Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

House Democrats Expand Investigations of Trump Administration; Hurricane Dorian's Aftermath; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D- CA); Pentagon Reveals 127 Military Construction Projects Losing Funding To Help Pay For 175 Miles Of Southern Border Wall; Sources Say Rift Between Bolton, Pompeo Hits New Low; American Airlines Mechanic Accused Of Trying To Sabotage Makes First Court Appearance; Netanyahu Looks to Trump Playbook As Election Looms. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired September 6, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: As the storm moves on, why won't he?

And new investigation. House Democrats focus on Vice President Pence's stay at a Trump property in Ireland more than 100 miles from his official meetings. We're learning new details about what to expect when Congress reconvenes next week.

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: The breaking news tonight: a chilling warning from a Bahamian official, as some of the country's largest islands reel from the widespread destruction of Hurricane Dorian.

The health minister says hundreds, up to thousands of people are still missing, and that the death toll could be -- quote -- "unimaginable."

Our guest this hour, Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First let's go to CNN's Paula Newton in the Bahamian capital of Nassau.

Paula, the full scope of this disaster has yet to be revealed.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and yet to be revealed, Wolf, even to the Bahamian government.

The national security minister was very clear just a few moments ago, saying, look, they have a long road ahead. While he does say that the search, rescue, and recovery, Wolf, is in full throttle, in his words, that is cold comfort to people here still looking to get their loved ones out of some of those islands, but also to figure out where those loved ones still are.

Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON (voice-over): The people of Marsh Harbour can barely believe they survived the epic devastation of Dorian. But now they wonder, can they survive the aftermath?

The Nixon family says they barely made it through the storm. They put the children in coolers to get them out, and, at the airport, they were separated. Those same children are now stuck on the island.

ELIZABETH NIXON, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Last night, they said they was in the airport and they didn't even eat.

NEWTON (on camera): Are they at the airport right now?

NIXON: Yes, they're in the front, but it's so chaotic. With those little kids are trying to push through, it's a lot.

NEWTON (voice-over): Their aunt Elizabeth made it to Nassau and tells us the conditions are horrific and families are having to make difficult choices.

NIXON: Bodies are in the harbor. It seems we're in a movie, because you hear stories where a mother had her nephew. She had to decide which one was going to live.

NEWTON: It is the death toll that so rattles many here. Even the government admits the official death toll doesn't begin to tally the grim reality of this disaster, especially in some of the poorer neighborhoods.

And then there's the aid effort. It would be a challenge for any nation, but the damage inflicted here over several hundred miles of scattered islands and keys will transform the Bahamas for months, possibly years, villages and towns that may never be inhabited again.

The basics are getting in, but the distribution has been spotty and at times chaotic. There are significant search-and-rescue efforts on the go and aid pre-positioned on land and offshore. But the mix of volunteer and government efforts has complicated delivery.

It means aid isn't always getting to the most needy. The effort has even brought volunteer aid workers to their breaking point.

GINA KNOWLES, HEADKNOWLES RELIEF AGENCY: It's upsetting that these people have to stay in shelters, and then hearing they're not being fed. And the children.

NEWTON: And Bahamians also worry the millions being donated may not reach them in time to make a difference or reach them at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: Now, giving Bahamians a measure of comfort is, of course, the U.S. military, which has been here. The U.S. government saying, look, we are in close contact with this government. We are doing what we can, a lot of it, Wolf, from Florida, because it's such close proximity.

Commander O'Shaughnessy from Northern Command said that they have been on the ground and doing everything they can to continue with those aid efforts and important as well the search, rescue and recovery -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Paula Newton in the Bahamas for us -- Paula, thanks for your terrific reporting for us.

This hurricane is still very much on President Trump's mind as he continues to insist his incorrect claim about Dorian's threat to Alabama was right.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He has the latest for us.

So, Jim, the president simply won't let this go.

