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John Kirby is Interviewed about the Freed Americans from Iran; Stellantis to Meet with UAW; House GOP Faces Pushback on Funding Bill. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 09:30   ET



GENE ROSSI, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA: The senate pro-temp of the senate, it starts off with a big lie. And the big lie is this, the DOJ is investigating voter fraud. That was a total, complete, fabricated lie.


ROSSI: And the other thing in the letter is, the letter says that the states have plenary, full, complete role over elections. Why is the DOJ putting their fingers in the pot that's outside your lane, Mr. Clark? You were not protected by the supremacy clause.

SIDNER: Those are all really interesting points that now they're trying to use sort of the supremacy clause in a different way in the case.

Let me ask you now a question about Hunter Biden. He has been charged with other things after his case was thrown out. And now he is suing the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that the agency illegally released his tax information and that it failed to really protect his private records. Does he have a case?

ROSSI: Well, under Title 26, 81 - Title 26-6103, it's a geek (ph) section, I did this for 11 years, you are protected from disclosure of your returns. However, if there is an investigation or there's a proceeding involving your returns, the DOJ and the IRS can use it to investigate or to put forth a position. I don't know if that case has a lot of merit.

SIDNER: Gene Rossi, I love that you are giving us all literally the itsy bitsy details of the case because you know what the codes are in the law. And, obviously, you've been a good attorney throughout. Thank you so much for coming on and giving us your analysis of all the things.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sara, the breaking news this morning, five Americans are on their way home after being imprisoned in Iran. John Kirby, from the National Security Council, will be with us live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now a plane carrying five Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for years is in the air and on its way to Qatar, set to land in Qatar soon. A huge moment that comes after months and months of intensive negotiations by the Biden administration and years of pleading by the families of these U.S. citizens, of course not without controversy.

Joining us right now to discuss is White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby.

John, thank you very much for coming in on what is potentially a momentous day.


BOLDUAN: Do you -- they're not out - they're not out of the air space yet, is what we would assume. We know they're going to -- expected to land in Qatar soon. But do you see this as a done deal, what we're looking at today?

KIRBY: I - you know, none of us are going to breathe completely easy, Kate, until we have them back on U.S. soil and with their families. The job is not done until they're reunited.

That said, this is a significant development today. They are in the air. They are on their way to Qatar. We expect them to land in about an hour or so and then they'll be making their way back to the United States after that. So, a big day, big development, and we're, obviously, all very, very happy.

BOLDUAN: They're still in the custody of Iran. So, I don't assume you've had eyes and ears on them. Of course, one wonders what's the first thing, their mood, their feeling, anything they've said so far. We don't have any window into that.

KIRBY: Don't have any window yet in terms of their attitudes.


KIRBY: Now, they're on the plane and they're - and, as I said, they've left Tehran. So, they're not in Iranian custody as we speak on the plane, but we haven't gotten a sense yet of how they're doing. I can only imagine that they all must be very relieved.

BOLDUAN: Obviously.

Big questions come with this. Why now? What was the thing that pushed this over the finish line?

KIRBY: There wasn't a why now. It was really, as you mentioned in the opening, the result of months and months of hard, hard work by our diplomats, particularly at the State Department, into bringing this about. And it just took this long to kind of get the wheels in motion. But the release itself wasn't timed to any one particular date or week or anything like that.

BOLDUAN: The sanctions -- we just learned of new sanction ss again Iran's military -- minister of intelligence and the former Iranian president.

KIRBY: Right.

BOLDUAN: Are these sanctions connected to this release, to their - them being wrongfully detained?

KIRBY: They are connected to the wrongful detention of American citizens in Iran. And, obviously -

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

KIRBY: That would apply to these five folks and, you know, others that have been wrongfully detained in Iran.

BOLDUAN: Why announce them now? Does -- is there any concern that this could upset what is not yet complete? They're not in the clear quite yet. So, getting -- hearing this announcement, should anyone be concerned that this could throw things up in the air?

