of this complaint deepens tonight. We're learning that this 'credible and urgent' complaint involves multiple actions, including communications between the President and a foreign leader. Communications that involve President Trump making a promise of some sort and that specific is according to The Washington Post.

So what was that promise and who did Trump make it to? Well, frankly, these are questions that must be answered and yet at this hour, Trump's people are hiding them from Congress, which by law says it has the right to see the complaint.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This shows how someone is trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from the Congress.


BURNETT: Someone trying to manipulate the system. A system which is designed to protect the country and allow Congress which has oversight to see whistleblower complaints if deemed credible and urgent. This one was. And tonight, team Trump is defending why it is hiding this information. Pamela Brown is out front in Washington.

So Pamela, what is the Trump administration's explanation for keeping the complaint under wraps?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, so much of this is shrouded in secrecy. But we have learned that the White House and DOJ have advised the nation's top intelligence agency that this whistleblower complaint involving President Trump isn't protected under laws governing intelligence whistleblowers and therefore DNI shouldn't as of now turn over the complaint to Congress.

Now, that view is directly at odds with what the DNI IG has said and what he told Congress today. Now, officials in the White House and DOJ have also raised privilege concerns we're told because this does involve the communication between the President and a foreign leader according to a source in the past. The White House has blocked information from being turned over to Congress involving foreign leader conversations with the President Putin and Trump, for example.

But what makes us different, Erin, is of course this involves a whistleblower complaint to DNI protected under the law. So this really is unprecedented. Now, President Trump or his party has tweeted that he would never say anything inappropriate to a foreign leader.

But we know from officials that the President is often informal and spontaneous in his calls in conversations with foreign leaders. In fact, those calls and conversations are very much an extension of his free willing presidency.

Now, I did speak to one administration official, Erin, who said that basically sometimes in these calls with foreign leaders, the other leader will make an outlandish request such as asking the President to look into a DOJ indictment of a state-owned entity and the President will respond, "I'll have my people look into it," when he doesn't really mean it.

What we don't really know right now is more about this conversation who the leader is, what country, DNI still hasn't complied with the request yet to turn over information on this complaint. Though, the DNI is expected to testify next week. We should also note that the White House has declined to comment, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela, with a lot of new information there. So out front now, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was inside that briefing from the Inspector General today, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. And Congressman, I appreciate your time. Good to have you back on the show.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Thank you. Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: You're inside the room with the Inspector General who was prevented from sharing details of the report with you, but was supposed to talk about it in the process. So what can you tell us about what happened?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, he came in of his own volition. It was voluntary, which I think was the proper thing to do, although it obviously is something that he is not compelled to do. And because of the way he carried himself and his demeanor, he was very credible.


Just for your viewers' insight, basically, this is unprecedented where an inspector general of the Intelligence Community receives a whistleblower complaint, finds it to be credible and urgent and then turns it over to the Director of National Intelligence. And that person doesn't turn it over to the House Intelligence and Senate Intelligence Committees. That's unprecedented and that's very disturbing.

BURNETT: But you found his demeanor to be, you said, very credible, thoughtful.


BURNETT: The real deal. OK.


BURNETT: So we understand, Congressman, that the Intelligence Inspector General today suggested that the whistleblower had concerns about multiple actions. Didn't say specifically whether all of them involved the President or some of them or what.

Did you get a sense of what multiple means? How much of this was about Trump? Were you able to get any sense of that from him today?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, he wasn't willing to answer any questions with regards to the substance of the complaint and right now we're kind of wondering why this complaint is not being turned over to us. Mr. Maguire has said a couple of things that are concerning. One,

that the person --

BURNETT: He, of course, is the Acting Chief of the DNI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, Mr. Maguire, the Chief of the DNI has said that the individual about whom the complainant made the complaint is outside the intelligence community and that person somehow is invoking some kind of privilege. There's no privilege that shields any wrongdoing.

And then secondly, this is something where it doesn't matter if it's someone outside the intelligence community as long as it relates to the intelligence activity of the Director of National Intelligence, that is the subject matter that we should be aware of.

BURNETT: And obviously to be clear, the President, could technically be outside the Intelligence Community, but obviously with his oversight of it, his ability to know any classified information he wants is clearly is central to it. OK.


BURNETT: So, I understand the IG said he didn't give you more because he wasn't authorized, right? He wasn't authorized to give you the details of the substance of the complaint ...


