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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iranian Foreign Minister Warns All-Out War If His Country is Attacked by U.S. or Saudi Arabia; Widespread Flooding, Urgent Rescues as Remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda Drench Southeast Texas; Tense Confrontation at Sea Between Russia and North Korea; White House Involved in Withholding Trump Complaint; New Jersey Man Facing Terrorism Charges as Alleged Hezbollah Scout; Interview with Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), Intelligence Committee, on Whistleblower Issue. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. We actually read your tweets. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news, intelligence impasse: CNN has learned that the intelligence inspector general suggested to lawmakers that the whistleblower complaint about President Trump that's being withheld from them raises concern about multiple actions, possibly by multiple people.

Terror scout arrest? Multiple charges against a New Jersey man who prosecutors say scoped out potential U.S. targets for an attack by the Islamist militant group Hezbollah.

"We won't blink." In an exclusive interview with CNN, Iran's foreign minister warns of all-out war if the U.S. or Saudi Arabia strike his country in retaliation for the attack on a major Saudi oil facility.

And flooding emergency: millions of people in southeast Texas are warned to stay indoors as the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda drop more than 2 feet of rain in some areas with the threat of more to come.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including new details of the whistleblower complaint about President Trump at the center of a major standoff between House Democrats and the Director of National Intelligence.

Sources now tell CNN that in a briefing today the intelligence inspector general, who deemed the complaint urgent, suggested to lawmakers that the whistleblower had concerns about multiple actions.

Also breaking right now, a New Jersey man facing terrorism charges for allegedly scouting possible U.S. targets for attack by the Islamist Iranian-backed militant group, Hezbollah.

We'll talk about all the breaking news and much more with Congresswoman Val Demings of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, congressional Democrats, they want answers about this whistleblower complaint about the president but they're not getting much.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. A lot of questions after today's closed door briefing with the intelligence community's inspector general.

We're told by multiple sources who were in that briefing that he referred to, quote, "multiple" -- a sequence of events and alleged actions that took place, suggesting that there could be more than one action at the heart of this whistleblower complaint.

Now the inspector general was very careful not to say that the president was behind any of these actions. But we have reported separately, confirming with "The Washington Post," reported that the president's phone call with a foreign leader, communication with a foreign leader, was what drove, in part, what the whistleblower had concerns about, with "The Post" saying the president had made a promise to this foreign leader.

But still today lawmakers have a lot of questions that they're asking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight CNN has learned the White House and Justice Department have taken steps to prevent Congress from getting its hands on a whistleblower complaint about the president, a decision the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, made in a discussion with the White House counsel's office and Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Today, the intelligence community's inspector general, Mike Atkinson, was not allowed to share details about the complaint to the House Intelligence Committee because he had not been authorized by Maguire's office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Why were you not able to get an answer today about whether or not the White House intervened and why were you not able to get an answer about the substance of the complaint?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We can't get an answer because the Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence will not authorize the IG to tell us. And the inspector general is doing his very best, being very careful that he follow the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU (voice-over): The controversy has gathered new steam after a "Washington Post" report that an official in the American intelligence community was so bothered by a promise Trump made to a foreign leader that a formal whistleblower complaint was filed. Who that foreign leader is remains a mystery.

But in the weeks prior to the complaint's filing on August 12th, White House records showed Trump had spoken to or interacted with multiple foreign leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

After reviewing the complaint, the international community's inspector general deemed it credible and a matter of urgent concern, something that is legally required to be turned over to congressional Oversight Committees.

But the DNI said the complaint does not meet the definition of urgent concern. And he could not appear before the committee today because he is not available on such short notice.

And because the complaint was not turned over to Congress, the inspector general said he was not legally allowed to divulge any details to lawmakers.

[17:05:00]

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Look, all I can say in one line is Mr. Barr and the Department of Justice's job, in their mind, is to protect the president. And it doesn't matter that violates the laws.

