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Interview with Iran's Foreign Minister; Trump's Handling of Classified Information; New Poll Shows Biden Holds Lead. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 06:30   ET



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tens of billions of dollars of air defenses without any external assistance and took out 19 targets. That's a big ask for people to believe.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: 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.

WALSH: But that is a different argument to resisting an invading army on the ground. It's different to getting technology out of nowhere, it seems, and managing to evade state of the art tens of billions of dollars, American assisted air defenses. That's a different argument.

ZARIF: Well, I mean, then you should go and find the problem with the state of the art American air defense, not -- not -- not with the Houthis. I mean you believe that the United States is omnipotent and the United States military equipment are flawless. And that is why you're a bunch of people with no access to anything, cannot defeat that.

But I can tell you, I mean, it's going to be news for you and it's going to continue to be news for you, that people can do a lot of things when they are desperate, when they see their kids killed, when they see their kids maimed, when they see their wives bombarded, their houses, their hospitals, their schools destroyed. That gives you a lot of creativity, a lot of tenacity to go and search for yourself.

This is exactly how we did it. How do you think we built all of this? Huh? How do you think we built the missile system that brought down a U.S. drone? We were not supported by anybody. We were not given any equipment. We were not given any means of defending ourselves. We went through eight years of war. Nobody gave us means of defense.

WALSH: You are very sure that the Houthis did this. That there is one major inconsistency.

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

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

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

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

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

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 the missiles by -- by jet engines in them. But I'm not an expert, so I cannot say.

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 accusation.

ZARIF: No, I'm not -- 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 want an end to all wars.

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

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 -- what they're trying to achieve. Do they want to fight Iran until the last American soldier? Is that -- 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.


WALSH: Does the Saudi government want to fight Iran to the last American soldier? You heard those words echo.

And next hour he will talk about the incredibly slim circumstances you might imagine where we might actually see the U.S. and Iran back at the negotiating table. A big ask.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nick, thank you very much for sharing that great interview with us.

All right, meanwhile, back to our top story.

A whistle-blower has come forward in Washington from the intelligence committee. He heard something that the president promised to a world leader that was so upsetting and so disturbing he's risking his job to come forward and disclose it. We'll tell you about the fight now in Washington.




CNN has learned that it was President Trump's communication with a foreign leader that led a U.S. intelligence official to file a whistle-blower complaint. "The Washington Post" reports that the president made a promise. A promise that was so troubling to this official it prompted the official to report it. And even more importantly, it prompted the intelligence community inspector general, a trump appointee, to deem it was of urgent concern.

Joining us now, John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst, and Rachael Bade, CNN political analyst and congressional reporter for "The Washington Post."

A Trump appointee, the inspector general, thinks this complaint is of urgent concern, of such concern the Congress needs to know.

But, John, the big questions are, what was the promise, to whom --


BERMAN: And what does it say about the president's notion of intelligence?

AVLON: What it says about the president is that the president of the United States appears to be a security risk. The intelligence community is concerned that the president can't be trusted with classified information. And, occasionally, it goes beyond that.

This dates back to early days of the administration. Remember, it was May of 2017 when the president disclosed classified information to the Russian foreign minister.


And that began a pattern of deep distrust with the intelligence community and this president --

CAMEROTA: Which compromised our allies, by the way.

AVLON: And arguably assets.

So this has been part of a larger pattern.

And here you also see another pattern because you have an acting DNI, an acting director of national intelligence, caught in between the urgent concerns of this whistle-blower and -- which have been confirmed by the inspector general, and his felty (ph) to the president. And this is also created a real concern because, where's the accountability between the branches of government? Will he be able to actually disclose what information is out there? Because this "Washington Post" report is a bombshell and more information is needed for the simple role of oversight in a republic.

CAMEROTA: Rachael, we've been talking about how things might come out today. The -- obviously there's a lot happening with this story and the inspector general is going to Capitol Hill today to appear in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

What will he say about this?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think John hit it right -- the nail right on the head right there talking about the accountability and other branches of government. I mean there was a -- there's a legal requirement that whenever this sort of whistle-blowing happens and whenever this notification is given about top secret information like this, that within seven days DNI, the agency, is supposed to notify Congress of exactly what the complaint was.

Now, that didn't happen after this came up in August. Lawmakers only heard about it a couple of days ago. And Schiff, Adam Schiff, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he's furious about this. And, today, obviously, the inspector general is going to be in front of him in a closed session. They're going to press him for more information about what this complaint was, who did Trump -- who was Trump talking to, what exactly did he say?

But, again, this shows this really breakdown of the system that we've been seeing in Washington for the past year and a half, and that is that Congress is trying to do a bunch of oversight at the administration. A lot of these scandals that are coming out, these controversies, and they're not able to do it. And this is just another example of that.

