Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

GOP Rivals Spar Over Abortion At Third Debate; U.S. Carries Out Strikes In Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Groups; Justice Department Uncovers "High-End" Brothel Network. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 09, 2023 - 07:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also in Nevada, in Arizona because they see that as a reason for people to go to the polls and a recent to boost Biden.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. I mean, Democrats see a clear path to an electoral victory in 2024. That has nothing to do with the top of the ticket and that's because they have a uniquely unifying issue. I mean, when we think about how we talk to others about what parties stand for, right -- and they can oftentimes feel kind of like an ideological mess.

But I think there's a clearer story right now. If you look at abortion, Democrats in the party that want to expand it and folks think Republicans want to restrict it because that has been where they stand. And so that has created a real clear delineation.

HARLOW: Christine.

CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: The other reason that we Democrats want to put these questions on the ballot is because we know we can win and bring protection for women, and girls, and families which is, after Dodd, so critically needed.

One thing about the issue, too, that's seen everywhere, money follows this issue. Democrats essentially have unlimited money where this becomes an issue on the referenda.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Andy Beshear, in Kentucky, my home state -- he had unlimited money and a lot of it was spent on the issue of abortion.

So in terms of motivating voters, it motivates donors.


QUINN: Yeah, especially --

JENNINGS: And so, Republicans are playing from behind in all these states when it comes to just being able to battle out on the message. MATTINGLY: Which is interesting, particularly because as you transition into a very small donor-drive party, as Republicans have, if this isn't an issue that animates your small donors you have a problem.

Christine, one thing somebody mentioned to me the other night -- why doesn't Biden go very heavy into give me two more -- or give me -- flip the House and give me a couple more senators. I will codify Roe versus Wade. I think we saw that message a couple of times in past cycles -- and just make that everything at this point.

QUINN: That could happen. A big message like that -- it's a question of timing, right? You don't want to kind of peak too early with a big galvanizing message like that. So I wouldn't be surprised at all if we didn't see the White House go there. It's just a question of when is the best moment.

HARLOW: But I think Phil makes such a good point because that was what every Democrat was saying --

QUINN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: -- after Roe was overturned -- codify, codify, codify. What they didn't say is we cannot do that --

MATTINGLY: Yeah, right now.

HARLOW: -- with this Senate.

QUINN: Right.

HARLOW: But to Phil's point, if you can get there you can do it, and that's the only way you change that now.

QUINN: And you make it a one-two punch if you will.


QUINN: And I think we'll see the White House do that.

MATTINGLY: It will be interesting to watch.

Astead, Scott, Christine -- thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Well, the U.S. military striking a weapons facility in Syria -- one used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and other affiliated groups, according to the Pentagon, following this attack on American -- on an American drone by Iran-backed Houthi forces. Iran's ambassador to the U.N. joins us next.

HARLOW: And let's keep a focus on the more than 200 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu says there will be no ceasefire until all of those hostages are released. Ahead, John Kirby will join us from the White House with the efforts to get them out.

(COMMERCIAL) [07:36:05]

MATTINGLY: U.S. officials say an airstrike launched over Syria was launched in self-defense but also as a clear message to Iran amid heightened tensions in the Middle East. Two American fighter jets conducting an airstrike on a weapons warehouse in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militias. That, according to the Pentagon.

Now, it comes the same day an unmanned American Reaper drone was shot down off the coast of Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Now, you're seeing it right here. This is the video. It was released by the Houthi military media.

The U.S. strike, a response to a growing number of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. Since October 17, U.S. and coalition forces have been targeted at least 41 times by one-way attack drones or rocket attacks.

And since Hamas' attack on Israel last month, the U.S. has sent significant firepower to the Middle East as a deterrent to a widening conflict, at least according to administration officials, and to show support for forces in the region.

Joining us now is the Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Amir Saeid Iravani. Sir, we appreciate your time. Thank you for being here.

And I want to start with the strike that the Pentagon talked about last night. They said it was at a warehouse that contained weapons utilized to attack U.S. forces and that warehouse was affiliated with the Iran Revolutionary Guard.

What is your response to that?

AMIR SAEID IRAVANI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (via Webex by Cisco: Hello. Thank you for having me on this program.

As I may say that any attacks U.S. forces in the region (INAUDIBLE) Syria, I think we can divide it in two parts. One is the part before the 7th October operation, and the second after that.

Before the 7th of October, I think that the Syrian resistance movement -- they are seeing that there are some parts of the country have been occupied by the United States and they are supporting the separatist group inside Syria and they are squandering their natural resources. So it is a natural reaction by the resistance group against (INAUDIBLE).

But after the 7th October, I think that it is action that the resistance group -- they will show the same the same party and supporting the allies in Palestine, which is facing a very criminal attack by the Israeli regime.