RAJU: Do you feel satisfied from this briefing?

Because we understand you weren't able to learn about the substance of the complaint.

QUIGLEY: There's a lot more we have to learn.

RAJU (voice-over): In the letter released by the committee today, the inspector general himself indicated he respectfully disagrees with the administration's determination, that the complaint should not be provided to Congress, prompting even more questions from lawmakers.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT AND INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEES: Any outside intervention to basically change what should have been done, in my opinion, is illegal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now expect the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joe Maguire, to get a grilling next week when he appears in an open session before the House Intelligence Committee. But Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, suggested that if this is not resolved, this could end up in court.

So this could drag on for some time and Schiff saying that he hopes the courts recognize there's an urgency to the matter and force this complaint to be turned over. But this could be wrapped up in yet another court battle between the House Democrats and the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Lots of court battles already underway. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's get some more on all the breaking news. Joining us now, our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president insists there's nothing to see in this whistleblower complaint but the White House doesn't want lawmakers to see it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The Trump administration, simply put, is once again stonewalling Congress, this time over that whistleblower complaint that Manu was just talking about, that appears to involve multiple actions, some possibly involving the president.

We're told the inspector general for the intelligence community expressed to lawmakers during that briefing today that he did not agree with the decision by the Trump administration to withhold that information from Congress.

It all amounts to taking the whistle from the whistleblower.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is digging in his heels as the White House is blocking the release of a whistleblower complaint to Congress, apparently about a conversation Mr. Trump had with a foreign leader that raised red flags with an administration official.

President Trump insists there's nothing to see here, tweeting, "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.

"Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially heavily populated call?

"I would only do what is right anyway and only do good for the USA." Even though the president says he didn't do anything wrong, the

administration is refusing to hand the complaint over to Congress, frustrating Democrats.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): You need to have people who can come forward, their story can be heard. They need to be protected. And if you're dealing with something of urgent concern, now that needs to come to Congress.

ACOSTA (voice-over): At a briefing with House lawmakers today, the international community's inspector general, who indicated the whistleblower is male, said he disagreed with the administration's decision to withhold the information, citing a Justice Department opinion that the complaint falls outside the jurisdiction of the Director of National Intelligence and citing privileges asserted by the White House.

Democrats are worried that if the matter ends up in court, the complaint will never be made public.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): They may feel that, hey, we can delay. We can fight this out in the courts for a year. We can fight it out beyond the election in November next year.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democratic accusations of a cover-up come as President Trump is weighing whether to retaliate against Iran against an alleged strike on a Saudi Arabian oil facility. Iran's foreign minister told CNN his country will wage war if the U.S. decides to take military action.

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: 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.

ACOSTA (voice-over): After describing the attack in Saudi Arabia as an act of war, secretary of state Mike Pompeo stressed he's trying to find a diplomatic solution.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I was here in an act of diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American. We're here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution. At least that's my mission set, what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president is engaged in stonewalling on another front, filing a lawsuit to block prosecutors in New York from obtaining his tax returns. As for the whistleblower complaint that's being kept from Congress, a senior administration official tells CNN, as the leaks from these calls have angered Trump, top officials in the West Wing began to limit who could listen in on these conversations so as to tighten the circle of people in the know in what the president has been discussing in some of these phone calls with foreign leaders. That means, Wolf, there may be only a small number of people who are

aware of the details that are contained in this whistleblower complaint. Lot of questions for the White House, not a lot of answers tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Important point indeed, all right, Jim Acosta, thank you.

The other breaking story we're following right now, multiple terror related charges filed against a New Jersey man, accused of helping Hezbollah look for potential U.S. terror targets.

[17:10:00]

BLITZER: Our national correspondent, Brynn Gingras, is working the story for us.

Brynn, I understand you have some new information.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. So his name is Alexei Saab, 42 year old, out of Morristown, New Jersey. This unsealing of the indictment, 33 pages, gives really just jaw-dropping description of this type of surveillance that he was doing on behalf, according to federal authorities, of this terrorist group, Hezbollah, who of course is an Iranian terror proxy group.

