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Man Accused Of Scouting U.S. Targets For Hezbollah; Interview With Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA); Whistleblower Complaint Held Back; "Washington Post" Reports, Trump's Promise To Foreign Leader So Troubling It Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; Rescues And Mandatory Evacuations Under Way As Flash Floods, 30-Plus Inches Of Rain Swamp Parts Of Texas; Israeli Leaders Warn Of Possible Third Election Amid Deadlock. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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 by the United States or Saudi Arabia. Tensions escalating, as President Trump weighs a military response to strikes on Saudi oil.

And Houston underwater. A flood emergency is growing more desperate, as Texans are trapped in homes and cars swamped by as much as 30 inches of rain. We're following the rescues, the evacuations and the danger tonight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the battle over a secret whistleblower complaint.

Our new reporting suggests the complaint raises serious concerns about multiple actions, including President Trump's communication with a foreign leader. Sources say the intel community's inspector general suggested to the House Intelligence Committee that the whistleblower was troubled by more than one event.

And we're also told the inspector general refused to reveal details about the complaint. CNN has learned the White House and the Justice Department have advised the nation's top intelligence agency to withhold the complaint from Congress.

This hour, I will talk with a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Denny Heck. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our National Correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, we know more about that whistleblower complaint tonight. But it's still deeply shrouded in secrecy.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And all of that secrecy because the White House and the Department of Justice have told the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, that this whistleblower complaint, despite coming from the intelligence community, cannot be revealed by him.

But the inspector general for the intelligence community found that this complaint was of such urgent concern that he decided to go directly to Congress. He told them what he could, including that this involves a sequence of events and alleged actions that took place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, a deadlock over an unseen, potentially explosive complaint by a member of the intelligence community about the president. It's being blocked from Congress.

Sources telling CNN that the White House and the Department of Justice told the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that the whistleblower's complaint was not theirs to release, arguing it's not an intelligence matter because it involves the executive branch, as in the president.

CNN has learned there were multiple acts that concerned the whistleblower that amounted to enough of a blockbuster claim that the intelligence community inspector general felt forced to go himself to Congress, giving closed-door testimony today.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We can't get an answer because the Department of Justice and the director of national will not authorize the I.G. to tell us. And the inspector general is doing his very best to be very careful that he follow the law.

MARQUARDT: In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, the inspector general writes that the complaint "not only falls within the DNI'S jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI responsibilities to the American people."

Today, when the I.G. spoke to the House Intelligence Committee, he didn't provide any details about the whistleblower's complaint, hamstrung, the chairman said, by someone trying to manipulate the system.

SCHIFF: That whole purpose is being frustrated here because the director of national intelligence has made the unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress.

MARQUARDT: The lawyer for acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire argues: "The complaint here involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interest of other stakeholders within the executive branch."

The whistleblower alleges that, in communications between a foreign leader and President Trump, according to "The Washington Post," had made that leader a promise. What he allegedly promised is unknown, as is who the foreign leader was.

The complaint was filed on August 12, just days before then Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, as well as his deputy, Sue Gordon, were pushed out by the president on August 15. It was also after the president had communicated with other world leaders in the previous weeks, including the president of Ukraine, the prime minister of Israel, the dictator of North Korea, the emir of Qatar, and the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And we have just learned that the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, will testify next week, not just to the House Intelligence Committee, but to the Senate Intel Committee as well, a closed session in the Senate, open in the House.

Now, Wolf, Maguire is really trying to walk a line here. On the one hand, he's got a very serious complaint from someone in his own intelligence community. On the other, it's about his boss, the president.

[18:05:01]

And Maguire is being told not to reveal anything for now about that complaint.

BLITZER: We will see what he says next week. That could be very significant.

Thanks very much, Alex Marquardt, reporting.

Let's get some more on how the White House is working to keep the whistleblower complaint a secret.

Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us right now.

Jim, this is yet another major controversy that President Trump is trying to brush aside.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The president says there's nothing to see here. But that begs the question, why is the Trump administration once again stonewalling Congress, this time over a whistleblower complaint that appears to involve multiple actions, some involving the president?

We're told the inspector general for the intelligence community expressed to lawmakers earlier today during that briefing 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 any time 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.

REP. 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, that needs to come to Congress.

ACOSTA: At a briefing with House lawmakers today, the intelligence 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 of next year.

ACOSTA: Democratic accusations of a cover-up come as the president is weighing whether to retaliate against Iran over 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.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful. We will have a lot of casualties. But we won't blink to defend our territory.