Schiff has not been able to get answers. We'll see if he will today. But, you know, the executive branch, right now, they're just not following a lot of traditional procedures when it comes to checks and balances and different branches of government holding each other accountable.

BERMAN: I do want to come back to the mystery promise in a second, John. But, Rachael, what you're saying here also plays into what we saw over the last two days on Capitol Hill with Corey Lewandowski's testimony, his non-answers. And you have new reporting that Nancy Pelosi didn't like what she saw one bit. BADE: No, she told some lawmakers at a private meeting last night --

they were complaining about how disrespectful Lewandowski was to the committee on Monday and she said, look, if I was there, I would have held him in contempt of Congress right then and there.

Now, lawmakers had talked about that when, you know, Lewandowski was dodging questions, when he was interrupting them, when he was promoting his Senate bid and his book sales. But they decided against it. You know, the committee wanted to keep the focus on the president and so they decided not to do that, although they could at a later date.

But, again, this just sort of highlights the challenge that the committee has really had in trying to hold out and show the public parts of the Mueller report. In this specific case, it just turned into a circus and angered people and that, you know, that became the story.

CAMEROTA: I almost held him in contempt yesterday here on NEW DAY.

AVLON: If only you were vested with such powers.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, yes, I often -- well, every day wish that.

But, Rachael, what did they learn? Was there a lesson from the experience with Corey Lewandowski where moving forward, if they want to consider doing this in public, they are going to adapt to, you know, reluctant witnesses?

BADE: You know, I don't know that there was a lesson because everybody's taking something different.


BADE: I mean, there -- I talked to Democrats yesterday who were upset about the circus-like atmosphere that it created. They said it made them look weak, Democrats, it made them look weak because they didn't hold him in contempt. I talked to pro-impeachment folks, including Jared Huffman, who is a California Democrat, and who's very support of an impeachment movements, who said hearings like this, it's not going to sway the public. This is not going to change any hearts and minds.

But, I mean, if the Judiciary Committee really wants to do this, if they really want to impeach Trump, they don't really have a choice right now. They've got to get the witnesses they can actually get. And that sort of limits -- the administration has very much limited them in who they will allow them to speak with. So, you know, they went for Lewandowski and they're going to try to grab some others to try to move that polling.

BERMAN: John, I just want to play a little sound for you from yesterday, back to the intelligence issue here, which shows how the president might field about secrets.


BERMAN: Listen. He's at the wall.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One thing we haven't mentioned is technology. They're wired so that we will know if somebody's trying to break through. And you may want to discuss that a little bit, general.

LT. GEN. TODD SEMONITE: Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.

TRUMP: OK. I like that.


AVLON: Points for honesty.

Look, I think you see the extraordinary (INAUDIBLE) general being like, let's not go there, Mr. President, because, guess what, the cameras are on and that's classified.


You get a sense that this could be a president, who, if he's a security risk, is just one who stumbles into it through loose lips. But the implications are a lot more serious. And that's why there needs to be transparency. There needs to be accountability. This isn't about Adam Schiff getting answers. It's about the American people getting answers.

CAMEROTA: I mean, by the way, one last thing on this. The president uses an unsecure cell phone. Or at least he did until a year -- the last reporting we had on this was from Maggie Haberman, which was a year ago. He uses an unsecure cell phone.

AVLON: What could possibly go wrong? This is against the backdrop also of just normalization. We're getting used to behavior that is irresponsible, bordering on dangerous, or people showing outright contempt for Congress. And it's being baked in the cake. And that's a real danger. That's why there needs to be accountability and clear lines.

Someone acts with contempt, you hold them in contempt.

BERMAN: And one more thing, a foreign country knows what promise was made --


BERMAN: But the United States Congress, no.

CAMEROTA: All right --

BADE: And let's just -- just remember --

CAMEROTA: Quickly, Rachael. BADE: Just a couple of years ago, you know, just a couple of years ago we were writing about, you know, Hillary Clinton and her e-mail situation and how just some communications had some classified information on it. She wasn't sending that information to somebody abroad or a foreign official or anything like that. Here you have the president saying something that is classified to, you know, a -- potentially a foreign adversary, scaring the intelligence community so much that they're blowing the whistles internally. And, again, this normalization that we're starting to see with these sorts of things. You know, a Democrat said to me yesterday on The Hill, if another president had had one of these scandals, they would have been impeached by now.


CAMEROTA: I do remember when candidate Donald Trump seemed quite upset about what he was seeing with Hillary Clinton and times have changed. OK.

AVLON: Here we are.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, all, very much.

This morning, CNN is getting some chilling new details about an airline mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a plane in Miami before takeoff. Prosecutors now say that he has ties to ISIS.