It's our understanding from authorities that he became a naturalized citizen back in 2008. However, they believe he had been working with the terrorist group for more than two decades, doing scouting really of three major cities, major sites within those cities -- in Boston, Fenway Park, also in Washington, D.C., the White House and in New York City, several locations like the U.N. building, the FBI headquarters here in New York City, Times Square, bridges and tunnels, nearly almost all of them, even reporting back information about those sites, about the structural weakness of some of these locations to, quote, "cause the most destruction."

So just incredible information that he was bleeding on behalf of this terrorist group, according to this complaint that was unsealed today. But authorities have had him in custody, we know from this complaint that they were actually interviewing him all the way back in March and search warrants were being conducted on his phone and other digital devices all the way back in April of last year.

So still getting lots of information. But this, we do believe, I should mention, Wolf, that there was no plot in place at any of these locations, really just doing the intel on behalf of this terrorist group.

He's now facing nine federal charges here in the Southern District of New York.

BLITZER: And for years, many years, the State Department has called Hezbollah a terrorist organization, cited it as a terrorist organization. Brynn Gingras, I know you're working the story and will get back to us with more information. Very disturbing development, indeed. Thank you. Let's get some more on all of these developments. Joining us now, Democratic congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, she's member of both the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committees.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: It's good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You were there in the room today behind closed doors when the inspector general of the intelligence community showed up. We now know he described this as a sequence of events that led to the whistleblower's complaint. So tell us what you can. I understand there's classified information.

What did you learn today?

DEMINGS: Wolf, as you well know, it's very limited information that we can share with you. But the inspector general was very clear on his urgency, if you will, to at least share with Congress that this complaint had come in, that he had investigated it and found it to be credible but also found it to be of an urgent nature.

And so, you know, he cooperated where he could but also indicated that there were efforts coming from the Director of National Intelligence that prevented him from actually sharing the particulars of the whistleblower complaint with us.

BLITZER: How concerned did he seem to you?

Because in a letter to the committee sent on Tuesday, the inspector general wrote that he and the acting Director of National Intelligence are at an impasse. Clearly, they disagree and that the inspector general disagrees with the administration's stance that this complaint is outside the scope of whistleblower laws.

How concerned did he appear to be to you?

DEMINGS: Well, I think, the fact that he felt the need to come in and at least make contact with the Intelligence Committee and give us information, as much information as he could about this, like I said, credible yet -- complaint of an urgent nature.

And the part we're really concerned about, as you know, our committee is charged with helping to keep our nation safe. And if there is an urgent issue that could possibly involve our national security, that's one that I just believe we really don't have time to -- or should not take the time, let me put it that way -- to let the courts resolve this in a usual fashion.

If the courts have to rule on whether the committee gets this information or not, we need it to be in an expeditious way.

BLITZER: So how would you describe his demeanor?

Was he angry, frustrated, upset? Because clearly the letter that he wrote to Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, and Devin Nunes, the ranking member, underscored that he totally disagrees with his boss, the Director of National Intelligence, as well as with the Justice Department opinion.

DEMINGS: Well, he is clearly an expert in his field, he's very familiar with the rules.

[17:15:00]

DEMINGS: And he certainly felt like what he had, the direction that he had been given, clearly deviated from normal policy and procedure.

So I think he was somewhat frustrated but somewhat baffled that, in this particular -- that this particular case was being handled the way it is, that he has been given the direction not to share the information with the Intelligence Committee, when the rules are pretty clear that the information would be shared.

And so I do believe he was frustrated but somewhat surprised, and just as we all are, trying to figure out why the information is not being shared and why they're not following the rules.

BLITZER: The rules are that you're supposed to share this information with certain members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. They're not doing it. A lot of experts say this is unprecedented.