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

President Trump is still trying to rewrite reality. He's still obsessed with proving he was right about Hurricane Dorian. But while the president is fixated on the hurricane, White House officials may be ignoring other possible problems creeping up on them, including the economy and Mr. Trump's quest for a wall that has his fellow Republicans getting nervous, potentially pitting the president against the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other GOP lawmakers.

[18:05:07]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the Carolinas and the Bahamas picking up the pieces after Hurricane Dorian, President Trump is still defending his magic marker meteorology, tweeting: "The fake news media was fixated on the fact that I properly said at the beginnings of Hurricane Dorian that, in addition to Florida and other states, Alabama may also be grazed or hit. They went crazy, hoping against hope that I made a mistake, which I didn't."

Despite a week's worth of fact-checks showing that's not true, the Trump campaign is cashing in, selling these Trump campaign markers for $15, a big markup from what they cost in stores.

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci once again claimed there is something wrong with the president.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think the president is in severe mental decline, and I'm not saying that now because I'm a political adversary or I have disavowed him. I'm saying that objectively, just looking at what's going on.

ACOSTA: But the White House may have bigger problems on its hands after the latest unemployment numbers found 130,000 jobs were added in August, below expectations, given that 25,000 of those positions were for the census. The president is again tweeting his frustrations about Federal Reserve

chairman Jerome Powell, asking: "Where did I find this guy Jerome? Oh, well, you can't win them all."

Powell said the Fed is watching the economy closely but doesn't see a recession coming.

JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: I did mention, though, that there are these risks. And we're monitoring them very carefully and we're conducting policy in a way that will address them. But, no, I wouldn't see a recession as the most likely outcome for the United States or for the world economy, for that matter.

ACOSTA: And neither does the White House.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The best answer I can give you is, we have no immediate urgency, if that's what you're asking. There's no anti-recession policy making because we don't see a recession.

ACOSTA: There is growing concern among GOP lawmakers over the White House plan to divert billions of dollars from military projects to pay for Mr. Trump's border wall, including a middle school at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said The longtime Kentucky lawmaker recently talked to Defense Secretary Esper regarding the issue and is committed to protecting funding for the Fort Campbell middle school project.

Democrats say the plan doesn't make sense.

REP. BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): The whole idea of taking projects that are desperately needed for national security and using it on a wall that they can't even get a straight excuse why it's needed, that's particularly egregious.

ACOSTA: Despite the president's unilateral action to divert money to his wall, Mr. Trump is slamming former President Barack Obama's DACA program, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, tweeting: "Obama never had the legal right to sign DACA. Totally illegal document."

Democrats say the president has bigger immigration problems to solve, like his own rhetoric, in light of the El Paso mass shooting.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): There is also a direct line from the rhetoric that we have heard from the president, calling immigrants thugs and rapists, invaders, infestation of this country. The murderer in his own manifesto used some of the same terms, practically quoted it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And the administration's efforts to clean up the president's hurricane comments continue. You will recall this tweet put out by the Birmingham office of the

National Weather Service that was put out on Sunday. It says: "Alabama will not see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east."

That tweet was put out essentially to correct something that the president said when he had said that Alabama may be hit by Hurricane Dorian.

Wolf, let's show what our viewers need to see right now coming in from the folks over at NOAA. This is a statement essentially throwing the Birmingham National Weather Service under the bus.

It says -- quote -- "The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time."

Wolf, you will recall last night, the president's top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser put out a statement essentially trying to justify what the president had said on Sunday. Now the weather experts at NOAA are doing the same.

Wolf, it seems the president cannot simply admit that he made a mistake, and he's having different arms of the federal government coming in to try to rescue him, when he simply can't admit that he was wrong last Sunday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Such an amazing development indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that report.

Tonight, congressional Democrats are preparing to turn up the heat on President Trump.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, has some new details for us.

Sunlen, when Congress returns next week, House Democrats are planning to widen their impeachment probe. What are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: yes, Wolf, this will certainly be a big focus this fall.

House Democrats, they are bringing now a new strategy to their oversight, and they are now going to be expanding their investigation of President Trump beyond just what was in the Mueller report, where, of course, so much of their focus had previously been throughout the last year.

