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tv   Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  September 19, 2019 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT

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charges against man accused of scouting terror attacks in new york. all out war. that's what iran's foreign minister is now threatening. the country's attack by the yiet or saudi arabia. tensions escalating as president trump weighs a military response. a flood emergency are growing desperate as texans are trapped in homes and cars swamped by as much as 30 inches of rain. we're following the rescue, evacuations and the danger tonight. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're many tin "the situation." we're following breaking news on a battle over a secret whistle blower complaint. our new reporting suggests it raises serious concerns about
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multiple actions including president trump's communication with a foreign leader. sources say the intel communities inspector general suggested to the house intelligence committee that the whistle blower was troubled by more than one event and we're told the suspecter general refused to reveal details about the complaint. cnn has learned the white house and the justice department have advised the nation's top intelligence agency to with hold the complaint from congress. this hour i'll talk with a democrat on the house intelligence committee and our correspondents and analysts are standing by. let's go to our national correspondent. we know more about that whistle blower complaint tonight but it is still deeply shrouded in secrecy. >> that's right. because the white house and the department of justice have told the acting director of national intelligence that this whistle blower complaint, despite coming from the intelligence community cannot be revealed by him. the inspector general for the
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intelligence to congress. this involves a sequence of events and alleged actions. an unseen explosive complaint by a member of the intelligence community about the president. it's being blocked from congress. sources telling cnn that the white house and the department of justice told the office of the director of national intelligence that the whistle blower's complaint was not theirs to release arguing it's not an intelligence matter because it involves the executive branch as in the president. cnn has learned there were multiple acts that concerned the whistle blower that amounted to enough of a blockbuster claim that the intelligence community inspector general felt forced to go himself to congress giving closed door testimony today. >> we can't get an answer because the department of
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justice and the director of national intelligence will not authorize the ig to tell us. the inspector general is doing his very best to be very careful that he follow the law. >> reporter: the inspector general not only falls within the dni jurisdiction but relates to one of the most significant and important dni responsibilities to the american people. when the ig spoke to the house intelligence committee he didn't provide details about the complaint. ham strung by someone trying to manipulate the system. >> that whole purpose is being frustrated here because the director of national intelligence has made the unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with congress. >> reporter: the lawyer argues the complaint here involves confidential and potentially privileged matters related to the interest of other stake holders within the executive
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branch. the whistle blower alleges in communication between the foreign leader and president trump, president trump, according to the washington post made that leader a promise. what he allegedly promised is unknown as is who the foreign leader was. the complaint was filed on august 12th just days before then director of national intelligence dan coats as well as his deputy were pushed out by the president on august 15th. it was after the president had communicated with other world leaders in the previous weeks including the president of ukraine, the prime minister of israel, dictator of north korea, the amir of qatar and the president of russia. >> we have learned the acting dni will testify next week not just to the house intelligence committee but the senate intel and closed session in the senate. one hand a very serious
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complaint. someone in his own intelligence community and on the other it's about his boss. >> thanks very much. let's get some more on how the white house is working to keep the whistle blower complaint a secret. jim, this is another major controversy that president trump is trying to brush aside. >> reporter: that's right. the president said there's nothing to see but that begs the question why is the trump administration stone walling congress over a whistle blower complaint that involves multiple actions. some involving the president. we're told the inspector general for the intelligence community expressed earlier today that he did not agree with decision by the trump administration to with hold the information from congress. it amounts to taking the whistle from the whistle blower. the president is digging in his heels as the white house is blocking the release of a whistle blower complaint to congress about a conversation
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will trump had with a foreign leader that raised red flags. president trump insist there's nothing to see here tweeting any time i speak on the phone to a foreign leader i understand there may be many people listening from various u.s. agencies not to mention those from the other country. knowing all this is anybody dumb enough to believe i would say anything inappropriate with a foreign leader while on a heavily populated call. i would only do good for the usa. the administration is refusing to hand the complaint over to congress frustrating democrats. >> you need to have people who can come forward, their story can be heard fp . if you're dealing with something of urgent concern that needs to come to congress. >> reporter: the inspector general who indicated the whistle blower is male said he disagreed with administration's decision to with hold the information saying the complaint falls outside the jurisdiction
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of the director of national intelligence. democrats are worried if the matter ends up in court the complaint will never be made public. >> they may feel we can fight this out in the courts for a year. we can fight it out beyond the election in november of next year. >> reporter: democratic accusations of a cover up come as the president is weighing whether to retaliate against iran over an alleged strike on a saudi arabian oil facility. >> we believe a military confrontation based on deception is awful. have a lot of casualties but we won't blink to defend our territory. >> after describing the attack as an act of war, mike pompeo stressed he's trying to find a diplomatic solution. >> the foreign minister is threatening all out war we're