BURNETT: ... even though he deemed it urgent and credible, right? This is the person who saw it and said this is a problem.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, what's problematic about that is he's basically not being authorized by the very people about whom the complaint might be lodged.


KRISHNAMOORTHI: So that's the problem that we have here, it hurts our ...

BURNETT: Do you fault him for not going further, for not saying, "OK, so what? But I feel this is so important. I'm going to go around it or not?"

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't fault him at this point, because I think that he was trying to do everything he could to get us some type of idea about his concerns and why we needed to act properly. What's really concerning is that A; our National Security might be compromised right now and we wouldn't know it because we don't know the substance of the complaint. And then B; the Trump administration claims that the whistleblower statute in question doesn't apply to this claim.

So what they're saying is that the whistleblower may not be even protected by the protections set forth in that statute.


KRISHNAMOORTHI: And that's also concerning because other whistleblowers who might want to come forward may not be willing to do so.

BURNETT: Right. Well, that's a fair point.


BURNETT: So I don't know if you just heard but Pam was just talking about an administration official saying, "All right -" and this seems like this is their spin to try to explain it whatever it might end up being. They say, well, there's been times where a foreign leader talks to Trump and makes an outlandish request, like stop a DOJ indictment of a state-owned enterprise from that person's country.

And the official says, "Trump often just says, 'Sure, I'll have my people look into it." And he says it just to make them go away, doesn't actually do it. It sounds like they're trying to make it sound like this is what we're talking about. Could that really be what this is all about urgent and credible?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think that your question answers itself. The Inspector General would not say that type of thing would likely rise to be an urgent concern, because within the urgent concerns statute, I don't want to get into all the details. But it has to be a flagrant or serious violation of the law or an executive order. It has to be something that is materially going to impair our National Security.

BURNETT: And I think it's important you make that point so people understand, right, that to try to minimize it and make it sound small would go against exactly what it is that we seemed to be talking about here.


BURNETT: So what do you do next, Congressman? What's your next move to get to this complaint since the DOJ and the White House clearly are moving to prevent you from seeing it?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sure. Well, next week the Acting DNI Chief Mr. Maguire is coming before us. This is going to be an open hearing and we're going to be asking him some very tough questions about why is he not turning over this whistleblower complaint.

And if he decides not to turn it over even after that hearing or before that hearing, we may need to seek expedited relief in court.


Or, we may also bring this into the appropriations process and the other ways that we have to conduct oversight of the Intelligence Community. This is that serious, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Congressman. I appreciate your time tonight.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: And next more on our breaking news, could the whistleblower's concerns become part of the impeachment inquiry? Plus, President Trump finding support in a surprising place. Why some die-hard Democrats in a crucial place are now backing Trump?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there enough mind-changing in this district to perhaps propel victory for the President in this state?



BURNETT: And the company at the center of the opioid crisis with a shocking request after filing for bankruptcy, they now want to pay out tens of millions of dollars in performance bonuses.



BURNETT: Breaking news, President Trump defiant trying to blow off and hide the whistleblower's urgent and credible complaint against him. The complaint involves American Intelligence and National Security. Trump tweeting, "Virtually any time I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call.

OK. Out front now, former NSA Inspector General under President George W. Bush, Joel Brenner, former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, Juliette Kayyem, and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean.

So Joel, look you've been in this situation as inspector general, situations where you've had various people fighting over what should be revealed. The Inspector General here for the Intelligence Community admits that this is a credible and urgent threat. Team Trump though fighting to keep it hidden, not allowing the Inspector General to really say anything about the substance of it to Congress today as you just heard. Could the IG just throw his career to the wind, put the information out there or will we find out another way?

JOEL BRENNER, FORMER NSA INSPECTOR GENERAL: Well, the IG is not, in my opinion, I know Mr. Atkinson and I think he's a very capable and level-headed man.


BRENNER: He's not going to compromise classified information. The question might be whether he might disclose it himself behind closed doors to the Intelligence Community committees. But that would be an act of civil disobedience and you'd have to take the consequences of that.

One of the consequences, I'm sure, would be losing his job and I don't know whether he believes he ought to be doing that or whether he's in financial circumstances that he wouldn't do it in any event. But the administration's position on the statute itself is quite weak.