KIRBY: We don't believe that that will be the case. That these sanctions are going to somehow mess up this particular deal.


KIRBY: All this was carefully choreographed.

And I think it sends a strong signal to Tehran that we take this very seriously, and we will continue to take it seriously and hold Iran accountable.

BOLDUAN: Of the Iranian nationals that are expected to be released, John, as part of this agreement, the Iranian foreign ministry said today that two of them are expected to remain in the United States. How is that going to work?

KIRBY: That's correct. So, we don't have all the details nailed down in terms of how they will stay in the United States. That's really - the Justice Department is taking a look at that. One will go to a third country because of family issues, so won't stay in the United States.


KIRBY: And only two of the five that were part of the prisoner exchange will actually be making their way back to Iran.

BOLDUAN: Does -- should that concern anyone that they will be staying here?

KIRBY: I think, again, we're going to work this out with the Justice Department. I -- based on the kinds of crimes they were charged with, I don't think there's any cause for the American people to be concerned about that.


BOLDUAN: Does this mark, this agreement, do you see this or should anyone see this - does it - is it marking as an unfreezing of relations with Iran in any way? Does this mark any change in the relationship, or lack thereof?

KIRBY: Sadly, no. I mean, no. Look, we were still going to deal with Iran's destabilizing behaviors. We've added to the military presence in the gulf region. We have continued to sanction Iran for other destabilizing activities. They're still providing drones to Russia, for instance. They're still providing -- posing a threat to maritime shipping in the gulf in the Strait of Hormuz. We're going to hold them accountable for all of that.

I don't think we should look at this as some sort of confidence building measure to a better relationship with Iran.

Now, look, if Iran takes steps to destabilize -- to stop their destabilizing behavior and to behave as a better actor in the region, all that's to the good. But we secured this deal simply to secure this deal, to get these five Americans home. It was not orchestrated as some way of reproachment (ph).

BOLDUAN: We've talked about this in the past with Iran often. You talk about siloing, right? Any nuclear negotiations - any negotiations over the nuclear deal versus this. It does for -- just an average American, it seems hard to see these things as siloed. How do you keep them - how do you keep them separate because what we're looking at now, as you well know, is Iran is further along and closer to a nuclear weapon than ever before.

KIRBY: Sometimes in diplomacy, Kate, you get what you can get. And you work on what you can achieve. And in this case our focus was squarely on these Americans and those families that are waiting for them. And it's not unlike the way we deal with other countries that detain Americans wrongfully. You work on that -- solving that problem. And if it could lead or does lead to better relation or increased diplomacy efforts in another area, well, that's all to the good, but you don't hinge it to that. You don't want to tie Americans coming home where they belong in the first place to some sort of larger, diplomatic effort. That would be a difficult place to be in terms of setting a precedent for future potential hostages.

BOLDUAN: And speaking of precedent, you know, we've talked about this many times before, the precedent that critics of this agreement or any kind of negotiation in this way have of what they're looking at, because what Iran often wants is it wants its money. So, you've got $6 billion of Iranian money that they now regain access to for humanitarian purposes. What can the United States do if it is seen that they are using this money not for food, not for medicine, for bad reasons? KIRBY: Lock it back down. We can stop a transaction. And it's

important to remember, Kate, that the - that the regime doesn't get the money. They can request or withdraw for humanitarian goods, agriculture products, medical supplies, food. And then we will run a process through which those goods are contracted for. The Iranians don't even get to let (ph) the contracts. We'll make sure that the contracts are let with vendors that we know we can trust and then that material will be delivered to the Iranian people. The Iranian regime does not get hands on this money.

BOLDUAN: Lingering question remains, is Iran more or less likely to wrongfully detain another American citizen, take them hostage, because of this deal?