So we have said very clearly that Iran is not involved in any attack against the United States forces in the region. It is a natural reaction by the resistance group. It is their own decision and by their own direction. MATTINGLY: To that point, we have seen attacks from Hezbollah in

Lebanon toward Israel with Houthis in Yemen, including shooting down the U.S. drone last. Shiite militias in Syria, as we discussed, against Israel and U.S. forces, not to mention what we saw on October 7. The connective thread from all of those groups is Iranian support. You say there is no direct connection to Iran.

Do these groups operate unilaterally? You don't believe Iran has any say over what they do or what attacks they launch?

IRAVANI: You see that we have a system of the resistance movement in the region and Iran is one part of this system. And any resistance group they have, they have their own benefit. They have their own decision. They have their own strategy also. But they have some cooperation and collaboration in general common goals also.

So Iran is not involving and Iran is not imposing its demand on them.

MATTINGLY: But -- I mean, your -- I wouldn't say you're part of this system. I think everybody would say over top of the system given the hundreds of millions of dollars of support in terms of military assistance, training -- just funds, generally.

You're saying that you're not signing off on anything. They don't have to come to you for approval for anything.


IRAVANI: Syria -- I told you that we have some cooperation and collaboration which are there, but we are not directing them.

The same argument we have as the United States says about their supporting the Israelis. The United States says that we are providing any assistance Israel needs for the war. We have the same argument that we are saying that we are going to provide any support they need for their defense against the occupied forces.

MATTINGLY: U.S. officials, including the president, have made very clear statements to Iran publicly about their concerns about an expansion of the conflict in the region. And we're also told that they have tried to -- they have sent messages to Iranian officials privately through intermediaries.

At the U.N., have you had any conversations with your U.S. counterparts about not expanding the conflict?

IRAVANI: No. I have not any direct conversation with my counterpart in the United Nations. But as it is very clear that we have told the United States that these attacks is related to the level of the support from the Israelis.

But about the expanding of the new front of the war, we insisted that we are not going to expand this war front also, and we are trying to keep calm and serve resistance. But it has two sides. One side, we are giving -- going -- we are telling our other allies in the region that keep calm. But the other side also should do the same and keep calm the Israeli aggression.

I think that as long as a ceasefire does not take place, maybe any possibility may happen.

MATTINGLY: Do you believe that Hamas was right to take women and children hostage along with murdering women and children on October 7?

IRAVANI: You see that we cannot read the book from the middle page and draw our conclusion. We should see that the background of this operation -- it is back to the 75 years of the occupation and --

MATTINGLY: No, I understand that. But I think this -- the direct question I'm asking you is on taking women and children as hostage. I believe that's explicitly forbidden by Islam. So I'm trying to figure out whether or not that was a move that Iran supports.

IRAVANI: No, you should take the response from the Hamas group that they have did. We know that we have not involved in this operation and we have not participated in the planning and decision making or directing of this operation. It was not have also any consultation with Hezbollah also as the leader of Hezbollah said some days ago.

So we don't know any details about this operation -- the goals behind that. It was their own decision and their own direction.

MATTINGLY: I understand the point you're making here. What I'm asking is given the fact that you support financially and you've made clear while you might have the final decision-making process you do support Hamas generally, is do you support -- you communicate with them. Do you support the taking of women and children as hostage?

IRAVANI: It is a war. It is a war which has been started 75 years ago.


IRAVANI: And the Israeli regime also has did the same against the oppressed people of the Palestine also. It is depend to them. Is it fair to ask? No, we will not do it.

MATTINGLY: Last one before I let you go. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has accused the Iranian government of callously toying with the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi. She is now on a hunger strike. She has said that she has been denied medical care and attention.

What is your response to that, and will she be receiving medical care and attention?

IRAVANI: I think that it is not good -- a proper time to combinate domestic issues of Iran with the issue of the war in Palestine. I think it is better to concentrate on the other issues.

(INAUDIBLE) that you make concern this (INAUDIBLE) of the Western countries throughout the crimes has happened -- the crime and the crimes has happened in the Palestine. On that time, the Western countries has raised allegation against the Russia that Russia has been aggression. That Russia has occupied the Ukraine. That Russia has annexation in some parts of the territory and that Russia has a -- has aggression and -- against the civilian infrastructure of the Ukraine.


The same thing has happened in Palestine also, but was not the action of the West. It -- we are facing suffering from the double standards you may compare the casualties has happened in Palestine with the (INAUDIBLE). It is just 20 months has passed from the Ukrainian war. The number of casualties in Palestine is more than the casualties in Ukraine.

It is one month and it is 20 months and the number of the children is 10 times of the children killed in Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: Ambassador, I understand the point you're making --


MATTINGLY: -- but also note that Iran has been very supportive both financially and with military equipment with Russia as well.

We appreciate your time, sir, this morning. Thank you.

IRAVANI: Thank you very much. I hope for durable peace and just peace in the region. Thank you.

HARLOW: Phil, a really important interview. Thank you for that.