[18:10:07]

They're now going to be widening out their investigations to include other aspects of Trump, other areas where they see potential abuses of power, like potentially those hush money payments, just for example, all of this intended to help them answer, of course, the big question on many people's mind on Capitol Hill, whether they will formally recommend articles of impeachment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: House Democrats, Sunlen, they're also demanding documents around two key matters. What are you learning on that front?

SERFATY: That's right.

First, they're asking for details and documents from the vice president's now very controversial stay at the president's resort in Ireland. They want to know the cost of the stay, the transportation, the security, all of those costs associated with that trip.

And they are also looking into the president's recent suggestion that his Miami golf course could host the G7 meeting next year. All this, the committee, House Oversight, House -- raises concerns about the president enriching himself, potentially in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and certainly, Wolf, a very good example here of how they intend to widen their investigations into the president this fall.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much, Sunlen Serfaty with that.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California is joining us. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, what do you hope to accomplish with this new phase of oversight?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, we simply have to do our job.

There is absolutely no doubt that this administration's totally out of control. There is no doubt about the corruption in the administration. There's no doubt that the president has enriched himself at his various properties around the world to the -- to his own benefit, but not necessarily to the benefit of the taxpayers.

All of that requires investigation. And did I mention the Mueller report? That is still out there. We need the detail. We need the facts that were the foundation of the Mueller report. We need to proceed with the inquiry, the impeachment inquiry.

It may very well, yes or no, lead to an impeachment. But this is our job. This is required by our Constitution, and it is required that we carry it out.

BLITZER: President Trump, he certainly appears to be distracted by his flub over the path of Hurricane Dorian.

But this storm could have hit American citizens much harder than it did. What are the potential consequences, Congressman, of a commander in chief amplifying the wrong information in a crisis like this?

GARAMENDI: It's horrendous. It is absolutely horrendous. This is a dangerous world. Have we forgotten about North Korea? Iran is still out there. The violent extreme organizations throughout the world are still out there.

All of those -- did I mention the economy? All of those issues are out there. And in order for this nation to lead, in order for us to be a beacon that the rest of the world can look to, we have to have a president that is honest, that deals with the facts, that deals with the truth, and can move from a crisis to a crisis without getting hung up on a sharpie.

This is a very, very serious matter. We see, with regard to the military construction projects around the world, a Department of Defense that is in disarray as a result of what the president is doing to attempt to build his border wall.

BLITZER: Well, you serve on the Armed Services Committee. In fact, you're the chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, which means you oversee the Pentagon projects that are having their funding right now reprogrammed -- reprogrammed, that's a kind word for eliminated -- to start building President Trump's border wall.

What went through your mind when you read that list of programs, several billion dollars?

GARAMENDI: Several things.

First of all, I know each and every one of these projects. That's our task. My committee is responsible for over 1,000 military facilities around the world. We have gone through analysis. We know exactly what needs to be done. Some of these are absolutely critical projects.

If you care about what's going on with Putin, you better care about what the president has done there. Projects for the United States military to push back, to secure the eastern border of NATO have been ripped off, ripped off by this president.

We're talking about cybersecurity projects in Estonia. We're talking about military bases and preparedness in Poland. We're talking about, in the area of Ukraine, not NATO, but, in Ukraine, we are providing support, training to the Ukrainian government so that they can push back against the Russian incursions into that nation.

All of this has been sidelined -- not sidelined, buried by the Trump attempt to fund his border. It is outrageous. It is dangerous. It gives Putin a lot of leeway, and some -- some notion that the United States is not willing to stand up for NATO, not willing to stand up against Putin.

[18:15:08]

It is extraordinarily dangerous to give that -- to give Putin even an inch. He will take it, and then he will take a whole lot more. And this president's giving him a lot of leeway on a lot of issues.

The fundamental question again in the inquiries in Congress is, what in the hell is going on between Putin and Trump? BLITZER: As you know, the president, he promised voters during the

campaign repeatedly, sometimes on a daily basis, that Mexico would pay for the wall.