CAMEROTA: An American Airlines mechanic accused of trying to sabotage a commercial plane may have ties to terror. Prosecutors say Ahmed Alani had ISIS propaganda on his phone and recently told a fellow employee that he traveled to Iraq to visit his brother, who is a member of ISIS. A judge denied bail saying the mechanic may be, quote, sympathetic to terrorists. Officials say he tried to damage or disable the system on a plane that reports critical data like speed and pitch. The pilots safely aborted their takeoff when they noticed that system error.

BERMAN: Political uncertainty this morning in Israel. Local media has projected that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trailing his centrist rival, former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, by just one seat overnight. Netanyahu invited Gantz to join him in a rotating premiership deal, which has happened before, frankly, in Israel.

CAMEROTA: Interesting.

BERMAN: Gantz is expected to respond in the next 30 minutes.

CAMEROTA: All right, so a new poll is just out on the 2020 Democratic race. What it says about the top two challengers to frontrunner Joe Biden. We tell you about that, next.


CAMEROTA: A new national poll is reinforcing Joe Biden's strength at the top of the Democratic field. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are neck and neck for second place. But Joe Biden is at the top with 29 percent.

So joining us now is Jess McIntosh, CNN political commentator and former director of communications outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

OK, so this is a Fox poll just out. As we said, Joe Biden, 29 percent, Sanders and Warren at 18 and 16 respectively. The rest, 7 percent or lower.

What do you see?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I see a trend. I -- we've been saying all year that it is early. Iowa is still four and a half months away, which is several decades in the Trump political news cycle. But all we can manage right now are the trends. And there are a couple of very strong, clear trends that are reinforced by this poll. One is that Joe Biden seems to have a ceiling and the other is that there is momentum among -- around Elizabeth Warren. We have seen her climb the most out of anybody in the field in the last few months.

I think enthusiasm has more to do with electability than we are currently giving it credit for. Watching her get 20,000 people in Washington Square Park is exciting. And the fact that those people stay in line for four hours to get a selfie with her, that's the kind of energy you want to see around a nominee. That's what makes people feel safe about supporting a candidacy, when they realize that there's a lot of momentum around electing that person.

So I think as we start to talk about what does electability actually mean and who is an actually safe candidate, I think we want to see people really fired up to support someone because this is going to take a lot of work.

CAMEROTA: Here are the head-to-head matchups very quickly against President Trump at the moment. Biden, 52, to President Trump's 38. Sanders, 48, to President Trump's 40. Warren, 46, to President Trump's 40. Harris 42 to 40.

MCINTOSH: So they're all electable. You know, we spend a lot of time saying, who is electable and who isn't electable. Well, we see in poll after poll after poll that every one of the top tier Democratic candidates is capable of beating Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Biden's margin is twice what Elizabeth Warren's is.

MCINTOSH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's where I go back to, we are seeing that they can all prevail. It is really early. It seems that this has been the trend so far that Warren's gaining some ground.

You know, Bernie seems to be in a pretty solid second or third there. And Biden hasn't -- hasn't consolidated that support. He's still sitting with the same support that he had when he announced a year ago.

BERMAN: All right. I think the most interesting political story overnight is for Massachusetts. Of course I am from Massachusetts. But Joe Kennedy, the congressman, the young congressman, is going to challenge the incumbent Democratic Senator Ed Markey in a primary. There's very little difference on the issue. I mean, I can't really name any significant differences on the issues between Joe Kennedy and Ed Markey. What we are seeing here is a generational matchup. And I have heard from a lot of young Democrats around the country, they want to see this type of thing more. Why?

MCINTOSH: This doesn't make me super popular in the Democratic Party, but I like primaries in very blue seats. Like, if we are almost assured that we won't save the seat, that we'll keep the seat in Democratic hands, I think a primary makes candidates stronger.

Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy are both very strong progressives. It should be a conversation about ideas. It can be a place to have that generational conversation that we seem to be having all across the country in one -- so, like, when we're doing it the best, I think it is a race that makes an incumbent work harder for the votes that they want, get more creative in the face of really serious Republican obstruction in the Senate. It's not necessarily about what votes you take. It's about what kind of energy are you bringing to the office. What do you intend to do as we're living in really odd, political times right now.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, speaking of odd bedfellows, isn't it interesting that AOC and Senator Elizabeth Warren have endorsed Markey?

MCINTOSH: Well, some of that happened before Joe Kennedy got in the race.

CAMEROTA: So you're saying they would retract their endorsement and --

MCINTOSH: I -- no, and they've -- and they've made it clear that they won't.

I think that there's very little -- you know, Ed Markey's a good progressive. Progressives like Ed Markey. I think this is going to be a really fun conversation to watch. I'm excited that's happening.

BERMAN: May not be as fun for Ed Markey.

MCINTOSH: Might not.

BERMAN: All right, Jess, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Jess, thank you.

OK, a new firestorm over President Trump's communication with world leaders.

NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BERMAN: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

And we do begin with breaking news.