Ahead, the Justice Department investigating what it calls a sophisticated and high-end network of brothels. The client list -- it included high-powered people from all over the country. We'll tell you how they uncovered it.

MATTINGLY: And the suspect in the stabbing of a synagogue president in Detroit last month now in police custody. The details of that investigation ahead.



HARLOW: (Audio gap) have been arrested in Massachusetts and Virginia on charges of operating what the Justice Department calls a quote "sophisticated high-end network of brothels." The DOJ says the clientele included elected officials, military officers, and government contractors with security clearances.

Our chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid joins us now. A pretty stunning investigation -- how they found out about it, who was associated with it. What do we know?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, truly concerning, Poppy. This investigation goes back to 2020. And according to prosecutors, the men who were running this operation used two different websites to advertise sexual services with primarily Asian women. And potential clients would receive a text message showing them their choices of women, sexual services, and hourly rates, which ranged from about $350 to $600.

Then, in order to become a client, they had to provide quite a bit of personally identifying information, including their driver's license, photos, information about their employer. And then they would subscribe to a monthly service.

Now, gathering some of that information is a way to possibly protect some of these women, but it also means they have a lot of your personal information and it opened some of these clients up to possible vulnerabilities.

Now, I certainly wondered what makes this high-end. Why do they keep describing this as a high-end brothel? And according to prosecutors, they're describing it that way because of the type of apartment that they were using. Apparently, these apartments rented for over $5,000 a month in some cases. But they were also using that classification because of the types of professions that their clients engaged in.

As you noted, we're talking about military officials, elected officials, and government contracts who had security clearances.

HARLOW: And how high up did they go -- the clientele?

REID: So, as of now, prosecutors are not identifying the clients. And they say that is not to protect their identity but because this investigation is ongoing. They said they are still executing search warrants.

But they did give some characterization of exactly who we're talking about. Let's take a listen to the prosecutor.


JOSHUA LEVY, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS: They are doctors, they are lawyers, they're accountants, they're elected officials. They are executives at high-tech companies and pharmaceutical companies. They're military officers, government contractors, professors, scientists.

Pick a profession and they were probably represented in this case.


REID: Now, investigators have spoken to about 20 different clients so far in this investigation.

And look, human trafficking is a huge problem in this country and around the world. But if you look at where these were operating -- particularly in Cambridge, Massachusetts or Tysons, Virginia -- those are locations where you have a lot of biotech firms, aerospace engineering, in addition to a lot of government officials. This certainly raises questions about whether there was anything else involved in this operation besides sex.

HARLOW: Yeah, so many questions, Paula. Thank you for the reporting -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Well, a clash breaking out outside L.A. Museum of Tolerance as a private screening of video from the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel was underway. The details on that ahead.

HARLOW: Thirty-four years after winning a Grammy for her hit song "Fast Car," Tracy Chapman has won another award for the same song. The history she made ahead.






MATTINGLY: New this morning, police in Detroit say they now have a suspect in custody in connection with last month's fatal stabbing of a synagogue president, Samantha Woll. The police chief characterized it as an encouraging development but so far, is not identifying the suspect nor specifying the charges.

Investigators have been treating Woll's death as arising from a domestic dispute, not extremism. But it comes amid an uptick of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

HARLOW: Also last night, very concerning. This clash broke out in Los Angeles. It was between groups of protesters during a private screening of graphic video from the October 7 Hamas terror attack. What you see is pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups waving flags, blowing horns, and fist-fighting at some points.

The screening was organized, in part, by Israeli actor Gal Gadot and her husband.

And this morning, the mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, posted on X urging residents to unite in the middle of all of this.

CNN has reached out to the LAPD. We have not heard back about any serious injuries or any possible arrests.

MATTINGLY: Well, 10 alleged members and associates of the Gambino crime family have been arrested and are facing charges of racketeering and extortion this morning. Officials say six of the 10 were arrested in Italy; the other four in Brooklyn. Prosecutors say the New York defendants also committed assault, arson, and union-related crimes.

Now, the 16-count indictment alleges many of them were known by aliases -- really great aliases like Vinny Slick, Joe Brooklyn, Fifi, and Uncle Ciccio, which was also a character's name in the iconic "Godfather" movies.

HARLOW: Well, new recognition for recording artist Tracy Chapman and her classic song "Fast Car" with a little bit of help from Luke Combs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the CMA Award for the Song of the Year goes to "Fast Car," Tracy Chapman.


CHAPMAN: Singing "Fast Car."


HARLOW: Chapman became the first Black songwriter ever to win a Country Music Award last night for Combs' cover for a Grammy-award- winning song.

In a statement, she said it is quote, "Truly an honor for my song to be recognized after 35 years of it -- after 35 years of its debut."




HARLOW: Luke Combs also won a CMA for Single of the Year. And in his acceptance speech he thanked Chapman.