He continued to make those promises after he was elected. He no longer says that now. Who would you say is bearing the brunt of this reprogramming right now?

GARAMENDI: Well, first, the American taxpayer. Mexico is not paying for it. The American taxpayer is, secondly, the men and women in the military that are posted around the world.

Schools are not going to be built. Day care centers are not going to be built. Facilities that are necessary for the support, the support of families, the support of the troops, is not going to happen. And, most importantly of all, the ability for the troops to have the equipment, to have the facilities that they need to prepare to defend this nation will not be there overseas and within America.

It is outrageous, what this man is doing, and we have to fight back, and we have got a constitutional issue here that we must pay attention to. The president is usurping, taking the constitutional authority of the Congress.

We have specifically said, no, Mr. President, you only have $1.3 billion for your border wall. That's $1.3 billion for your border wall, no more.

He's using an obscure power to circumvent the appropriation authority of Congress, the power of the purse, and we have to fight this. We cannot stand aside. This is not just about us. This is about tomorrow. This is about the next president and about the next person that wants to be an autocrat.

We're either going to have a democracy or not, and the fight is here and now.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Any time.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead.

Survivors give chilling descriptions of the hurricane horrors on the Bahamas. One of them told our crew that there are now bodies everywhere.

Plus, President Trump promised Mexico would pay for his border wall, but now we're learning money from the U.S. military is being diverted to fund it instead. We have more information on that as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:37] BLITZER: The death toll and damage from Hurricane Dorian is growing tonight from the Bahamas to North Carolina, but not in Alabama, which President Trump incorrectly warned could face danger from the storm, even going so far as to refer to a forecast map that had clearly been altered.

And, tonight, the president continues to defend that mistake.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

And, Phil Mudd, as you know, "The Washington Post" is reporting it was the president himself who took a sharpie to that graphic. You have worked at both the FBI and CIA. What should officials over there in that briefing have done in reaction to that?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, let's take two pieces of this.

In the midst of the briefing, nothing. You got to zip it. Look, if you speak publicly in the midst of that briefing and embarrass the president, that's what we used to call at the CIA a CLM. That's a career limiting move. Do not embarrass the president in public.

Immediately after the briefing, you walk out and say, what the heck do we do in the face of this embarrassment?

This is where I'm ready to jump out of my seat, Wolf, because this isn't that hard. If the president were participating in that conversation, the answer is really easy. Look, the president knows that the National Weather Service didn't put Alabama on the map.

But the president has political responsibilities beyond what the National Weather Service says. Out of an abundance of caution, the president just wanted to tell the people of Alabama, I know that you're not supposed to be in the line of the hurricane, but please just be careful.

I don't understand why you couldn't have your cake and eat it too. That's not what the Weather Service says about Alabama, but they could have easily said after the presidential briefing with the sharpie, the president just wanted to warn people because he's worried about them.

That's all they had to do.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

Jeffrey, luckily, the East Coast missed the worst of this hurricane. The Bahamas got the brunt of it, as we know. But what happens if we do have another what they're now calling a sharpie-gate situation with another serious crisis?

Imagine, for example, if things are heating up with Iran or North Korea, and the president is sharing inaccurate information or he's distracted by some other issue.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no one will believe him. No one should believe him. He's lied so much as president that his credibility is zero.

You know, one of the remarkable things about the Trump presidency is that there have been very few crises. You know, most presidents have to deal with unexpected international controversies and potentially military matters.

[18:25:03]

He's been very lucky in that regard. And that -- but his luck may not continue. And given his record of constant lying, he's not going to have people believe him. And, you know, this sharpie thing is -- you know, it's sort of tragicomic, but it is also serious because it is indicative of a president who simply cannot be believed.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, Democrats in Congress, as you know, they're getting right now to ramp up their oversight efforts, especially on the latest with President Trump's hotels, because it looks like administration officials, foreign officials know that the president is happy to see them stay at his properties.

So what's the latest on that front?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president has had a pattern of using his office to promote his own properties.