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the international community, I should point out, is a Trump administration appointee himself but clearly he disagrees with this decision.

As you know "The Washington Post" is reporting that the complaints stem from one incident of a promise that President Trump made in a phone call with a foreign leader.

Did anything you heard today confirm those details?

DEMINGS: No. The inspector general was really very clear and very careful not to share any information that he had not been given instructions to share.

As you well know, Wolf, we've heard the word privilege a lot this week from both of my committees, in Judiciary as well as Intel. But he -- his answer to many of the questions, his answer centered around the word "privileged," that it might be privileged information.

That while he did not say it involved the administration, it certainly led me, at least, to believe that his instructions may have been coming from the administration.

BLITZER: And do you know if the whistleblower's complaint suggested there were multiple, multiple incidents involving what would raise so much concern to this whistleblower?

DEMINGS: No, there was no information that he would give. He would not give any specifics at all, not involving who was involved in the complaint, how many incidences or procedures or laws may have been violated. He would not give any of that at all.

But based on the investigation that he did, he was quite clear on his interpretation that it was credible and that it's of an urgent nature.

BLITZER: Yes, and in his letter, he made that abundantly clear as well. Congresswoman Val Demings, thanks so much for joining us.

DEMINGS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And stay with us. We have much more on the standoff pitting President Trump's top intelligence officials against congressional Democrats. We'll be right back.

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in the latest standoff between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats. Sources tell CNN the intelligence community's inspector general today would not give the House Intelligence Committee details about a whistleblower's complaint.

However, again, according to our sources, the inspector general suggested that the whistleblower had concerns about multiple actions. Let's bring in our experts to discuss.

Gloria, he appeared before the committee behind closed doors for I think almost two hours, disclosed very little specifics about what the whistleblower is complaining about.

Why?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he said he wasn't authorized to do so by his bosses, by the Director of National Intelligence. He made it very clear in a very strong letter that he wrote to Congress that his hands are tied and that his -- he said his unresolved differences with the acting DNI are affecting the execution of his important duties.

In other words, I cannot do my job because I am being told that what I actually want to tell you about is outside the intelligence activities that are governed by the laws governing whistleblowers and so I can't talk to you. I would like to. But the White House and the Department of Justice won't let me.

BLITZER: It's a detailed, very specific four-page, single-spaced letter.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: That Atkinson, the inspector general, wrote to the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee.

Bianna, let me read a sentence from that letter.

"I, nevertheless, respectfully disagreed with that determination, particularly Department of Justice's conclusion and the acting DNI's apparent agreement with the conclusion that the disclosure in this case does not concern an intelligence activity within the DNI's authority and that the disclosure, therefore, need not be transmitted to the congressional Intelligence Committees."

He's sending, in that one sentence, Bianna, a very powerful message.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, indeed, Wolf.

[17:25:00]

GOLODRYGA: I don't know that we've ever been in this type of situation in modern U.S. history. You've really got yourself a worst case scenario. Here is why.

The whistleblower has now found himself or herself to be in the situation where they did what they were told and thought they were supposed to do. And yet they have nowhere to go.

You have a situation where the Congress and the country doesn't know, necessarily, what the president may have said that had been so dire to a foreign leader and cause such alarm.

Then now you have, once again, created yet another rift between the president and his intelligence community, where the president feels he may not be able to trust them, that there are people out to get him.

Of course, when the president cannot trust his own intelligence community, that is detrimental to the entire country.

Having said all of that, I don't know how much of a surprise this really is, given the track record we've seen from this president, especially his interactions with authoritarian leaders.

Remember it was just over a year ago that "The New York Times" published that anonymous letter -- from who we still don't know -- from inside the Trump administration, warning about some of his actions.

We've seen statements from Jim Comey. We've seen statements from Andrew McCabe. There's a long list of people who have been alarmed by the actions of this president. So while all this may be unprecedented, I have to say it's not that shocking, given his track record.

