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Iranian Foreign Minister Threatens All-Out War If U.S. Or Saudis Launch Strikes; American Airlines Mechanic Accused Of Plane Sabotage May Have ISIS Ties; President Trump Communications With Foreign Leader Sparked Whistleblower Complaint. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 07:30   ET



OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: -- election within just a few months is already on the table. In fact, Israel's president said form a government as soon as possible or third elections are really a possibility, even though he'll try to do everything he can to prevent that.

The stakes are no doubt high for Netanyahu -- of course, his political future here. He believes he should be in charge of that government because even though he doesn't have the largest party, he already has some smaller right-wing and religious parties supporting him. So his argument is he's sitting on top of more seats.

Regardless, the political deadlock that has been in place now since the moment we saw the exit polls remains pretty certain to continue, at least at this point, with neither of these sides showing any sign of giving in to the other side.

Crucially, the party on the outside here -- that's a smaller party with eight seats, which is the kingmaker in these elections -- has not indicated what will happen as the pressure grows here from all the different parties here to try to make some kind of move as a specter.

Again, third elections become an even greater possibility. And think of how crazy that is, John. We're two days past the last election -- remember, I covered them very recently and stayed up very late -- and we're already talking about the possibility of more elections.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I'm old enough to remember the first round, which was only a few months ago, Oren, and now we're talking about number three. It may be that someone very well does give over the next few days, so stay on it for us. Thank you very much.

New this morning, Iran's foreign minister threatening all-out war if the United States or Saudi Arabia launches a military strike against Iran. This is part of a CNN exclusive. It comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack on Saudi oil facilities an act of war.

Beyond all the tough talk, the question is what will it take for Iran to get back to the negotiating table with the United States? CNN's Nick Paton Walsh spoke with Iran's foreign minister exclusively.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The things that the United States has accused Iran of so far, would, frankly -- they call it an act of war. They've said that you've fired missiles from the sovereign territory and the sovereign territory of another state.


WALSH: Understood. They've accused you of that none the same. These would normally, one might expect, result in some kind of military retaliation.

Do you believe Donald Trump is gun-shy?

ZARIF: No. I believe that he has been the subject of an attempt many times to drag the United States into a war and he has refused. And in spite of the fact that I disagree with many of his policies, I think this is a prudent decision. But it doesn't mean that somebody is gun- shy in order to avoid starting a war based on a lie.

WALSH: As you've said yourself, the risk, potentially, is all-out war if this escalated. So, under what circumstances -- President Trump has said that he might negotiate -- he vacillates some conditions. But under what circumstances would you or the government of Iran be willing to start negotiations again.

ZARIF: But we did not leave the negotiating table. There is a negotiating table that is there. The United State is welcome to come back to that negotiating table.

WALSH: What do they do to have to get back to that table?

ZARIF: Well, they have to respect their signature.

WALSH: So they have to go back into the nuclear deal --

ZARIF: But --

WALSH: -- to begin negotiating again?

ZARIF: Because leaving that nuclear deal was not a lawful act because that deal is not a deal between Iran and President Obama. It's not a deal between Iran and the United States. It's a Security Council resolution.

WALSH: In the immediate days ahead where you, yourself, say there is a risk of all-out war, what are you willing to do in terms of negotiation? What does the United States have to do to get to talk to Iran?

ZARIF: We're willing to talk to our neighbors.

WALSH: Your neighbors?


WALSH: Which means Iraq, Afghanistan?

ZARIF: Saudi Arabia --

WALSH: Right.

ZARIF: Emirates.

WALSH: But not to the United States directly?

ZARIF: We don't see any reason.

WALSH: OK -- apart from the fact that they've declared an act of war by you.

ZARIF: Well, it wasn't an act of war against the United States and it was, as I said, an agitation for war because it's based on a lie.

WALSH: If they dropped some sanctions would that encourage you to speak?


WALSH: So even if all sanctions are lifted tomorrow there would still be no negotiations?

ZARIF: If they lift the sanctions that they reimposed illegally, then that's a different situation.

WALSH: You would then talk?

ZARIF: Then we would consider it.

WALSH: Or would you do it because they would be going a very long mile to lift those sanctions?

ZARIF: Well, if they -- if they drop all the sanctions that they have imposed, then it's a different story.

WALSH: Donald Trump threatened, yesterday, substantial -- well, he said he would impose substantial new sanctions against Iran.