ACOSTA: 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, to fight to the last American. We're here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That's my mission set. That's what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: We should point out the president is engaged in stonewalling on another front, filing a lawsuit to black prosecutors in New York from obtaining his tax returns.

As for this whistleblower complaint that's being kept from Congress, we should note a senior administration official tells CNN that these leaks that have angered the president over the years, that, as those leaks angered the president, top officials in the West Wing began to limit who could listen in on these conversations, so as to tighten the number of people, the circle of people in the know on what the president was discussing with these foreign leaders.

That means, Wolf, there may be only a small number of people who know the details that are at issue here in this whistleblower complaint. The president tweeted earlier today that he is careful about what he says on such heavily populated calls, as he described them.

But, Wolf, from what we're understanding, talking to officials, at times, the White House has limited the number of people in the know on those calls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

We have more breaking news on new terrorism charges. A New Jersey man is accused of scouting potential attack targets for Hezbollah, a terror group closely aligned with Iran.

Let's bring in our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what more are you learning about this suspect and the charges that have now been leveled against him?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Wolf, this is a 42-year-old man who was living in Morristown, New Jersey.

It clearly appears that he's been on the radar, the FBI's radar, law enforcement radar, for quite some time. What we don't know is why they chose to move in and arrest him in July. He was arrested in July, all based on the fact that he's been part of Hezbollah, training with Hezbollah for about 22 years, according to the FBI, according to the Department of Justice in their complaint.

They say that he received training in firearms, bomb-making all sorts of training, in Lebanon for Hezbollah. He also targeted an Israeli spy, a person he believed to be an Israeli spy, in 2015.

[18:10:05]

What's interesting is that he was acting as a scout essentially for Hezbollah. Back in 2003, they say, he sent photos. He was here in New York, in Boston, sending photos of various targets in Boston, in Washington, D.C. Bridges here in New York were part of his target, also photos of 26 Federal Plaza, where the FBI is headquartered here in New York City, all sorts of photos that he was essentially collecting, and then sending to Hezbollah.

And the point, they're saying, is that this was all for anticipation of an attack, a possible attack, different targets that he was scouting for Hezbollah. They asked him to come here and take these photos, and all part of his training and his association with this group. He was conducting this surveillance.

Now, also, they say that he was arrested in July, but they have kept it secret. Most likely, I'm told that is because he's been cooperating with investigators. They have interviewed him some 11 times. A lot of the information that they have is based on those interviews.

But very rare, Wolf, I think important to know, that you have this kind of an arrest associated to someone with this terror group in the U.S. It's very rare, but, nonetheless, obviously a big concern.

And it also shows, Wolf, in the end, that authorities are going to continue to investigate this, no matter when someone may have been involved in this. They're going to keep an eye on this and investigate and eventually arrest the person.

Obviously, very concerning for authorities. They just today released these charges. And he's continuing, it's believed, to cooperate with investigators.

BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. has branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization for many, many years.

Shimon Prokupecz, I know you're working your sources. We will get more information. Thank you for.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. That was briefed on the secret whistleblower complaint earlier in the day.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And I know you heard directly from the intelligence community's inspector general, all behind closed doors. We know that he described this complaint as a sequence of events.

And I know you can't discuss classified information, but what can you tell us about what you learned?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Well, first of all, he didn't address us or in any way inform us as to the substance of that complaint. He didn't, and he shouldn't have, because it would have been a violation of his oath of office.

But here's what we learned, more importantly. America is less safe tonight if this precedent is allowed to stand.

Let's back up, Wolf, and take a little bit of a historical context here. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act was enacted in '98, updated in 2010. And it was adopted for one purpose. And that was to provide whistleblowers who had credible evidence of serious abuses or violations protection if they were to come forward. That's its purpose, to provide them with that protection.

And as a matter of just common sense, what the acting ODNI has ruled obviously violates common sense, because if the subject of a complaint is allowed to quash it, then the whistleblower is not going to receive any protection.

So that makes it less likely that whistleblowers are going to come forward, and then, therefore, we're all safe.

But, even more perversely, this could create, unfortunately, an incentive for somebody who has evidence of wrongdoing to make that known to the public. If they don't think they can be protected through the internal channels, in accordance with the law, then they may, a la Edward Snowden, just go public with it, and thusly may compromise methods and procedures.

So we're less safe on several levels if this precedent has been allowed to stand.