KIRBY: Sadly, this has been a behavior that Iran has been participating in for decades now. And so I can't perfectly predict whether they'll do it again or not, which is why, quite frankly, the State Department has been so adamant about warning Americans, and dual nationals in particular, because the Iranians don't regard dual nationals as anything other than Americans. So, there's a real risk here. And we've been very clear about warning people not to go to Iran. And if you're in Iran and you have an American passport, you ought to look at leaving, because it's not a good place to be. That's why they added a designation now, a "d" for countries, so to warn Americans, if you're going to travel, know what the risks are.

BOLDUAN: Stick with me because the control room literally just got in my ear to say that we have new video of the U.S. citizens at the Tehran airport getting on the plane.

John, look right down here and you can see it. It looks like a group of people getting on the plane. This is from Iranian state media. And I'm told -- we're told -- the control room is telling me that these -- that looks -- is that Morad Tahbaz? It looks like this is Morad Tahbaz. And it almost looks like - to me that looks like Emad Shargi getting on - getting on the plane. This would be the moment of their departure.

KIRBY: Yes. It sure looks authentic, doesn't it?

BOLDUAN: It does.

KIRBY: And that's just wonderful. My goodness, that's a great image, to see them getting on that airplane and getting on their way to freedom.

And, you know, we were able to get two of their family members as well.

BOLDUAN: Tell me about that.

KIRBY: These were two family members of - of - two of - of the three.

BOLDUAN: Was it Siamak's mother, I heard, or something?

KIRBY: I don't know exactly who they're attached to, but they weren't allowed to leave. Even though they weren't being detained or imprisoned, they weren't allowed to leave. So, we actually got seven Americans out of Iran.

BOLDUAN: Finally, you represent -- you speak for national security issues for the White House, for this administration. How is U.S. national security better today because of this deal and not worse off, as I have heard many Republicans say?


KIRBY: First of all, what's really better off are five families.

BOLDUAN: So true.

KIRBY: And I think that's really important to remember.

Number two, as I said earlier, we -- well, we just executed more sanctions on entities in Iran today, specifically for the offense of wrongfully detained Americans. And just in the last couple of weeks, we've upped our military presence in the gulf region, we added some additional sanctions on Iran just a few days go. I mean we are holding Iran to account. And we are mindful of our national security interests in the region and we're doing everything we can, not just on the economic space, but even in the military space, to protect our troops, to protect our interests, to protect our allies and partners in that part of the world. No one should take away from today's events any idea that we are somehow turning a blind eye to what Iran is doing in the region or around the world. Not at all. Quite the contrary.

BOLDUAN: What we are seeing, though, as we just saw in that video from Iran, are Americans on their way home -


BOLDUAN: And families who are going to probably breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in more than eight years for one of those families.

KIRBY: It's a wonderful day for them.

BOLDUAN: John Kirby, thank you so much for coming in.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate your time today.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.


SIDNER: That was a great interview, Kate.

All right, this morning, the United Auto Workers union and automakers are back at the negotiating table. Are there any signs of progress? That's ahead.



BERMAN: This morning, the United Auto Workers returned to the negotiating table with Stellantis, which owns Jeep and Dodge. Talks with Ford and GM failed to bring an end to the four-day long strike. It is a targeted strike as of now, targeting just three plants, one in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio, but union leadership is warning that the walkout could expand this week.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is outside the Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, where several thousand workers are on strike.

Vanessa, what are you seeing?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, negotiations continued through the weekend. You had Ford at the main bargaining table on Saturday, GM there yesterday, Stellantis today. But we heard from UAW President Shawn Fain earlier this morning that progress has been slow.

I want to bring in David Masters. He is the strike captain here at this strike location.

What is the feeling today? What is the mood today as people are out for day four?