What is left in Iran for the United States to target? You, personally, have been sanctioned. What is left in Iran to be hit?

ZARIF: I don't know what. They've hit -- they've done whatever they could --


ZARIF: -- and they haven't been able to bring us to our knees.

WALSH: So it's an empty threat. ZARIF: I don't know. I don't -- I mean, I don't want to use that terminology. No, they can hurt the Iranian people. They have been hurting the Iranian people. They're lying if they tell you that food and medicine is not restricted.

WALSH: You are supposed to be going to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Have you received visas --


WALSH: -- and do you think you should travel?


ZARIF: Well, I think I have a right as the foreign minister of Iran. That is not my personal right, but Iran has a right to be represented at the United Nations during the General Assembly at whatever level it wants to be.

The United States has imposed restrictions on our staff in New York which are inhuman. They cannot even send their kids to school. They just denied waivers for our staff members to send their kids to school in New York. These are acts of childish animosity.

Now, they haven't issued visas for the advance team of our president and that makes it very difficult for him to go.

WALSH: Too late?

ZARIF: Well, I'm not saying too late but it's very near to being too late.

WALSH: Do you see any merit in going?

ZARIF: Well, I mean, I see no merit in going to the United States. But this is not the United States, this is the United Nations.

And I see a lot of merit to be there because we believe in multilateral diplomacy. We believe in multilateralism. We believe that this -- in this day and age you cannot resolve your problems unilaterally, even if you are the United States.

WALSH: There is sort of still this vague hope, it seems, in some American official minds that if you were in New York there might be a quiet sideline meeting. Some secret channel might be open that maybe the beginning of diplomacy might start.

ZARIF: We don't need secret channels.

WALSH: You can rule out any discussions on the sidelines with any American officials if you were in New York?


WALSH: Have there been any secret talks with the Trump administration since Donald Trump took office? ZARIF: No.


WALSH: So, very slim options there for diplomacy, frankly. I can't imagine Donald Trump hearing that and thinking he even wants to rejoin the terms of the nuclear deal and the top diplomat of Iran saying he's not even interested in -- New York -- have a quiet talk on the side.

Will he even get there? Well, he has just recently tweeted that it doesn't appear they've received their visas yet.

This is a man who -- and he also explained how he maybe, a long time ago, missed parts of the United States. He was briefly educated there in California. But he says what he misses most now from the United States is rationality -- rational decision-making.

So, a man there, I think, trying to suggest prudence should be the cautious way forwards, but also trying to defend Iran's position as vehemently as he can.

Back to you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nick Paton Walsh, really interesting to hear the perspective from that side of the story. Thank you very much.

So, President Trump intensifying his feud with California's governor over auto emission standards. They were put in place by Ronald Reagan.

John Avlon is next with our reality check.



BERMAN: Breaking news. More than seven million people in southeast Texas under a flood watch this morning as the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda inundate that area with heavy rain. Some cities have received nearly a foot of rain and another two to five inches is possible over the next few hours.

You can see cars already underwater. Rescues are underway at this hour. The storm could bring the heaviest rainfall to the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey.

CAMEROTA: An American Airlines mechanic is accused of trying to sabotage a commercial flight in Miami before take-off. Prosecutors say the mechanic had ISIS propaganda on his phone and recently told a fellow employee he traveled to Iraq to visit his brother who was a member of ISIS.

CNN's Brian Todd has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prosecutors dropped the bombshell in open court, telling a federal judge the 60-year-old airline mechanic had an ISIS video on his phone and had forwarded it to someone else. And, sent a message to an unnamed person asking Allah to use all his might and power against non-Muslims.

Prosecutors say Abdul-Majeed Maroud Ahmed Alani also visited Iraq this year and sent $700 to someone living there.

Alani, a mechanic for American Airlines, was arrested earlier this summer, accused of trying to sabotage a plane with 150 people on board. Authorities used surveillance video to identify Alani. Prosecutors accuse him of gluing foam into a tube which measures speed.

The pilots were rolling down the runway in Miami when they suddenly aborted take-off due to faulty readings. Experts say if it hadn't been caught it could have brought the plane down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to know how fast the plane is going to do a successful take-off. It's a very dangerous malfunction.

TODD (voice-over): Prosecutors also said they found an article about the deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia last year on Alani's phone. They say it referenced the same type of air data module system he is accused of sabotaging.

