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Biden Invokes Armageddon, Warns of Russian Nuclear Threat; White House Looks for Answers After OPEC+ Oil Cut Announcement; New CNN Polls Show Tight Senate Races in Arizona, Nevada. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 07, 2022 - 07:00   ET


MAX BOOT, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: When he's facing extremist, off-the-wall, crazy attacks on the army, a little stark, OK?


Maybe he shouldn't have done that. But that is such a minor, minor thing. He does not deserve to be called out in the way he has been by the army inspector general.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Max, it's great to have you on. Thank you so much this morning for the conversation.

BOOT: Thank you.

KEILAR: And new day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Armageddon, a word you do not normally hear from a U.S. president.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

Overnight, President Biden warned that the world could face Armageddon if Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons as Russia faces setbacks in Ukraine. This happened at a Democratic fundraiser. The president said, quote, we have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily use a nuclear tact cal weapon and not end up with Armageddon.

KEILAR: This is stark language and it comes as the U.S. considers how to respond to a range of potential scenarios.

For more, let's bring in White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond with the very latest on this. Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Brianna. U.S. officials say that there has been no change in Russia's nuclear posture. In fact, one senior U.S. official telling CNN that the U.S. didn't detect anything yesterday that would indicate an escalation in Russia's nuclear posture. And that's why it's so striking to hear the language that President Biden used last night in talking about the prospect of Armageddon should Putin use nuclear weapons and making clear that he doesn't believe that the Russian leader is bluffing.

Here is a snippet of some of the president's comments from the fundraiser in New York last night, which was off camera. He said, quote, we have got a guy I know fairly well. He's not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.

And that is one of the things the president expressed the most concern about last night, is what if Putin doesn't have an off-ramp, what if he's cornered? What does he do then? There's no question that Vladimir Putin has been ratcheting up his rhetoric about the prospect of nuclear war in recent weeks. Just last week, he talked about defending Russian territory by all means necessary, just as he was talking about what he believes is a precedent that the U.S. set in using nuclear weapons back during World War II.

But the bottom line, in talking to officials, it's very clear, they believe that there is an elevated risk that Russia could use a nuclear weapon but they say that, ultimately, it's not even probable at this point and they also have not assessed that Putin has made a decision to use a nuclear weapon. John, Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, very important. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in CNN Political and National Security Analyst and New York Times White House and National Security Correspondent David Sanger.

Armageddon, David. How unusual is this type of language from a U.S. president in 2022 and why now?

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, as you and Jeremy both pointed out, it's highly unusual. I can't recall a time that a president has used it other than in a historical sense, and that's not what President Biden was doing.

He was basically warning that one should not take solace in the thought that if Putin uses a nuclear weapon, it would be a tactical or battlefield weapon. That is a smaller one that can be used on the battlefield and that presumably would have somewhat limited damage. He was basically saying, if he uses it, this will escalate.

I think the second really interesting thing that he did was talk about off-ramps and the need for that in the same paragraph that he talked about the Cuban Missile Crisis, because, of course, that's what Kennedy was seeking during the Cuban Missile Crisis in his dealings with Krushchev.

BERMAN: Yes. And what he said -- and, often, President Biden does this, he sort of opens the door to discussions that often happen behind closed doors and lets us in. He said, basically, he's not sure what the off-ramp is for Vladimir Putin.

SANGER: That's exactly right, and that's what I read out of this as well. Look, this has been a huge subject within the U.S. government. I think most Americans who have been watching Ukraine and watching this horror play out have not been as focused as the president's advisers have been on the possibility of the use of a nuclear weapon.

Now, I don't think that possibility is a very high chance yet, but it's a lot higher than it was at the beginning of the war. And that's what has so many of his advisers concerned. The president alluded to this himself, John, when he said that Putin is not performing well on the battlefield.


In other words, he's saying he may have no other option to save face and that's why he was looking for the off-ramp.