BLITZER: It's interesting, David Swerdlick, that your outlet, "The Washington Post," is saying that the whistleblower's complaint centered around what was described as a promise that the president made to a foreign leader.

We did some checking of the contacts that the president had with various foreign leaders leading up to this mid-August complaint by the whistleblower. There, you see some of those individuals. It's -- potentially could be explosive.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It could be explosive. That's what we've reported. There's also some reporting out there, I think, from "The Times," that the whistleblower complaint doesn't relate to one specific call but maybe more than one call.

I don't want to speculate on which leader it was or what it was. But I think step one in this, Wolf, is, as everybody else is saying, that we're at a point now where you have the administration telling Congress it can't even evaluate the significance of this. It's one thing if the DNI's position is, this shouldn't come out in open session on TV.

But the position that the administration has taken, slow walking this so that even the Gang of Eight, the senior leaders in Congress or the Intelligence Committee can't even get the full story from the inspector general, is, I think, troubling and suggests that the administration doesn't want something to get out.

BLITZER: You spent your career, Phil, in the intelligence community, at the CIA, at the FBI. I'm really anxious to get your take.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I mean, you watch "Game of Thrones" on TV. I haven't but now I feel like in the past 24 hours we've lived it. Let me give you a take.

Once -- and I'm not sure of any side except maybe the White House is wrong here. The inspector general says I have got something that is so egregious I think I need to act on it, even if it includes activities of the White House.

And then you have the acting DNI looking at this, saying, that might be egregious activity but if it's White House personnel, they don't work for me. I'm supposed to report on people who work for me and activities that might be inappropriate among my employees.

Why am I responsible for reporting to Congress on somebody at the White House, who is not my employee?

I'm not sure anybody is wrong here. I think both may be right. The person who's in the middle, I think, is the president and I think it's going to come out.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: What about the whistleblower, though, I mean, the whistleblower, who did the right thing in seeing something that the whistleblower thought was egregious, reported it according to the law, did the right thing and now is kind of hanging out there?

MUDD: I think it's every whistleblower does that. But I think this has more to do with the president than the whistleblower. You have a president who does stuff that's unethical.

What's the right avenue to report it?

The intel guys know, the FBI guys know, the Congress knows there's no precedent.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLODRYGA: And Wolf, if I could just --

BLITZER: Yes.

GOLODRYGA: -- if I could just say, where are the Republicans on this?

The inspector general, this role has been created for a specific reason. And if we can't hear from them, they're apolitical for a reason, nonpartisan, then we've really got a broken system right now.

The Republicans had no problem hearing from the inspector general, the Justice Department had no problem releasing the report when it came to their thoughts on how Comey handled the Russia investigation.

Why can't we hear from the inspector general now?

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We have much more on all the breaking news coming up right after this.

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[17:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Before we continue our discussion with our political and counterterrorism experts, I want to play part of an exclusive interview in which a top Iranian official threatens all-out war if either the United States or Saudi Arabia attack Iran in retaliation for last weekend's drone and missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER OF IRAN: An all-out war.

WALSH: You make a serious statement there, sir.

[17:34:51]

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, will have a lot of casualties, but we won't blink to defend our territory. 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 campaign 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 it serves your interest. It doesn't even serve their interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring back our analysts and our experts. And, Gloria, all-out war, he threatens, if there's a retaliatory strike, let's say, against an Iranian oil facility by either Saudi Arabia or the United States.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and, first of all, he denied having anything to do with these strikes, period, end of sentence. He says, why would you -- why would you -- you'd be attacking us for a false reason? And that's not a surprise, is it, Wolf, that he would -- that he would say that?

I think the President is very well aware of that. His national security team is very well aware of that. And that's why Pompeo is over there. That's why Pompeo and the President are announcing more sanctions against Iran even though there are already strong sanctions against Iran.

And, you know, the question is, what, if anything, does the administration do next? And what do the Saudis do? What are the conversations that Pompeo is having with MBS? We don't know.