And now House Democrats are asking questions. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings in particular is seeking documents stemming from Vice President Mike Pence's decision to stay at the president's golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, which was, you know, well over 100 miles away from his meetings in Dublin.

There is also separate questions being raised by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler about the president's efforts to host the next G7 at one of his properties in Florida.

And what Democrats are saying is that the president should not be using his office to try and enrich himself or his family or his other businesses.

Remember, the president did not divest from his businesses, and he handed over the day-to-day operations to his sons, as opposed to truly placing those operations in a blind trust. And so there have been constant questions as to whether, one, U.S. taxpayer dollars are going toward the president's properties, when you look at the Secret Service arrangements around Mike Pence's stay in Ireland and, separately, of course, the concept of the president earning money off of the office that he holds.

TOOBIN: And, Wolf, if I can just add one point, there is a specific constitutional provision, the domestic Emoluments Clause, not the foreign Emoluments Clause, but the domestic Emoluments Clause, which says the president is only supposed to receive his salary from the U.S. government, no other funds.

If he is steering U.S. government money to his hotels, that's a violation of the Constitution, just as foreign governments funneling money through his hotels is also a violation of the Constitution, at least potentially.

BLITZER: And that's very significant indeed.

Rachael, are we seeing now a new phase in the House Democrats' strategy?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right.

So they have spent the past few months focusing on the Mueller report, specifically allegations of potential obstruction of justice. This is a new phase, in that they're going to look at, as Jeffrey was laying out there, the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution and whether the president is trying to enrich himself.

But, also, as we reported earlier this week, what was his involvement in the hush payment issue? Obviously, his former attorney, Michael Cohen, who is now in prison and pled guilty to campaign finance violations, said Trump was the one who directed him to pay off these women.

We didn't see any more indictments, obviously. But I think the question for House Democrats right now is, can they really move the needle with these inquiries? The White House has really stonewalled all the information they have asked for in the past.

They haven't gotten a lot of documents. They haven't had a lot of success in getting people in the witness chair to have these big blockbuster moments. And, consequently, when you ask voters about impeachment, a majority of them, polls show, do not support this move to oust the president that a majority of House Democrats want to actually push for.

So, what they're trying to do is actually move the needle on those numbers, because they see sort of the end of the year as the window to begin impeaching the president. So they're running against the clock right now.

BLITZER: All right, Rachael, everybody else, everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more news that's unfolding right now. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.

[18:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We're back with our experts and our analysts.

Rachael, President Trump has also been tweeting about the border wall that he wants. And we know -- we now have a list of all the projects the Pentagon is putting on hold to transfer money for the wall. He promised Mexico would pay for that. Mexico is not paying for it. It now looks like the U.S. military and American military families will feel the cost. What's the latest? RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it certainly looks like that, Wolf. Some of the money that they're going to be taking away to build his border wall includes funding for military schools for kids, so military kids whose parents are in the armed forces, also maintenance for weapons and aircraft that our U.S. servicemen use and fly every day.

Look, every single one of these bases that is affected actually has a congressman. And that congressman, you can bet, is going to be fighting tooth and nail when they get back here in September to try to keep that money from being shifted. And that's why you're seeing mostly Democrats out there obviously calling foul on this, but also even some Republicans whose districts are going to, frankly, be affected by this.

And there's also a Constitutional argument we're hearing the Democrats make, and that is that, under the Constitution, Congress has the Power of the purse, not the president. He's just supposed to execute it. So him moving this money around, that is a legal challenge that is obviously ongoing.

I think the question is [18:35:00] what can they do right now. And you have to remember that every fall, Congress has to fund the government, and specifically Democrats are going to tuck in language that says Trump cannot make these changes, cannot make these moves. Perhaps Republicans will go along with it because some of their districts are being affected. And if that is sent to the White House, the question is does he shut down the government and veto such a bill, or does he take it and sort of figure out another way to fund his border wall.

BLITZER: Yes, because you're absolutely right. The legislation that was passed specifically authorizes and appropriates funds for these projects.