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the way Kennedy did this was a secret agreement to remove American missiles from Turkey, which happened six months after the crisis was over. And, of course, it was all denied at the time by the government that it was part of the deal. The issue is what's the analog here, what could you offer Putin, and if you did, would he take it?

BERMAN: Yes. It's very difficult to imagine something like that, specifically something that doesn't involved Ukrainian territory, which, of course, will be unpalatable to the Ukrainians.

David Sanger, great to see you, thank you so much.

SANGER: Thank you.

BERMAN: President Biden reacting to the OPEC+ decision to dramatically cut its oil production by 2 million barrels per day beginning next month. This is the biggest cut since the start of the pandemic. This is the president.


REPORTER: What's your reaction to the OPEC+ decision, Mr. President?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Disappointment, and we're looking at what alternatives we may have.

REPORTER: Is Venezuela one of those alternatives?

BIDEN: There's a lot of alternatives, we haven't made up our mind yet.


BERMAN: What alternatives exactly?

Joining us, Daniel Yergin, he is the vice chair of S&P Global, and author The New Mayp, Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations, and, frankly, for my money, the best writer on energy in our history. It's so nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

What other alternatives are there? What could the United States and the White House do to Saudi Arabia?

DANIEL YERGIN, VICE CHAIRMAN, S&P GLOBAL: First of all, John, I think when he said, disappointment, I'm sure that they used much stronger language in the White House. Actually, I think furious would be the more likely reaction to it, because, obviously, they have a natural fear of gasoline prices going up and also this is a dissing of President Biden who went to Saudi Arabia.

So, what they've said is they're going to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, release some more oil from that, talk about a ban on export of oil products, which would create its own dislocations in the market. But beyond that, there's not a lot to do. And I think that this really is, in a sense, ties into your conversation with David because it's really about the potential for an oil war that starts to develop over the next two months.

BERMAN: An oil war, and the fear is that Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations might at least indirectly take Russia's side?

YERGIN: Well, it certainly -- anything that bolsters prices. And the Saudis say, the OPEC countries say, look, if you have really high interest rates, the economy is going to go into recession, so we're just preemptively cutting production. But what this does do is maintain prices, pull prices up. And one beneficiary of higher prices is Vladimir Putin.

And the key thing, John, that's going to unfold over the next two months is this ban that the Europeans are putting on the import of crude oil into Europe, Russian crude oil, which was Russia's major market, and banning shipping and insurance. And then you say the U.S. is now planning, well, we want to reduce Russian revenues but we don't want the world to be short of oil, so we're going to put a price cap on Russian oil and the Russians, in a sense I think this ties into it saying, if you do that, we're going to try to create an oil crisis.

BERMAN: Is there anything the United States can do to punish Saudi Arabia -- I pick on Saudi Arabia because they drive the ship, really, in OPEC -- but anything they can do to punish Saudi Arabia or influence them at this point?

YERGIN: Well, I think influence is the better word than punish because what you don't want to tighten the Saudi relationship with Russia and, of course, OPEC+ is led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. The U.S. lobbied the Saudis, I think, hard before this event and I think that it's possible that Riyadh did not actually realize how furious reaction would be here not only from the administration but certainly from the Congress.

BERMAN: Yes. And you may get bipartisan agreement on some of that reaction.

Daniel Yergin, an honor to speak with you. Thank you very much.

YERGIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: New this morning, Justice Department officials demanding former President Trump return any outstanding documents marked classified, a clear sign that DOJ does not believe Trump has returned all materials from when he left the White House, even after the FBI retrieving 11,000 documents in the course of its multiple interactions with Trump, including its August 8th search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

Joining us now, former Federal Prosecutor Jim Walden. Jim, thank you so much for being with us.


KEILAR: So, still even more documents. What would lead DOJ to this conclusion? Would it have anything to do with all of those empty folders?

WALDEN: I think that's a very good lead, but this shows you why the special master process is really imperfect.