As the Congressman was saying in your earlier segment, it doesn't have to be investigating somebody in the IC. He only has to be investigating a serious or flagrant abuse relating to the operation or administration of the IC. And the Justice Department seems to be saying, well, this is beyond the scope of his jurisdiction.

They're not making an important distinction between the IG's powers to investigate and the IG's obligation to report to the Congress. No one is saying that the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community has the right to investigate the White House, but he's a creature of statute and the statute tells him to report to his director and tells the director to report to The Hill. I don't see a statutory defense here.

BURNETT: All right. So Juliette, does it matter who the whistleblower is in this case that is raising the red flag here, again, about what we understand are multiple incidents or activities including a conversation the President had with the world leader?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Yes, so I've been on the other side of IG reports so I can speak to that. It does matter and that's why it's so significant that the IG determine that this was a matter of urgent importance. In other words, IGs are smart. They have statutes. They have evidence. Some of them can subpoena. You can get into big trouble if you lie to them.

And so they know how to gather information and determine the validity of the person, were they in the room or did they hear a third hand, were they in the room multiple times, are they a significant player or were they the custodian in the room who thought they overheard something. All of that has already been worked through, through the IG process.

So the idea that the White House is sort of second-guessing this at this stage just means that they can't rely on the factual basis. They're just trying to go after presumably the witness or the whistleblower in this case. But the idea that this is some random person, that's already been dealt with, with the IG who's taking lots of information ...

BURNETT: Into account, right.

KAYYEM: ... figuring out who he is, figuring out the circumstances of the information. So that too is a weak argument by the White House.

BURNETT: So John, could this become part of the impeachment inquiry?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it certainly could for this reason, Erin. This is part of a pattern. This isn't the only instance where they're trying to block information from Congress. They're doing it in the courts, they're giving over-the-top arguments where the Congress is seeking to obtain through subpoenaed documents and information and witnesses.

Now, they're doing it through a statute that is pretty clear on its face as to how it's supposed to work. So, yes, this is the sort of obstruction oversight that they're generally imposing as if there was no such thing.

BURNETT: I mean, Joel, it's interesting the President says would he be dumb enough to do something when he thought people could be listening to his phone calls. Well, look he has had no problem doing things when he knows people are listening to him, when the cameras are on that many would deem at the least inappropriate. Here are just a couple of examples.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

A lot of progress has been made, a lot of friendships have been made and this has been in particular a great friendship.

Don't meddle in the election, please. Don't meddle in the election.

I have no problem. We'll see what happens, but these are short-range missiles. They're very standard.


BURNETT: So Joel, given that he has no problem saying those sorts of things for the cameras, for the purpose of the cameras, what could he have done on the phone with a foreign leader?

BRENNER: Well, he could have compromised either some of our important intelligence or some of the way we gathered that intelligence which in some ways could be even worse. I mean one is speculating here but in 2017 the CIA had to pull a spy out who was quite close to Putin.

We don't get that many spies like that. Was this disclosure related to that? Was that a compromise? Goodness gracious. The question isn't just whether the President has the right to reveal classified information. The question is whether doing so was grossly irresponsible.

I could answer the President's question whether anybody - he's asking the wrong question which is not whether he would do something like this. In Mar-A-Lago, he had confidential conversations with foreign head of state in front of the wait staff. When accused of giving secrets to the Russians in the White House, he didn't deny doing it. He said, "I have the right to do it."

So the question is isn't whether he'd do it, the question is has he done it again.

BURNETT: And so John Dean, I want to ask you before we go, when we bring up the topic of impeachment, we understand tonight multiple sources tell us the House Judiciary Committee is taking the first steps towards holding Corey Lewandowski who testified earlier this week, the former campaign manager for Trump in contempt for refusing to answer questions.

Note, they were castigated for their handling of the hearing as well. Nobody looked good, but he was a flagrantly disrespectful. Is it a smart move by them to hold him in contempt or it's just going to make this whole thing worse?

DEAN: I think it is a smart move. They've got to send a signal to the White House and to all Republicans in general that this can't be a game. They can't stop oversight the way they're trying to do. And the only teeth they can put into sort of forcing this issue is contempt.

It is a slow process. It is a difficult process, but the speaker certainly gave the sign that she has no problem with this last night, again, today.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all so very much. And next, the 2020 Democrats have a new plan of attack and it looks like it involves taking down Elizabeth Warren.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of these ideas are better left in the college faculty lounge.