BLITZER: In this four-page, single-spaced letter, the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, strongly rejects the White House and the Justice Department rationale for refusing to hand over this complaint to Congress.

So what does that tell you?

HECK: That it was a mini act of a profile in courage, frankly, that Inspector General Atkinson would be willing to reduce the writing that he was at impasse with the acting ODNI and set forth why it is that he thought the ODNI's decision, which, in our opinion, clearly violates unambiguous black letter of the law.

The role of the ODNI is that of a clerk, ministerial. Their obligation under the law is to advance that complaint to Congress and to the Intelligence Committees.

And, as a matter of fact, Wolf, every director of national intelligence has done that, even when it did not meet the threshold of being credible evidence of an urgent concern.

And, of course, that's what the inspector general, Atkinson, deemed in this case, that it was credible and that it was urgent, which means that it was a serious violation.

BLITZER: And Michael Atkinson, the inspector general, he's a Trump administration appointee.

[18:15:00]

Do you believe, Congressman that the Trump administration is now breaking the law?

HECK: Sure, but you could have invited me on your program any number of times over the last two years and 10 months, and I probably could have cited a recent example of that.

BLITZER: So what are you going to do about it?

HECK: So, we will be having, as you know, the ODNI into the Intelligence Committee next week, as will the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We will see if that is an opportunity for him to change his mind or change his heart or move the chains down the field, as it were. Short of that, we are seeking remedies. I would say we would litigate this, but the truth of the matter is, because it has been deemed urgent by the inspector general, I think we will be seeking an urgent legal remedy, which would be a little bit more accelerated than that from which we normally pursue in the courts.

BLITZER: Can you share with us some thoughts on -- you spent, obviously behind closed doors, quite a bit of time with the inspector general today.

Tell us about his demeanor. Was he angry? Was he frustrated? What can you tell us about the way he was responding to your questions?

HECK: He was a professional, Wolf.

BLITZER: And was he angry?

HECK: He was a professional who was putting the interests of his country and the rule of law first and foremost in his very considerable responsibilities in his job.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that the complaints stemmed from a so-called promise President Trump made in a phone call with a foreign leader. How concerning is that to you?

HECK: So, I'm not going to speculate as all -- at all as to what the substance of this may have been or who it may have involved.

Obviously, there are a couple of print press reports as to who that might have been. And that's important, and, hopefully, that we will learn that and learn that soon.

But again, I want to tell you, Wolf, if I think it's secondary, to the willful violation of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act, which keeps us all safe by protecting whistleblowers and discouraging any consideration of releasing information to the public, if it has not yet -- or if it has not first gone through appropriate channels.

BLITZER: How worried are you that this whistleblower will face retaliation now as a result of this uproar that has developed?

HECK: Well, in effect, he already has faced retaliation, hasn't he?

Because the complaint that he filed, in accordance with the law, and with the full understanding of what the law was, was quashed, or at least it's been quashed thus far. And so, yes, of course I'm concerned for him or her, whomever it may be, just as I am concerned about the content of it.

But I'm concerned about, again, the underlying law. This law needs to be safeguarded. This law needs to be upheld, frankly, so that we can all be safer.

BLITZER: Yes, the inspector general, by the way, Michael Atkinson, suggested to the committee today that it's a him, not a her.

Obviously, we have no idea who this person is.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he clearly was talking -- he was clearly talking about he.

(CROSSTALK)

HECK: It may have been a deflection, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, you never know. All right. I will take his word for it. Michael Atkinson sounds like a very respectable kind of guy.

Hey, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Democratic lawmakers vent their frustration at the acting DNI's refusal to hand over a whistleblower complaint about President Trump. Do they have any recourse?

And another vaping-related death has just been announced, as the number of illnesses across the United States is soaring.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:13]

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, new information about the secret whistleblower complaint being withheld from Congress.

Sources say the intel communities' inspector general suggested to lawmakers that the whistleblower raised serious concerns about multiple acts.

CNN has separately confirmed that the complaint involves President Trump and specifically cites his communication with a foreign leader. "The Washington Post" reports that Mr. Trump made a promise during that exchange.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts.

And, Susan Hennessey, you used to work in the intelligence community. The inspector general apparently didn't disclose a lot of specifics today when he briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. But in a letter that was released, four-page, single-spaced letter, he

writes this to the committee: "I nevertheless respectfully disagree with that determination, particularly the 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 to be transmitted to the congressional Intelligence Committees."

This guy, Atkinson, he's a Trump administration appointee. So what -- this refusal -- this rejection of what the Department of Justice says and the acting DNI says, this is a big deal.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.