There're 11,000 documents sitting in a database that could hold the keys to what other documents exist, how they got there, where they might be now, and DOJ is hamstrung. They're in a database they can't look at them until the special master reviews them. And so DOJ is in a bad position. The Trump people are in a worse position. They're certifying that their documents are all disclosed. Other attorneys are coming out saying, I would never say that. So, it's a big mess and someone has to cut the knot. And Trump wants it to be the Supreme Court. I think it's going to be the 11th Circuit.

KEILAR: What does it mean with -- the 11th circuit, which has been more friendly, of course, to DOJ or has fallen on their side on their decisions. What does this mean for national security that DOJ doesn't have access to most of the documents because of the special master process?

WALDEN: Brianna, it means that they can't do their job. And we're talking about really fundamental interests. We don't know what these classified documents are given all of the allegations concerning Trump's bizarre relationship with North Korea and Russia. We don't know whether these classified documents are in the heartland of issues dealing with those two regimes or Saudi Arabia. But what we do know is that national security agencies can't get a look at the 11,000 documents that are critically important for them figuring out what else Donald Trump may have.

KEILAR: I want to turn now to the investigation into Hunter Biden, the DOJ investigation. CNN has learned that federal prosecutors believe they could charge Hunter Biden with tax crimes and also because of a false statement related to a gun purchase, but a final decision still has not yet been made by the U.S. attorney in Delaware. What do you make of this?

WALDEN: So, there are two things that I'd like to say, Brianna. First of all, this reminds me of a lot of the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton. It started with these crazy allegations of all this fraud in Whitewater and ended up with Monica Lewinsky. I'm straight down the middle. I'm not a Democrat nor a Republican, but these alleged charges sound like the bottom of the barrel.

But, thank God, the person making the decision is David Weiss. David Weiss is the U.S. attorney for Delaware. He's a serious guy. He has a family history of calling balls and strikes, he's a dedicated professional and career prosecutor and I do not believe he's going to let politics play into this. And I think he's going to be outraged by the leak, and that's the next investigation, how did this information leak and why, when there's so much secrecy around on the Trump investigation for someone to be leaking on Hunter Biden seems like dirty politics.

KEILAR: But if these are real things, right, if these are real things, even if, in your view, there's been mission creep (ph) here in this investigation, if these are real things, do you expect that the U.S. attorney in Delaware is going to proceed here?

WALDEN: I don't know. But when we say if they're real things, what we don't know is the scope of the alleged tax problem, right? That seems more significant. The idea that the U.S. attorney would use federal resources to bring a case for a then-drug addict lying on a form to get a handgun, I mean, it certainly happens but the majority of cases like that don't get prosecuted. And these are stale charges. This is something that happened back in October of 2018.

So, the tax charges may be the false statement on the gun application. That seems like the biggest stretch of all.

KEILAR: Yes, very interesting to speak with you about it. Jim Walden, thank you.

WALDEN: Thanks, Brianna.

BERMAN: The school district in Uvalde, Texas has fired a former state trooper who was under investigation for her response during the Robb Elementary School massacre. This comes after a CNN report detailed Officer Crimson Elizondo's action or inaction on that awful day and included this body camera clip before talking to fellow officers outside the school.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son's in day care. He's not old enough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, no. No. If my son had been in there, in there, I would not have been outside, I promise you that.


BERMAN: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now. And, Shimon, your reporting, I think, was crucial in this action being taken. And I do want to make clear, we're not really focused on Elizondo, what she did the day of the Robb Elementary School, so much as we're focused on how she ended up being hired to protect kids at another school.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, it's both things, really, because I think there's a larger problem with obviously the response and a lot of focus has been on the local police response. And, obviously, it was failed and terrible, and I think the local officials realized it. But there were more experienced officers there, like Elizondo, who have better training from the Department of Public Safety, the DPS.


And so we're starting to focus on them as a group in assuming that is where my reporting is going next, focusing on them as a group and what they did and didn't do right, and she is part of this. She is caught up in this because she worked for this agency.