BURNETT: Plus, is President Trump about to come face-to-face with the president of a country now threatening all out war?



BURNETT: New tonight, Democratics slamming Elizabeth Warren. Mayor Pete Buttigieg accusing her of being 'evasive' and not telling the truth about middle-class taxes going up. And Senator Amy Klobuchar made this pointed barb.


KLOBUCHAR: My view of this is we've got a lot of great people running, but some of these ideas are better left in the college faculty lounge.


BURNETT: Warren, of course, was a professor at Harvard. Democrats battling against each other at the meantime as we found a state that voted Democratic last time that actually is in play to turn to Trump. Martin Savidge is out front.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice-over): In rural northern Minnesota, things are changing; the temperature, the leaves, the politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAVIDGE: Are we talking thousands of people sort of shifting and

changing their politics?



SAVIDGE(voice-over): Once a Democratic stronghold, many of the voters we talked to here say more and more they align with the President.


JEFF FORSEEN, MOUNTAIN IRON, MN RESIDENT: Her two brothers were staunch, union Democrats for years and they're not anymore.


SAVIDGE(voice-over): This is mining country, not coal mining, but taconite. A mineral used in making steel. Forty, 50 years ago, the iron range as it's called was booming, bringing big city prosperity to small towns like Eveleth.


VLAISAVLJEVICH: Things were just going gangbusters, businesses all over, then when it crashed everybody is caught by surprise. They crashed and they crashed hard.


SAVIDGE(voice-over): The number of mining jobs in the region went from over 14,000 in the '80s to just about 4,500 today. Leaving families and main streets to suffer. Robert Vlaisavljevich has been the Mayor of Eveleth for 18 years on and off. He votes Democrat on state races, but he's got a trump sticker on his desk, a Christmas card from the President on his bulletin board and a deer on his office wall sports a maga hat.


SAVIDGE: The political support for the President, part of this is really just a matter of survival.

VLAISAVLJEVICH: Economics, yes. He's our guy. He supports mining. He's our guy.

TRUMP: Our steel industry is vibrant again. It was dead.


SAVIDGE(voice-over): Trump's tariffs on imported steel are popular, so is his easing of environmental regulations. They also like his crackdown on immigration. In a state that's 80 percent white, the influx of Somali refugees has been a contentious issue.

[19:30:01] Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar is a controversial figure here.


VLAISAVLJEVICH: She offends a lot of people.

SAVIDGE: She's not popular here.

VLAISAVLJEVICH: No, not at all.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Folks here say they didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left them.

Melissa Axelson's husband works for a mining company.

MELISSA AXELSON, EVELETH RESIDENT: I think they've changed. I see conservative candidates seem to be more for the working person.

MIKE VOLKER, EVELETH RESIDENT: The Democrats kind of shifted more to the left and the Republicans are kind of taking over the party for jobs.

SAVIDGE: All this matters because in 2016, Trump barely lost Minnesota by just 44,000 votes. Political experts say gains in places like the Iron Range could help boost the GOP's prospects in the state in 2020.

CINDY RUGELY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, DULUTH: I don't think by any means this is a locked down Democratic state it used to be.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Cindy, do you think that this area could put this state? In other words, do you think this area could be key to the president's win if he wins?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Supporters say they'd like to see the president plan campaign rallies in the region, believing that in Minnesota's mining country, when it comes to votes, President Trump could strike gold.


SAVIDGE: To continue to give you an idea of the kind of political tectonic shift that's occurred in the 8th congressional district which covers the Iron Range here, this was the same district that in 2008 helped to propel Barack Obama into the White House. Eight years later, Donald Trump won the very same district by 16 percentage points and in 2018, they elected a Republican congressman for only the second time in the district's entire history. No wonder Republicans see this as very fertile soil -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you very much, Martin Savidge. A powerful report.

I want to go to our political director David Chalian, and Brittany Shepherd, a national politics correspondent for Yahoo News.

OK. Good to have you both with me.

David, it's a pretty incredible report there, when you think of the role they have and they're motivated and they want to turn the entire state. Can Trump turn Minnesota and expand the map?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, listen, one of the missions inside the Trump campaign headquarters is to find some places where they can try and expand the map so that they don't have to re- create that sort of inside strait that they created to get him to the presidency last time around.