So the fact that it's a Trump political appointee shows that this is not the deep state bureaucracy acting against the president. This is one of the president's own political appointees. That's really significant that the inspector general is not backing down.

He's sticking to his guns. He's saying he believes that this falls within the statutory requirement. The reason why that's important is because the law says that the inspector general gets to make the determination of whether or not this is an urgent concern within the meaning of the law.

The DNI is a purely ministerial function. The report gets transmitted to him, and he shall, he is obligated to transmit that information to Congress. The DNI is not allowed to insert his own judgment.

[18:25:05]

The law doesn't say you shall send it to Congress, unless you don't agree with it, unless you really, really don't want to, unless DOJ asserts this privilege claim. It says it shall be transmitted.

And so I think one thing that is significant to sort of understand here is that what the White House is arguing is essentially that you cannot blow the whistle on the president, that no matter what an intelligence community member might have heard the president say or promise in a phone call, the nature of executive privilege is such that that person cannot tell Congress in a classified facility, in a space in which that information would be protected.

And so, really, we are talking about an assertion of executive power that is beyond even what we would have seen Richard Nixon sort of assert. It is just an astonishing claim.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, CNN has learned that both the White House and the Department of Justice advised the acting director of national intelligence, DNI, that the complaint by this whistleblower should not be shared with Congress.

What's their reasoning?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they haven't announced their reasoning. I mean, all we know is the DOJ has objected to it.

But I think it's safe to assume it's based on Article 2 of the Constitution that defines the power of the executive branch, which includes foreign relations, dealings with foreign leaders.

And, again, I don't know this, for sure, but I think the claim is that interactions between the president and foreign heads of state are so much at the core of the president's powers under the Constitution, it's not subject to review or disclosure by either his subordinate within the executive branch or the legislative branch.

Now, all of that depends on what the facts are. And, of course, we don't know the facts. But I think that's got to be the general gist of the Department of Justice argument.

BLITZER: Laura, what avenues does the House Intelligence Committee have right now, assuming they don't get the information next week, when the acting DNI comes before the committee? What do they do?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Which may be a safe assumption.

And it's almost like that, in case of emergency, break glass, you find that nothing actually is there. We're kind of in an uncharted territory here, because, once again, we have Congress in a role of saying the separation of powers was supposed to be an agreed-upon universality here, and it no longer seems to apply.

What they can do is take their requests to the courts and say, we need to have the -- it compelled to give it to us.

Now, what helps that argument, of course, is you have this letter and all these supportive documents that say, listen, I disagree with this. I believe that it's urgent and actually does go into the bailiwick of the intelligence community. I have support -- it's not a judgment call. It's about a process that's already been in place to remove any sort of opinion or judgment call from it.

They could try to do that. It might be more protracted, but they could ask for it to be urgent, because, again, that is in the letter of the law as well, that if it is, in fact, urgent, you want to have the courts involved in some way.

But, again, we come back to the notion of separation of powers and the notion of where do we stand if Congress really doesn't have a meaty recourse? Can the president of the United States just simply say, on a whim, or his administration, no and thumb his nose continuously?

Even without knowing the content of it, to know that there is no process that could be respected in place to have the president of the United States have his power limited is terrifying.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Can I just add...

BLITZER: I want you to add something, Jeffrey, but let me read to you specifically -- it's a very sensitive point -- what the inspector general wrote to Congress, that the complaint, the whistleblower's complaint -- quote -- "not only falls within the DNI's jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI's responsibilities to the American people."

TOOBIN: And I think Laura is exactly right about the argument that the legislators will make.

One of their problems is that this statute, the law -- and I made a mistake about this on "NEW DAY," and I'm glad to be able to correct it. This law has an explicit provision in it that says, these decisions are not subject to judicial review, which I'm not sure every court would follow that, but I think it makes Congress' job even harder to persuade a court that the president's -- the executive branch is making a mistake here, because there is this unusual provision in the law itself.

BLITZER: How do you see this unfolding, Ryan?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I think that there's so much of a mystery here, because we don't know what the complaint is, right?

So if you are in the intelligence community, you obviously understand that the president has enormous latitude to talk to world leaders in all sorts of ways, to make promises, to make deals to run the country's foreign policy.

So the fact that this person came forward and decided, knowing that -- assuming this person is a responsible member of the intelligence community, the fact that this person came forward and decided that what the president said in this call was so beyond his Article 2 authority, which is enormous latitude, I mean, it's -- I don't want to be irresponsible in speculating, but it better be something big.