BLITZER: How do you think the intelligence community is reacting to this?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, pretty simple. I mean, you can hope that what he said never comes to pass. I assume everybody does. But as I learned in intel, hope is not a plan. You have to look at somebody and say there may be a presumption that what he is saying is true, that the Iranians are actually going to go down a path with us, at least a conflict.

So every minute of every day, I want to see every small boat in terms of the Iranian Navy in the Arabian Gulf surveilled. I want to look at that through surveillance. I want to look at every intercepted communication. I want to watch logistic sites to see if any military is moving elsewhere in Iran. I want to watch missile sites inland.

You have got to assume, regardless of whether you hope what he says won't come to pass, that something's going to happen. You got to surveil.

BLITZER: You've seen the statements, Bianna, from some of the President's close friends and supporters that the lack of action on the part of the United States is showing weakness and encouraging the Iranians.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Like Senator Graham. Look, the first rule here is that you have to know your opponent. And it's clear that the President did not know who he was dealing with in the sense that Iran has been around and this regime has been around since 1979 for a reason.

They are practical, they will be squeezed to the end, and they will fight. And look at the war that they -- the bloody war that they had with Iraq where they lost hundreds of thousands of their own. So they realized that they would go to war via proxies which they use as plausible deniability.

So you heard his statement saying that the -- this did not come -- the launch did not come from us. Clearly, our intelligence suggests otherwise. But the biggest concern here is any sort of miscalculation. We have not had any diplomatic relations with this country in decades, so any misfire on either side -- clearly, the President doesn't want to go to war, but any misfire could be a very dangerous step towards one.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more news we're following, including some very dangerous flash floods and urgent rescues as the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda drench Houston and southeast Texas. Stand by for the updated forecast.

[17:39:08]

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BLITZER: We're following breaking news in Texas. Areas around Houston and Beaumont are underwater right now because of heavy rain caused by the slow-moving remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda. Authorities say hundreds of rescue calls have been coming in.

Let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, when will the rain stop?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's supposed to finally wrap up this evening, but it's been relentless all day. Some areas got more than 35 inches of rain. In fact, outside of Winnie -- between Winnie and Beaumont received more than 40 inches of rain.

And you can see all of these areas shaded in the white received anywhere from, say, 35 to 40 inches of rain. Actually, unbelievable. That's right along I-10. So portions of I-10 have been shut down today.

Also, around Houston, we've received anywhere from 20, 25 inches of rain. The rain is finally starting to taper off to the south, so areas to the south are now getting downpours where we have seen relentless rain throughout the day. That's starting to slack up a little bit, so the water is finally able to recede.

But it's going to take a while for all this water to go down because it came up so fast and so much of it. But you can see, it just sort of fizzles out as we go through the next couple of hours. This is the live radar, and you can see the flash flood warnings still in place all along I-10, between Houston and Beaumont, all the way to the Louisiana state line.

[17:45:01]

And then you can see, as we go forward in time, as we get around the 10:00 hour, things really start to get better between Houston and Lake Charles. But points to the west of Houston will have very heavy downpours as we go through the overnight hours.

But, Wolf, it was a bit of a day with all of those rescues. The water is still rising at some portions around Houston, so this is far from over.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray, thanks for that update.

Coming up, rising tensions after a violent confrontation at sea involving the Russians and the North Koreans. So what's behind the sudden trouble?

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[17:50:28]

BLITZER: We're learning new details tonight of a confrontation at sea between Russia and North Korea.

CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us. Brian, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, they were all smiles at their summit earlier in the year, but I understand there's actually quite a bit of tension between these two countries.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of tension, Wolf. And tonight, the Russians are holding more than 160 North Korean fishermen in custody. This was, by the Russian account, a very violent confrontation at sea which is sure to anger the man in the Kremlin.