And here's the thing. You just heard what Martin said there at the end and it was a district that's seen a Democrat far more often than a Republican in Congress. Only three districts in the country last year, Erin, flipped from Democrat to Republican. Remember, it was a Democratic wave, they won 40 Republican seats, only three districts in the country and that is one of them.

So, there is some Trump-era change going on there that they want to ride as a possible alternate path to the White House if the Democrats start bringing back places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, Brittany, this is the thing. You know, people -- since 2016, we've heard a lot about what David just said, the state's Democrats think they can take back from Trump, right? He just mentioned Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, those are states they think they can flip.

But this is a different story. Trump picking up states. I mean, are the Democrats ready to play defense?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, YAHOO NEWS: It does feel like the Democrats are dancing on the back foot. The Trump campaign is better than 2016. Look, they've had a tremendous amount of money, I would say, independently, more than any Democratic frontrunner, including Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. When they're trying to only close a 1 percent estimate and it's been blown open for the Trump campaign in a way it hasn't been in other elections.

And for Republicans in other districts and other Democrat and Republican strongholds, and I do want to point out that in some of the voters in the segment was were wearing an NRA hat, many of the voters in these really tough districts are going to feel that Democrats and the base have run away from their core values and their influx, some might say, they're a bit of a lost voter.

So, the Trump campaign is going to capitalize on that. They're going to run ads. They're going to run rallies and saying, look, if they're not here for you, we are here for you. The message is just as important as the messenger.

BURNETT: And this comes, David, as the Democrats are in the midst of this primary, which, you know, they still have too many people from most Americans, you know, to count in terms of paying attention closely yet. They're going to war now. They're starting to and it looks like some of that -- the barbs are being pointed at Warren.

Here are Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar just today.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Warren is know for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question. I think it's puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question of whether her plan and Senator Sanders' plan will raise middle class taxes is yes. Why wouldn't you just say though so --

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My view of this is we got a lot of great people running, but some of these ideas are better left in the college faculty lounge.



BURNETT: That is -- that is in some sense an aggressive tone that we're now seeing towards Warren by at least those two candidates today, David. Yes.

CHALIAN: Welcome to the fall season. We are in a new phase in this campaign.

Voters are tuning in in a way that they haven't yet. We are days away, Erin, from learning the third quarter fund-raising numbers and another debate coming up in October and the pressure is on. You know, we're only four and a half months away from the voting here. Now is when you will see people ratcheting up as people are starting to make their strategies in their appeal to voters.

And I think that's -- we saw today, in those two examples and a couple of others where you just sense, this fight is going to get more intense in short order.

BURNETT: And it has to, Brittany, because in the last debate, there's a lot of -- even from Senator Klobuchar, there's more we agree on than we disagree on. You can't keep emphasizing that if you want voters to pick somebody. So, it's got to change.

SHEPHERD: Yes. And, you know, you do hear from some voters that they are a little bit tired of Democrats walking around beating up on each other because they want to hear, are you the best person to beat Trump and I definitely there's a coalition of Democrats who might agree to that.

But more interestingly, at least to me, is that there's a whole new swath of voters that are gen-z and millennial voters that want to hear how they're different, and these are voters who have not voted before or are hesitant to vote again. But they'll make up a third of the Democratic primary. Twenty million Americans are in college right now, right? So, it's a really, really big segment of the population who want to hear -- they don't want to hear the hopey, changey Obama stuff anymore. They want to hear brass tacks, do you agree with me, and are your policies in line with where we are as a party?

CHALIAN: That's the challenge here. And they have to keep the party united because Democrats want that, but they also need to start separating ourselves.

BURNETT: Right, you can't always say, oh, we just all agree. Well, you know what? You can't have 20 nominees.

Thank you both.

And next, Iran threatening an all-out war. Trump's national security team meantime today meeting to talk about what he will do.

Plus, a shocking payout. The company accused of fueling the opioid crisis wants to pay out $34 million in bonuses. Why?



BURNETT: New tonight, President Trump's national security team meeting to go through options on Iran this after Iran's alleged attack on a key Saudi oil facility.

Tonight, Iran is threatening Trump. The foreign minister tells CNN it will respond to an American strike with all-out war.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What would be the consequence of an American military strike on Iran now?


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

ZARIF: Well, I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don't want war, but we won't blink to defend our territory.


BURNETT: CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in Tehran.