Jeffrey Toobin, what message does it send to U.S. service members and their families and to American allies?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That the wall is more important than national security, that his view -- that the president's view of national security is that the wall trumps everything else.

And, you know, this is a really political question for the country. I mean, this is something that is obviously going to be a very big issue in the 2020 campaign, regardless of which Democrat it is running, which is, you know, is the border wall something that is so important that it was worth, A, shutting down the government, as the president did earlier, and, B, moving money from national security projects like helping our troops to fund the wall. I mean, it's an issue that the public ultimately is going to get a vote on, and that seems an appropriate thing to me.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a significant development.

You know, Phil, we're learning more also about this growing rift that has emerged between the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the president's National Security Adviser, John Bolton. It's gotten to the point that we're told now they barely speak. What do you make of this?

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, there's a serious part and a not serious part. The serious part is, look, if you're the president of the United States, you've got a lot of decision-makers below, Secretary of Defense, Homeland Security secretary, Secretary of State. They've got to talk to you about everything from immigration to Iraq, to North Korea, to Saudi Arabia. You need a filter who talks to all those people and says, Mr. President, this is what your advisers are saying. When the president makes a decision, you need a filter in the other direction. The president has decided this. Hey, Secretary of State, here is your piece of the puzzle.

The serious part of this is how can you be a filter as the national security adviser for the big decision-maker, the president, when one of the biggest people under you, the secretary of state, you're not on speaking terms with? The sort of semi-humerus part of this is it's not a secret in Washington. The colleagues I have who work with Mr. Bolton, they'd rather talk to the IRS than have a cocktail with him, the least liked person in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens as far as his job is concerned.

Everybody stick around.

Just ahead, an airline mechanic accused of tampering with a plane in an effort to sabotage it. Up next, what we learned from his first court appearance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: An American Airlines mechanic is due back in federal court next week after making his first appearance today on charges that he tried to sabotage a plane with 150 people onboard.

Our Aviation Correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us right now. Rene, there is new information coming in right now about what this mechanic allegedly did and why.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. You know, this is really unthinkable, a trusted individual, like an airline mechanic, allegedly tampering with, sabotaging a commercial airliner all because he was upset about contract negotiations between the airline and the workers' union.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Tonight, an American Airlines mechanic is accused of trying to sabotage a commercial airliner with 150 people onboard just before takeoff. Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani faced a judge in Miami after being charged with willfully damaging, destroying, disabling or wrecking an aircraft and attempting to do so. Alani has not entered a plea.

It happened at American Airlines Hub Miami International Airport on July 17th. According to the arrest affidavit, the plane's pitot tube, a key instrument, was found loose.

RODNEY HOOVER, CHIEF FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR, FREEWAY AIRPORT: This is the pitot tube. This is what drives our air speed indicator so that we know how fast we're moving through the air, which is one of the more fundamental things about flying a plane.

MARSH: Additionally, investigators say Alani superglued a piece of foam to a part of plane's navigation system to disable it. The system reports aircraft speed, pitch and other critical data.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: You have to know how fast the plane is going to do a successful takeoff. It's a very dangerous malfunction.

MARSH: The pilots noticed the problem as the plane began rolling for takeoff en route to the Bahamas, forcing them to abort takeoff.

Alani told investigators he was upset over a contract dispute between union workers and the airline that was costing him money. He allegedly tampered with the aircraft so he could get overtime by fixing the problem, which he created. According to the complaint, his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers.

[18:45:03]

Tonight, the incident is highlighting the vulnerabilities that still exist for commercial aviation post-9/11.

JAVED ALI, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: There should certainly be an expectation that the airline security personnel, law enforcement, homeland security, that they are making sure that these types of events don't happen again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, in a letter to employees, American airlines saying today that they are disturbed by this incident and that they're cooperating with authorities. We do know the mechanic has been suspended, and we're also learning tonight he at one point worked for Alaska airlines but was fired. In court documents, the reason given, because of mechanical errors.