As we started digging into the agency and their response, we came across her and we learned that she was one of the people under investigation, one of the people who was under investigation, one of the seven. But what was so striking was the fact that the school district hired her knowing -- we now know they knew she was under investigation, and they still hired her.

But what's also interesting, John, is that the school district said the reason they fired her is because of these comments she made to these other officers about had her son been inside, she wouldn't have been outside, basically saying she would have gone in to try to and get him. And those are the reasons the school district has given for firing her, not the fact that she was under investigation. They have not addressed that issue.

And those comments were so disturbing and, of course, the school district has apologized for it. They say that, certainly, it's not part of anything that they believe in, that they are distressed by these comments. It was new to them. They only learned of it after our reporting as, really, the country did and families did. This video has not been seen before, these comments from Officer Elizondo have not been heard before. And so as you can imagine for the families and the communities, it's very upsetting.

But the fact is, John, as you said, she should not have been hired by the school district, and we don't have answers to that. They are not responding to any questions about why they hired her, how they hired her, what was the vetting process. Because we know from a letter that the Department of Public Safety sent to the school telling them as early August that she was under investigation.

BERMAN: Look, and we spoke to a mother who lost a child at Robb Elementary School who has got another child at the school where this officer was hired to protect. And they saw her there and they couldn't figure out what was going on. And the question she keeps asking and people in the community keeps asking, Shimon, is who has her back? I have an answer to that, you do. You have got their back, Shimon. You were down there working so hard, pressing for answers. PROKUPECZ: I think the organization here and our team here and the dedication we've given to the story, and it's because the officials will not give these families answers. But we're digging in and we're going to start getting some more answers for these families.

BERMAN: So, the families watch. Shimon Prokupecz, terrific reporting, thank you so much.

KEILAR: This morning, this year's Nobel Peace prize is being split three ways. It's being jointly awarded to jailed Belarusian Political Activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian Human Rights Organization Memorial and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties for their efforts to document human rights abuses. This comes as a strong rebuke to Russia's President Vladimir Putin on his 70th birthday, no less.

Midterms are just a month away and we have some new polling that suggests the Senate races in two key battleground states are tightening.

And coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will take us to one city that is trying to make 911 responders feel more like trusted neighbors than law enforcement.

BERMAN: And the jobs report for September comes out shortly. What are we expecting, how will the markets react, what does it all mean for these tense economic times?



BERMAN: Just a month left until the midterms, Republicans and Democrats in tight, tight Senate races in key states, Nevada and Arizona. New CNN polling shows that Democratic Senator Mark Kelly holds a narrow lead over Republican challenger Blake Masters, that's in Arizona. And in Nevada, the race between Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Mastow and her Republican challenger Adam Laxalt is essentially tied with the difference between the candidates within the margin of error.

With me now, CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp and CNN Political Commentator and Republican Strategist Alice Stewart. There are enough races like this neck and neck that it's impossible to tell which way the Senate is going to go.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It really is. And, honestly, until exit polling, after the fact I'm not sure we're even going to know why some folks win these races. But if I'm Democrats looking at either Arizona or Nevada, I am encouraged because in both of those states, attitudes towards abortion are positive for Democrats. Most voters in Arizona and Nevada favor legal abortion with some restrictions. And most voters in both of those states prioritize abortion.

So, while immigration and economy are also going to be favorable maybe to Republicans, if I'm Democrats, all I talk about from now until November, abortion.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that's what they're doing. We saw this morning in playbook that if you look at the ads across the board that Democrats are putting out there, the number one topic they're focusing on is abortion.

CUPP: It should be.

STEWART: Because it really galvanizes their vote. Look, I think, like you, we're going to continue to see this neck and neck race and we'll have a better idea who will take the top spot when we see them declare victory on election night because these polls right now are going to go back and forth.

Look, here are the things that Republicans have in their favor. One is that, across the board, the generic ballot show that Republicans are tightening the races. Joe Biden's approval ratings are rather low, so that's beneficial to Republicans. And we're also looking at the economy and inflation as a big driver for voters, and that's important and they're galvanizing on this.