[18:30:00]

For someone to put together a whistleblower complaint and go to the DNI, it would have to be a very, very serious thing because we know that the president enormous latitude here.

COATES: That's why the I.G. has it written in though that they have to independently review. They can't just say, oh, is there a big issue, I'll take your word for it and escalate it up chain. There actually is a protocol in place. And because that was followed and that was confirmed independently, that's what makes this all the more alarming to people that it hasn't been followed.

Now, the American people are not guaranteed the information because of the whistleblower, but we're talking about Congress is not being guaranteed the information, and that's a problem.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: That said, one of the reasons you're having inspector general is to sound an alarm just like this, hey, there is something going on, to build political pressure. There is one other way that this might resolve. And that's that if this whistleblower were to directly to go to Congress, provide this information to a member of the gang of eight in a secured classified space in the United States Congress, it's very, very difficult to imagine what sort of substance of a complaint would cause or possibly constitute a criminal violation. That person would probably only face being fired. The same is true for the inspector general.

And so if this issue continues to build, one of those two individuals or someone else in the executive branch might decide enough is enough. It's not a crime for me to disclose this information in a limited way, and I think it's important enough that I'm going to take that step.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. We're following all the breaking news after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and we're following the news on the whistleblower complaint being withheld from Congress.

Ryan Lizza, we know that the president had several contacts in the weeks leading up to this complaint in mid-August by the whistleblower. There you see all those leaders from around the world, foreign leaders. The president either spoke with them or exchanged letters with them. We have no idea who this individual may have been.

LIZZA: We have no idea. And this is soused out because of these were publicly phone calls. Often, the White House does do at least some abbreviated read-out of who the president talks to or sometimes it leaks out, it could have been someone else. He has phone calls that are not publicly reported.

So we're playing bit of a detective game trying to narrow it down. But the truth is nobody knows what exactly this whistleblower was complaining about.

But I'll just go back to this point. The president has so much latitude that this had to have been something pretty serious to get a member of the intelligence community to use the Whistleblower Act on this.

We know presidents in the past. They can promise world leaders of all sorts of things, some things that are quite unsavory.

So this has to be something -- if we're to believe this person, it has to be something quite serious.

BLITZER: The president is saying in a tweet today, another fake news story here. It never ends. And then he concludes by saying, I would only do what is right any way and only do good for the USA. But there's been a history of some allegations of compromising intelligence. HENNESSEY: Well, certainly, and the president ends that tweet by saying, no problem, great. Then we're all in agreement. If you have issue, if you have not broken the law or abused the Constitution of the United States in those transcripts, in these calls with foreign leaders, then share that information with Congress. There is nothing that requires the president to assert executive privilege. He can waive it in a specific instance. It would waive executive privilege generally over all foreign calls with foreign leaders.

So I do think we have to be logical here. What exactly is the president hiding and why? If you had someone like Richard Burr, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, come out and say, hey, the president told me what was in this complaint. I actually reviewed it myself and I'm not really concerned that would take all of the air out of the balloon here. It would tamp down all of sort of the political rhetoric.

And so the idea that the president is deciding to fight this and attempting to not let Congress get this information, is it (INAUDIBLE) tell that there is something very serious.

BLITZER: Do you think we'll learn something next week when the acting DNI testifies?

COATES: I'm still waiting to find out what happened in Helsinki, Wolf. We still don't know that. We know that there were notes that were taken away. We know that the president has a tendency to do this sort of thing. And so I doubt we're going to have the clarity that we all seek.

But, frankly, and I'm not trying to be selfish or magnanimous here, I understand that the average citizen should know all the information here. But the notion that the member of the intelligence community in Congress would not have the information is, frankly, unforgivable. There is a separation of powers that relies on co-equal branches of government in a checks and balance system. So to have the American people everything we want to hear, perhaps there's a pass there.

But if Congress doesn't have the information, then we are all at a loss and we don't know whether the president of the United States has made a promise that Congress can now has to pay for with its appropriations or other means. So it's very concerning.

BLITZER: In the meantime, the mystery continues. Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following.

Horrific flooding in Houston. CNN is on the scene as the waters are rising and Texans are trapped.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight on a dangerous flash flooding emergency in Texas. Rescues are under way and some mandatory evacuations have been ordered in areas drenched by the remnants Tropical Storm Imelda. More than 30 inches of rain have fallen in some places.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now live from Beaumont, Texas. Ed, what are you seeing on the ground as the waters rise?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Scenes like this were playing out all over the highways of Southeast Texas, cars stranded in the flood waters.