Back to you, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Rene. Thanks very much. Rene Marsh, reporting.

Just ahead, with an election looming, a surprising candidate is using President Trump's playbook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:38]

BLITZER: With a little more than a week to go before the Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to President Trump's campaign playbook.

CNN's Oren Liebermann reports from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They share a style, a billboard, and now it seems a campaign strategy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is a lot of fake news back.

LIEBERMANN: President Trump has made attacking the media a central theme of his election and his presidency.

TRUMP: If you look at the news cast, I call it fake news.

LIEBERMANN: And now his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's facing a tough re-election bid, is doing the same.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: (INAUDIBLE) fake news.

LIEBERMANN: Ignoring traditional media outlets, the longest-serving leader in Israel history has gone to Facebook Live to rail against what he calls a secret quartet of media owners planning to tilt the result of the upcoming election.

NETANYAHU (through translator): The media court-martials us. They lie. They cheat. They distort on an enormous scale and when we give our reaction, they say, this is terrible. This is awful. This is incitement.

LIEBERMANN: In a week when Hezbollah militants fired anti-tank missiles at Israel, Netanyahu said it was the media that was planning what he called a terror attack.

NETANYAHU: You are carrying out a terror attack against the truth and against democracy. We will not bow down to your hypocritical double standards. We know it's all a bluff.

LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu and his Likud Party declined to comment to CNN. But political analysts here say they've never seen anything like this.

CHEMI SHALEV, HAARETZ JOURNALIST: In Israel, to call a journalist a terrorist which is the worst moniker that you can attach to anyone and to declare that they are trying to undermine democracy is very dangerous. It's a new stage.

LIEBERMANN: Channel 12's Guy Peleg now has a security team for his own safety. He says he's received threats.

But Netanyahu in another echo Trump's language called them fake security guards. As Netanyahu faces possible charges of bribery and breach of trust in

ongoing corruption investigations, he's accused the media of carrying out a witch hunt in an effort to unseat him. Even though it's an attorney general he appointed who is in charge of the cases. Netanyahu has insisted he is innocent.

SHALEV: I think now he truly believes that he is being persecuted, victimized by a vast left wing cabal run by the media. And I think it's worrying if he is indeed living in such a delusional state.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN: Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to warn of election fraud in the upcoming election on September 17th, saying they are trying to steal the election from him and his party, he says, especially in the Arab polling places.

Wolf, his rival, former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, warns that this Netanyahu just trying to lay the groundwork to reject an important democratic process.

BLITZER: Very, very disturbing developments indeed.

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

Just ahead, the story behind this memorable image from Hurricane Dorian.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:16]

BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning the story behind this memorable image from Hurricane Dorian.

You might have seen it. This Jeep stuck in the rising storm surge as Dorian lashed Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Now, the owner is revealing he lent to his cousin but got it stuck but couldn't find anyone to get it out as conditions worsen. But he couldn't fess up and the owner found out about his car from police hours later.

Today, we saw this video showing the Jeep being towed to safety. Unfortunately, the owner thinks it's a total loss.

Finally tonight, we're saying goodbye to a SITUATION ROOM original. Our senior writer Howard Moss is retiring after an astounding 42 years in journalism. Howard began his career as a freelance radio correspondent, eventually working his way to the Mutual Radio Network where he covered Israel and the State Department before joining CNN. Howard and I met early in our careers and have been lucky to work side by side for more than two decades.

For the last 14 years, he's shaped this newscast with his brilliant writing, turning complex subjects into words that are concise, clear and comprehensive. If you ever heard me say something really clever or smart or really funny, chances are Howard wrote those words. But Howard is more than a writer. He is the heart and soul of our

team. A moral compass and a mentor for so many. He is also a good friend to everyone he meets. And he happens to be a pretty mean blues harmonica player as well.

We will miss Howard but we know he is beginning an exciting new chapter in his life spending more time with his beautiful wife and two daughters. We wish him only the very, very best.

So, tonight, for Howard Moss, I'm wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

[19:00:00]