When you look at Arizona and Nevada, these candidates, the Republican candidates, these were election deniers, these were people defended by Trump. I have been saying for quite some time you, have the Midas touch from Trump is going to be an anchor on your bank in general election. They have managed to really shift the focus and shake the etches sketch and scrub their websites and get people to realize, okay, I'm not quite as extreme on abortion, I do have better answer for the economy.

And new Gallup polls show that whatever your top issue is as a voter, whether it is the economy, or crime, or the border, voters trust Republicans to fight for and advocate for their top issue, regardless of that the issue is.


So, that's helpful for Republicans.

CUPP: But there's also like a month before elections, right, which is a long time. I declared the October surprise is dead. I said that yesterday. It's dead. So, that's not a thing. But, I mean, there's still enough time --

BERMAN: For a surprise?

CUPP: I want to say the S-word, you know, for some, you know, flip- flopping as it gets closer.

BERMAN: Look, I think another way to look at this is there is still enough time for whatever is the most important issue to shift. We just don't know what will be most on the voters' minds when they go to the polls, whether it's two, three, four weeks from now.

CUPP: Well, we know where Republicans are going to go. It's independents, moderates, center-left, center-right folks who haven't really decided that.

BERMAN: I just want to put -- when we put up numbers on what voters are more concerned about in those two states, economy and inflation is number one, and that's what Republicans are leaning into. And our poll found that, right now, there is more energy on the Republican side.

Now, President Biden yesterday made a big move, and I don't know whether it was about politics but it might have political implications, that was to pardon people of federal crimes for possession of marijuana, which would impact thousands of people retroactively. I mean, there aren't a lot of arrests now for federal procession of marijuana but it could clean up your record. Alice, what do you think the impact of this will be?

STEWART: I think this will be very impactful for Joe Biden and Democrats in terms of winning over a large portion of the voter electorate that thinks this is an important issue. There are lot of Democrats, and three-fourths of Americans think that we should legalize marijuana. So, that is something certainly a factor in him making this decision. I see this as a ploy to -- in midterms to gain support and gain voters. I happen to think that marijuana is a gateway drug. I'm not a big advocate for legalizing marijuana, maybe for medicinal purposes but not as a whole --

CUPP: Why are you looking at me?

STEWART: No, I'm just saying as a whole.

But here is the thing. Part of his announcement was to also advocate to governors to do the same at the state level. That's not happening. I reached out to Governor Asa Hutchinson's office in Arkansas. They don't like this. He sees this as waving the red flag of surrender to protecting the lives of those who are victims of drug abuse. And he also looks at this, the indiscriminate pardon across the board, as a problem. And they need to do it on a case by case basis for people that are law-abiding citizens and do so in a case by case basis.

BERMAN: Again, it is for possession and use, not for dealing. Sorry, S.E.

CUPP: No. Well, I was going to say, narrator's voice, it's for politics. But it's not -- I mean this is not bad politics. Alice talked about a majority of Americans but also a majority of Republicans favor not only legal marijuana but expunging old criminal records for marijuana possession. That's new. That last part is new.

And so I'm not sure this is a bad idea for Joe Biden. It's definitely political. It's definitely, you know, attempting to be an October driver.

BERMAN: Look, the timing of it may be. But there are people on both sides of the aisle who have been discussions across party lines about this for some time in a nonpolitical way.

CUPP: There's been movement on not only criminal justice reform but also drug reform on both sides of the aisle, for sure. BERMAN: S.E., Alice, thank you so much for being here. Have a great weekend.

CUPP: I'm going to go smoke some medicinal marijuana, apparently.

STEWART: I wasn't pointing at you. I was just using hand gestures.

CUPP: It felt personal, Alice.

BERMAN: All right. The jury in the Alex Jones trial will reconvene in just hours to determine just how much money Jones must pay to the families of Sandy Hook victims.

KEILAR: And a scary moment on the field again, what the NFL's chief medical officer is saying about the latest concussion crisis.