[18:45:02]

And it's giving people an unwelcome flashback to the eerie and horrific days of Hurricane Harvey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tonight, a deluge in Texas. Forecasters are warning that what's left over from Tropical Depression Imelda is causing dangerous flash flooding.

Rain is inundating parts of southeast Texas with over two feet of water in half a day. Some areas have seen 35 inches since Tuesday. The National Guard is being sent in to help evacuate people from their homes. Conditions on highways are treacherous leaving some drivers stuck in their cars.

Houston's mayor is advising if you're safe where you are, stay there.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: If you leave a safe place and you get out on the road and you're putting yourself in a much more unsafe situation. So, stay put.

LAVANDERA: Residents who had to evacuate say the quick rising water took them by surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just rising and rising. It's been like this for hours. It was just time to go.

LAVANDERA: Towns northeast of Houston are seeing the most serious flooding. In Beaumont, police say they've received hundreds of calls for rescues. Animals are also being flooded out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have another one. Yes.

LAVANDERA: These ranchers risk their lives to save their horses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just the view from my second floor room of my hotel in Beaumont, Texas.

LAVANDERA: People staying in area hotels were wading through furniture in the lobby as water streams in through the front door.

In nearby Vidor, Texas, the first floor of this apartment complex was washed out. One resident filmed his neighbors trudging through the water to safer ground on the second floor.

MICHAEL STEPHENS, VIDOR RESIDENT: We have some people who are elderly and disabled that are still to be rescued (ph).

LAVANDERA: Many are comparing the sudden flooding from this storm to deadly Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which caused catastrophic damage to the same region of the state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so much worse than Harvey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, the good news is over the last few hours, there's been a break in the rain. That has given flood waters a chance to recede a little bit. But there is a chance of more rain later this evening, and that flood -- those flash flood warnings remain in effect throughout most of the evening in southeast Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera reporting for us -- thank you. We'll stay in touch.

Just ahead, political uncertainty and deadlock in Israel. Will it lead to an unprecedented third election and what could it mean for the United States and President Trump?

And breaking news on the outbreak of vaping-related illness. Another death just revealed.

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[18:52:36]

BLITZER: We are following political deadlock in Israel right now where officials are warning an unprecedented third election is possible after Tuesday's close and indecisive vote.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's in Jerusalem for us.

Oren, I understand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz -- they have been trying to form coalition governments and so far, falling short.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the situation now is no clearer than it was 48 hours ago and political deadlock remain essentially the name of the game here.

Benny Gantz declared victory today, saying it's becoming clear that he has the biggest party, but he's in no position to put together a coalition government of 61 seats. In that case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't quite declare victory, but he came close, saying he's united the ultra orthodox and religious Zionist parties behind him, so even if he doesn't have the biggest party, he has the biggest unified group of parties. So, he says he should be the next prime minister.

But, again, he doesn't have a path of victory either. In that situation, both of these leaders, Gantz and Netanyahu, have called for a unity government with each other's parties, but not necessarily with each other as individual leaders, and that's where this gets more complicated than it's already been, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very complicated, I must say.

How does this all impact President Trump and his relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, in what Trump has called the ultimate deal, some sort of Middle East peace deal?

LIEBERMANN: Well, Trump may already be distancing himself. He says the U.S. relationship is with Israel, not with any particular leader, and that certainly isn't what Netanyahu wants to hear after cultivating the relationship with Trump over the past three years or so.

As for the peace plan -- well, Trump's special envoy Jason Greenblatt is on his way to the region. He may meet both leaders, but Netanyahu is in charge of religious Zionists now who don't want to make any concessions to the Palestinians and Gantz, if he meets with Greenblatt, will be getting his first look at the administration's efforts. So, who knows where two years of effort on that peace plan stand right now?

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, other another death linked to vaping as dozens more get sick and a criminal investigation is launched.

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[18:59:20]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. An eighth death linked to the use of e-cigarettes was just confirmed here in the United States as more Americans are getting sick from vaping. The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, reporting an additional 150 cases of lung injury linked to vaping in just one week, bringing the total now to 530. Most of the patients are men and more than half are under 25 years old.

Health officials say they're working urgently to learn exactly which products or substances are making people sick. The Food and Drug Administration revealing it has launched a criminal investigation into the chain of e-cigarette suppliers.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. And tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.