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TODD (voice-over): What you're seeing is rare footage of a real-life warning shot. A tense confrontation at sea. Not between the U.S. and an enemy but between two of America's biggest adversaries.

The footage is from a Russian security vessel approaching what the Russians say is one of 13 North Korean fishing boats they stopped. Russia's security service, FSB, says the North Koreans were caught poaching in Russia's fishing zone off its east coast.

Tonight, Vladimir Putin's government is holding the fishermen, accusing them of attacking and wounding four Russians. DEAN CHENG, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think

what makes this potentially unprecedented is there haven't been many reports of North Koreans wounding Russian coastguardsmen.

TODD (voice-over): The Russians say they've taken more than 160 North Korean crew members into custody. Analysts say the confrontation has likely angered Vladimir Putin who, just a few months ago, hosted Kim Jong-un at a summit in Vladivostok, the two Cold War allies pledging their affection for one another.

KIM JONG-UN, SUPREME LEADER OF NORTH KOREA (through translator): I came to Russia with the warm feelings of our people.

TODD (voice-over): There was even talk between the two leaders of Putin becoming an intermediary between Kim and President Trump. But tonight, experts say the incident at sea could be a big set back from the young dictator in Pyongyang.

CHENG: Losing Putin would force North Korea really to rely only on China. And that's a situation that, at the end of the day, makes North Korea really even more isolated.

TODD (voice-over): The confrontation with the Russians also reveals the desperate plight of North Korean fishermen. U.N. sanctions over Kim's nuclear program prohibit the regime from selling seafood to other countries, so experts say Kim's government pressures fishermen to sell their catch on the black market.

MARCUS NOLAND, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF STUDIES, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: They're having to rendezvous with foreign vessels in international waters and essentially sell their catches on the high seas so it can be relabeled as Japanese or Chinese or Singaporean fish.

TODD (voice-over): That means going further and further out to sea in rickety, poorly equipped boats. In recent years, some fishing boats, so-called ghost ships, suspected to be North Korean vessels have washed up on Japanese shores with only human skeletons on board.

North Korean fishermen are more than willing to risk starvation and death, analysts say, because of the almost unattainable quotas they're given by Kim's regime.

TODD (on camera): How much pressure were these fishermen would've been under to produce more, more, more?

ROBERT KING, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREAN HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES: Oh, the pressure is incredible in terms of that. There's an out -- if they're not -- if they don't catch what they're supposed to, if they're behind, if they lose control of the boat, they will be punished.

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TODD: Analysts say North Korean fishermen grow more desperate by the day, and we can expect more confrontations like this on the high seas. They say that might especially occur next year at some point during the competitive crab fishing season. The North Koreans are not allowed to reap that harvest because of sanctions, Wolf. They're going to be more desperate.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Brian. The North Korean fishermen in custody, could some of them ask for asylum in Russia?

TODD: They could, Wolf, but many of them might not do that. When some North Korean fishing boats washed ashore in Japan in recent years, some of the surviving fishermen asked to be sent back to North Korea.

Analysts say some of them likely feel that because they don't speak the language in Japan or Russia, they would struggle living in those places. And, of course, other fishermen would fear retaliation by Kim Jong-un's regime if they defected.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.

There's breaking news coming up next. New details of the whistleblower complaint about President Trump at the center of a standoff between the Director of National Intelligence and the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

And we're also learning more right now about the New Jersey man now charged with scouting possible terror targets for Hezbollah.

[17:54:44]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Withheld from Congress. The standoff over a whistleblower complaint explodes as sources reveal it involves President Trump and that the White House is helping to keep it secret. Tonight, we're learning the complaint raises concerns about multiple acts.

[17:59:51]

Terror operative bust? The Feds just unveiled charges against a man accused of scouting locations for terror attacks in New York and other cities. Authorities say he was working for a deadly terrorist group closely tied to Iran.

All-out war. That's what Iran's Foreign Minister is now threatening if his country is attacked --