The federal government said that Alani had told coworkers his brother was a member of ISIS and he went to Iraq to see his brother. Prosecutors say Alani's roommate told them he went to Iraq because his brother had been kidnapped.

No terror-related charges have been filed. In court documents, prosecutors initially said he confessed to sabotage due to a pay dispute and wanted to get more overtime fixing the flaw he created. But analysts say investigators may now be looking into whether he was somehow radicalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've also seen these organizations be very creative and innovative, and we've seen more outsourcing. As they, themselves, cannot mount a 9/11-type operation, they essentially reach out to other people that can do things for them.

TODD (voice-over): Terrorist groups from al Qaeda to ISIS are known to be fixated on trying to bring down American planes, and the threat of a terrorist getting a job with an airline to pull off an inside job has always been a major security concern.

For example, the deadly Metrojet crash in Egypt in 2015, claimed by ISIS, might have been perpetrated by a mechanic, according to Reuters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They see airport insiders as potentially very helpful recruits in launching these kind of attacks and there's some track record of this.

[07:45:00] TODD (voice-over): An airline official tells CNN Alani was vetted before he was hired and nothing derogatory was found in his background check.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: A whole lot more to that story than we initially realized.

CAMEROTA: Just very, very scary, but thank goodness they caught that.


All right, this morning, the EPA is expected to formally revoke California's authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards. What's really going on here?

John Avlon with our reality check -- sir.


Don't pay attention to what he says, pay attention to what he does. That's become a mantra for many Trump supporters and I'm beginning to think they have a point.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I know more about the environment than most people. I want clean air, I want clean water.

Clean air and crystal clean water. That's what we want.

Remember this, I'm an environmentalist. I want crystal clean water. I want crystal clean air.


AVLON: That's what he says he wants but look at what he does because yesterday, on his way to L.A., President Trump announced via tweet that he's killing California's long-standing right to set its own emission standards for cars and trucks.

There are two epic hypocrisies at work here and one cold political reality.

First, federalism has always been a conservative article of faith. That's the idea that states should have the right to be as free from federal government as possible. But in Trumpland, principle apparently doesn't extend to the environment.

And it's especially odd because the California Air Resources Board, which sets these standards, was established by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967. At that time, Southern California was swamped with smog and auto emissions were the prime culprit. Guess what? The policies worked. So when President Trump touts

America's crystal clean air, it's because of the policies he's now trying to get rid of.

And this is just one example of 85 environmental rules the administration is going after. It includes letting companies off the hook from reporting methane leaks to repealing requirements to track some tailpipe emissions.

But on the flip side, it's also ironic to see liberals suddenly discover the wisdom of federalism. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading the liberal resistance against the Trump agenda. His state has filed 59 lawsuits against administration policies, from immigration to the environment.

Now, President Trump says he's acting on behalf of the auto industry and the consumer since companies won't have to pass on the cost of meeting stricter emission rules. But the auto industry hasn't been asking for this. And don't take my word for it.

Back in 2018, Bill Ford, of the car company that bears his name, said, "We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback."

So why is President Trump flying across the country to punch California in the face? Because he can.

Now, targeting the nation's largest state would normally be bad politics in a popular vote system but because of the Electoral College, Trump doesn't care about competing for votes there. He's never going to win it.

So he can afford to use the Golden State as an ATM for a couple of big-dollar fundraisers and then attack their policies, even if it means damaging the environment and increasing pollution on behalf of an industry that isn't asking for it.

So maybe we should listen to Trump supporters and look at what he does, rather than listen to what he says because when it comes to his promises of clean air, President Trump is all hot air.

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: Because he can.

CAMEROTA: And he did make a -- we should say those fundraisers in California did raise a lot of money.

BERMAN: Fifteen million dollars?


AVLON: Boatloads -- pant loads of cash from the president.

BERMAN: All right, John. Thank you very much. We're getting new information about a disturbing spike in anti- Semitism across the country. What is fueling the rise in attacks targeting Jewish communities? That's next.



BERMAN: This morning, new concern over a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes that have become more frequent, more brazen, and more violent in the last few months.

Here in New York City, attacks on Jews have spiked and one part of the Jewish community says they're even more a risk.

CNN's Jason Carroll here to explain -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is an issue that really runs deep in the Jewish community. Members of the Orthodox community say assaults on them are happening with alarming frequency.


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

In Santa Monica, swastikas and hate speech sprawled on a popular pedestrian bridge this past July. In Northern California, students and staff at this high school shocked to find anti-Semitic graffiti spray painted on walls two weeks ago. In Chicago, synagogues targeted this past May in a rash of suspected hate crimes.