DAVID MASTERS, FORD EMPLOYEE AND STRIKE CAPTAIN: Well, I think the mood is pretty positive. People are optimistic that our local leadership and the bargaining committee can come to an agreement with Ford Motor Company and the big three. But also the feeling is worrisome. You know, people, they're worried about their families. They're worried about their future. I think there's a significant pay gap in between some of the workers that we need to close up. And I think that people - they're just worried about their future. And so that's what we're out here fighting for, our families and ourselves.

YURKEVICH: Describe to folks at home what it is like to work inside this plant and why the wages you get today do not match with the profits of the company and do not match with what you are doing inside here every day?

MASTERS: Well, see quite a few -- when the big three were going through their bankruptcy, a lot of these employees gave up concessions, you know, to help Ford Motor Company through. And with the cost of inflation, it's been 15, 20 years before some of these people had a raise. So, they're just trying to get back to where they should have been, you know, this whole time.

So, I don't think that they're asking for too much. I think that they're just asking for some things that they gave up in the past.

YURKEVICH: David Masters, thank you so much for your time this morning.

So, John, we know that in the next few days or so we are having officials come from the White House. Acting Secretary Julie Su, as well as senior White House Adviser Gene Spurling coming to town to try to push these negotiations forward, to try to get the two sides to come together to a deal. But we know that UAW President Shawn Fain does really want the administration involved in these negotiations.

Also, John, we're watching a strike that may be happening and 11:59 p.m. tonight in Canada. The union representing Ford workers there may go on strike. That's going to add over 5,000 Ford workers to the strike in Canada, shut down three plants there. That could actually have an even greater impact on the company than this one plant on strike here in Michigan.


BERMAN: Vanessa Yurkevich, right next to the picket line in Wayne, Michigan. It was very good to hear from someone who is there today.

Vanessa, thank you so much for that.


BOLDUAN: Coming up still for us, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has a proposal in hand to avoid a government shutdown, but it is far from clear whether he has even enough support from his own party to get this through and avoid a government shutdown. And his speakership may also hang in the balance.



SIDNER: This morning, a government shutdown hangs in the balance here. And so, too, does the speakership of Kevin McCarthy. He thought he had a funding deal last night. He may not think the same thing this morning.

CNN's Lauren Fox is joining us now from Washington.

Tell us what happened overnight as these negotiations were ongoing.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, about as quickly as this deal came together between a couple of the members of the House Freedom Caucus and Main Street Caucus, it fell apart. Republican lawmakers met on a conference call last night around 8:00 p.m. where the details of this deal were unveiled. It includes major funding cuts across the government with exceptions of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. But the negotiated deal was not enough for some hardliners who now have more than a dozen conservatives who say that they are either leaning against voting for this proposal or are already a hard no on this spending proposal.

And we should just remind everyone that this is a one-month spending bill. This is not even a larger one-year spending bill, which negotiators in the house and Senate are going to have to come to terms with. But this is just a one-month deal with just the Republican coalition. And even that they cannot get their arms around right now.

Now, leadership is vowing to bring this to the floor as soon as Thursday. They are also hoping to put on the floor on Wednesday a separate, stand-alone defense spending bill that came into problems last week. So, a lot of the moving pieces here.

But one thing to keep in mind is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told my colleague Morgan Remmer (ph) that morning that' he's not giving up on this fight to try to pass this Republican-only spending bill. He said that he is going to continue working with his colleague, and he said that some member may not have read it that closely. So, he's hoping that as they get more time to digest this proposal that they're going to come to rally around it. But we're just going to have to wait and see. A lot of problems for GOP leadership this morning as they're trying to find that coalition.

SIDNER: Yes, we are less than two weeks away when that bill needs to be funded in order to fund the entire government. Thank you so much, Lauren Fox, for your reporting there.


BOLDUAN: All right. So we are -- first glimpse this hour of five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran. You can see them here. That's Emad Shargi right there and Morad Tahbaz in front of him, I believe, getting on a plane in Tehran. One step closer to freedom. We're going to be live in Qatar where they're expected to touch down at any moment.

We'll be back.