And, Nick, obviously, that was a very serious statement from Minister Zarif. Does he mean what he says?

WALSH: I think the tone of that interview was to do two things. They know that the real person they're talking about Iran policy is Donald Trump. John Bolton's out. He was the Iran hawk, Mike Pompeo, fine, but really, Trump is making the calls.

And this interview was designed to give a bellicose statement that basically says if you hit us, don't expect some kind of overnight tit for tat. This will be long and messy, but also the general tone of the interview I think was a bit to suggest that Iran doesn't really seek conflict, doesn't want that, but won't shy away from it if it is actually attacked -- Erin.

BURNETT: So, Nick, the Trump administration is allowing the Iranian President Rouhani to come to the U.N. in New York next week, which was up to debate, right? Are they going to allow him to come and issue the visas? They did. So, now, you're going to have the Iranians in New York.

Is there any chance that Iranian President Rouhani meets with Trump?

WALSH: No, in a word. Look, you can't tell what Donald Trump might choose to do. He could go saddling up to Rouhani in a corridor. It would be very hard for them to avoid speaking. That's entirely possible.

But the circumstances in which Iran will talk are very slim and Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, laid that out. He will not talk on the side lines. There will be no secret sideline talks in New York. There have been no secret sidelines if the Trump administration gets back into the nuclear deal, basically. If they take away the sanctions they put back on that weren't there because of the nuclear deal, then they will talk, they'll consider talking.

That's a big ask to the Trump administration who call that the nuclear deal the worst it's ever seen -- Erin.

BURNETT: So, you know, Trump has always put out there that he can strike and do so. Quickly, he can make a phone call and do it which is true, but intended to be a threat.

When you talk to Minister Zarif, do you think he believes that Trump would really do it, that Trump would really strike?

WALSH: I can't really tell. I think they think that he's unpredictable, but I think sometimes, I feel that Trump's unpredictability is very predictable if that makes any sense. So they don't always know what he's going to do, but they know they don't know.

So, essentially, yes, he could do anything and they've been watching him for quite some time and the calculation they've made is an awful lot of bluster and not a lot of follow through a lot of the time and the message today was designed to say the experiment where you show you can use military force, that won't end well, and appealing to his broad instinct which is to get America out of conflicts -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Nick Paton Walsh in Tehran tonight.

And next, a company facing bankruptcy in its role in the opioid crisis making a request, saying they want to pay out tens of millions of dollars in performance bonuses.

Plus, it's an environmental crisis that could affect every part of this country and scientists are struggling to stop it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BURNETT: New tonight, opioid outrage. Attorneys general up in arms after learning that Purdue Pharma which makes OxyContin wants to pay more than $34 million in performance bonuses to its employees. That's the same company that filed for bankruptcy this week.

OUTFRONT now, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro refused to join the $10 billion settlement Purdue made last week, and he's also suing the Sackler family which, of course, controls Purdue.

So, I appreciate your time, Attorney General.

So, let's just start with this the bonuses here. They want to pay $34 million in bonuses. Do you have any idea what these quote, unquote, performance bonuses are for at the company which makes OxyContin?

JOSH SHAPIRO (D), PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I don't, Erin, and sadly, this is what we've come to expect from Purdue. The same people that incentivized the kind of behavior that ultimately led to this crisis we're facing across this country, the same people that specifically targeted Pennsylvania with 531,000 visits to doctors offices where they were specifically trying to target our veteran population and our seniors, trying to get people hooked on their product.

Their product, by the way, OxyContin, which has the exact same chemical makeup as heroin. And so, it doesn't surprise me, given their greed, given their approach they've taken on this, it doesn't surprise me on their way out after using bankruptcy as an attempted shield to protect themselves from lawsuits that I and others followed, that they would try and gives tens of millions of dollars in bonuses.


BURNETT: So, they sent us a statement about the bonuses, Attorney General Shapiro, and I want to read to you. And it said in part, quote: To preserve the full value of Purdue for the benefit of the American public, it is critical that the company's day-to-day operations be protected. Purdue employees' deep technical expertise and know-how are essentially components of the company's business. Retaining our talented and dedicated employees is a key determinant of the company's future value.

What's your response to that?