The reports coming in across the country alarming, but one part of the Jewish community feeling more vulnerable.

RABBI AVRAHAM GOPIN, VICTIM OF SUSPECTED ANTI-SEMITIC HATE CRIME: He knocked me out two teeth. The nose is broken.

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

GOPIN: Well the hate -- he said, Jew, Jew. He said something in that direction. He was for certain looking to kill, no doubt about it.

CARROLL (voice-over): The New York City Police Department is also investigating another possible biased crime involving an Orthodox Jewish man who was assaulted outside this Brooklyn synagogue several days after Gopin was attacked.

[07:55:02] DERMOT SHEA, CHIEF OF DETECTIVES, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT: We've seen some mental illness. We've seen some people that are just -- that hate.

CARROLL (voice-over): This year, anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City up 63 percent compared to last year. While those numbers do not specify the type of Jewish person attacked, Orthodox members of the Jewish community say because they're more visible they are an easier target.

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

AKIVA PERL, ORTHODOX RESIDENT OF BROOKLYN, NY: I grew up in London, England and that's what it was back then, 50 years ago. Somehow, it's returning at someone.

CARROLL (on camera): And why do you think it's returning? What do you think is behind it?

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

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

CARROLL (on camera): You've got one of these mobile command centers right next to a synagogue.

BOB MOSKOWITZ, EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, FLATBUSH SHOMRIM: Correct, correct because it acts as a deterrent.

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

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

CARROLL (voice-over): City officials say they hear those concerns.

CHAIM DEUTSCH, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: We are taking this very seriously and I'm tackling this head-on because no one should have to change the way they dress, whether they wear a facial beard or they wear Hasidic garb or a yarmulke on their heads.

CARROLL (voice-over): The Anti-Defamation League says what is needed in a climate of intolerance is more education, especially about the Holocaust, and less rhetoric from elected officials.

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

CARROLL (voice-over): As for Akiva Perl, he offered this advice. PERL: Increasing in goodness and kindness to one another -- all walks of life. That increases in goodness and helps to cause a little light -- you know, elevates and illuminates all darkness.


CARROLL: And those that we talked to say what is also needed is a greater police presence in Orthodox communities. In New York City, the mayor has opened a hate-crime prevention office. That is something that certainly could help as well -- John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Really interesting story there, Jason. Words matter here. They absolutely matter.

All right, thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, breaking news. The mysterious promise President Trump made to a foreign leader that has alarmed the Intelligence Community. "NEW DAY" continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: All right, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 19th, 8:00 in the East and we do begin with that breaking news.

CNN has learned that President Trump had a communication with a foreign leader that was so troubling to one U.S. intelligence official that they filed a whistleblower complaint.

"The Washington Post" reports this involved a promise the president made to a foreign leader that raised, quote, "urgent concern" and prompted that official to report it.

It is not known who the whistleblower is or who the foreign leader is. The "Post" says White House records show President Trump spoke with at least five heads of state in the weeks before this complaint was filed, including Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

BERMAN: The Intelligence Community inspector general, a Trump appointee, determined the complaint was credible a matter of, quote, "urgent concern." That is a crucial legal threshold. Still, acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to turn the complaint over to Congress.

In the next hour, the inspector general will brief the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. Maguire has agreed to testifying in open session next week. Not clear how much they will be willing to say.

CAMEROTA: OK. Joining us now is Shane Harris. He is an intelligence and national security reporter for "The Washington Post." He co-wrote this article.

Shane, thanks so much for joining us to share your reporting. What do you know about this phone call and the promise that was made?

SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, what we know essentially is what we broke in the paper last night. This communication happens between the president and a foreign leader. We don't precisely know when and we don't know the leader nor how this individual found out about it.

Now there are things that we can deduce. We know that this person was and is an intelligence official who worked on the National Security Council staff for some period of time. People like that are often in a position to get readouts or summaries of conversations that the president has had with foreign leaders.

But whatever it was so alarmed this individual that he or she decided to go through the legal route for reporting it, and that's how we've arrived at that point where we are right now with the inspector general's investigation.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, to your point, this person was so concerned that he or she went to the inspector general. The inspector general then is obligated to alert the director of National Intelligence. Then what was supposed to happen because that's where this breaks down?

HARRIS: Traditionally, what.