SHAPIRO: Erin, let me tell you something, I've sat across the table from Purdue's lawyers and representatives of the Sackler family. And I can just tell you, you can't believe much of what they, really any of what they say. They are constantly trying to shift the ground. They're constantly obfuscating. They're constantly just making stuff up in an attempt to walk away from the responsibility they have for the crisis that is gripping states like Pennsylvania and across the country. Erin, we lost 12 Pennsylvanians today to the heroin, opioid and

fentanyl crisis. We'll lose 12 more tomorrow, and 12 the day after. And it started not by drug dealers on street corners.


SHAPIRO: But by greedy executives like the Sacklers in pharmaceutical company boardrooms.

BURNETT: And you are suing the Sacklers, right? You refuse the join the settlement with Purdue that thousands of other state and local governments joined. You didn't join that one and you are also suing the family.

You know, I had on the attorney general for Massachusetts earlier this week. I asked her this. I want to ask you as well. Obviously, the family is rich. They're really rich, OK? Forbes estimated their net worth at $13 billion in 2016, and a lot of that money came from OxyContin.


BURNETT: They say they're not at fault for the opioid epidemic, obviously. David Sackler, who's used to sit on the board, spoke to "Vanity Affair" earlier this year. The article notes, by the way, that David and his family made $4 million in the past decade from Purdue. But he says he is the target of vitriolic hyperbole and endless castigation. He says he has so much empathy for those who were affected by this.

What's your response to him?

SHAPIRO: It's laughable. If they really had empathy for these folks, they wouldn't have targeted them in the first place, and they would be working with state attorneys general to actually solve the problem. Instead, what they've done is they've put a proposal, and Erin, respectfully, I wouldn't even call it a settlement. A settlement requires both sides to come together and agree.

But they put a proposal on the table that is really just a slap in the face to the people of Pennsylvania, a slap in the face to millions of Americans.

And let me tell you something. The Sacklers have made billions off the sales of OxyContin. And I sued them on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, and I will take as much time as it needs to reach into their billionaire pockets and pull out these ill-gotten gains and return them to the people of Pennsylvania who are suffering, to use it for treatment, to use it to help these families cope with the devastation that's been inflicted upon them by greedy folks like the Sacklers and others who have contributed to this crisis.

BURNETT: Attorney General Shapiro, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Good to be with you. BURNETT: And next, scientists uncover what they are calling a dire

warning sign about the health of the planet.



BURETT: Tonight, bird populations are plummeting across North America, according to a new study.

CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir is OUTFRONT.

All right. So, look, the headline is pretty stunning. Why is this happening?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It's us. It's human beings and pets. It's every field or meadow that gets turned into a parking lot or a farm. It's every forest that gets chopped down.

It's every plastic bag that goes out into the waste stream. It's pesticides. It's cats, house cats kill tons of birds every year.

And the stunning number is in one lifetime, since 1970, three billion birds were lost in North America, U.S. and Canada.

BURNETT: Three billion.

WEIR: That's 29 percent. So, one in every four birds.

And, Erin, this leads to what scientists call sort of the shifting baseline syndrome, which is you can tell your daughter, when I was a girl, there was so much bird song. Well, she can't relate to that. She thinks the woods are quiet. And then her generation it gets smaller and goes down.

And it's just one of these another warning sign in the circle of life that first it's the birds and then it's the bugs, and then things get really dire.

BURNETT: And the point you talk about, making a bird song, that shifting baseline is really fascinating. But what are the implications of this, of loses billions of birds?

WEIR: Well, they're not just pretty to look at and listen to. They are pollinators. They're seed spreaders. If you don't have a certain species of bird in one forest, it will draw rodents to eat the seeds, then which affects the forest, and sort of cascade life systems. They're predators and they're prey.

Here is the interesting political thing. Water foul is actually going up. Why? Because even the most conservative red blooded duck hunter is all for regulations to protect wetlands. And so, Ducks Unlimited, groups like this have poured money and resources in to protecting wetlands so they can hunt there. And as a result, the numbers are up.

Well, the Trump administration, part of their deregulation bonanza is pulling back the migratory bird treaties that would protect birds as they go up and down North America from getting into oil and those sorts of things. Great lakes initiatives, Colorado River basin, all these projects that are being gutted and stripped back could bring back birds the way duck hunters brought their ducks back.

BURNETT: All right. Hopefully, stories like this make people realize what is happening, in actual, tangible, hard to even comprehend but tangible numbers.

Thank you so very much, Bill.

WEIR: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And thanks to all of you.

"AC360" starts now.