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here to build out a coalition aimed at bitding peace. that's my mission. that's what president trump wants me to work to achieve. >> the president is engaged in stone cawalling on another fron. fighting to block prosecutors from obtaining his tax returns in new york. a senior administration official tells cnn that these leaks that have angered the president over the years that as those leaks angered the president top officials began to limit who could listen in on these conversations as the tighten the circumstan circle of people in the know. that means there may only be a small number of people who know the details that are at issue here in this whistle blower complaint. the president tweeted earlier he's careful about what he says on such heavily populated calls as he describes them but as we're understanding talking to officials at times the white house has limited the number of
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people in the know on those calls. thank you. we have more breaking news. a new terrorism charges. a new jersey man is accused of scouting potential attack targets for hezbollah. let's bring in our crime and justice reporter. what more are you learning about this suspect and the charges that have now been levelled against him? >> this is a 42-year-old man who was living in mars town, new jersey. it clearly appears he's been on the radar for quite some time. what we don't know is why they those to move in and arrest him in july. he was arrested in july all based on the fact he's been part of hezbollah. training with hezbollah for about 22 years according to the fbi. according to the department of justice. he received training in firearms, bomb making. all sorts of training in lebanon
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for hezbollah. he also targeted an israeli spy. what's interesting is he was acting as a scout for hezbollah. back in 2003 he sent photos. he was here in new york in boston sending photos of various targets in boston, in washington, d.c., bridges here in new york were part of his target. also photos of 26 federal plaza where the fbi is headquartered here in new york city. all sorts of photos that he was essentially collecting and then sending to hezbollah and the point they're saying is this was all for anticipation of an attack. a possible attack. different targets he was scouting for hezbollah. they asked him to come here and take these photos and all part of his training and association with this group. he was conducting this surveillance. also they say that he was
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arrested in july but they've kept it secret. most likely that's because he's been cooperating with investigators. they interviewed him some 11 times. a lot of the information they have is based on those interviews but very rare i think important to know you have this kind of a arrest associated to someone with this terror group in the u.s. it's very rare. nonetheless a big concern and it also shows in the end that authorities are going to continue to investigate this matter when someone may have been involved be p they will keep an eye on this and investigate and arrest the person. obviously very concerning for authorities. they just today released the charges and he's continuing to believe to cooperate with investigators. >> the u.s. has branded hezbollah terrorist organization for many, many years. we'll get more information. thank you. joining us democratic congressman is a member of the house intelligence committee. that was brief on the secret whistle blower complaint earlier
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in the day. congressman, thanks so much for joining us. i know you heard directly from the intelligence communities inspector general all behind closed doors. we know he described this complaint as a sequence of events. i know you can't discuss classified information but what can you tell us about what you learn? >> first of all, he didn't address it in any way and inform it as to the substance of that complaint. it would have been a violation of his oath of office. here is what we learned. america is less safe tonight if this press dent cedent is allow stand. let's take a historical context. the intelligence community whistle blower act was enbasiced in 98. updated in 2010. it was adopted for one purpose. that was to provide whistle blowers who had credible evidence of serious abuses or violation, protection if they were to come forward.
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that's its purpose. to provide them with that protection. if the subject of a complaint is allowed to quash it then the whistle blower will not receive any protection. that makes it less likely the whistle blowers will come forward and we're all less safe. this could create an incentury tifr -- incentive of someone with wrong doing. they may just go public with it and may compromise methods and procedures. we're less safe on several levels if this precedent has been allowed to stand. >> the inspector general strongly rejects the white house and justice department rational for refusing to hand over this
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complaint to congress. what does that tell you? >> it was a mini act of profile that the inspector would be willing to reduce to writing. he set forth the way he thought the odni's decision which in our opinion clearly violates unambiguous black letter of the law. the role of the odni is that of a clerk. as a matter of fact every director of national intelligence has done that. even when it did not meet the threshold and that's what the inspector general deemed in this case that it was credible and that it was urgent which mines
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it w -- means it was a serious violation. >> do you believe the trump administration is now breaking the law? >> sure. you could have invited me on your program any number of times over the last two years and ten months and i could have cited a recent example. >> what are you going to do about it? >> we will be having the odni into the intelligence committee next week as will the senate intelligence committee. we'll see if that is an opportunity for him to change his mind or change his heart or move the chains down the field. we are seeking remedies. i would say we would litigate this but the truth of the matter is because it's been deemed urgent by the inspector general i think we will be seeing an urgent legal remedy which will be a little more accelerated than that of which we normally pursue in the courts. >> can you share some thoughts on, you spent behind closed doors quite a bit of time with the inspector general today. tell us about his demeanor.
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was he angry, frustrated? what can you tell ussponding to questions? >> he was a professional, wolf. >> was he angry? >> he was a professional who was putting the interest of his country and the rule of law first and foremost in his very considerable responsibilities in his job. >> the washington post is reporting that the complaint stemmed from a so called promise president trump made in a phone call with a foreign leader. how concerning is that to you? >> i'm not going to speculate at all as to what the substance of this may have been or who it may have involved. obviously there's a couple of press reports as to who that might have been. that's important. hopefully we will learn that and learn that soon. again, i want to tell you i think it's secondary to the willful violation of the intelligence community whistle blower act that keeps us all safe by protecting whistle
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blowers and discouraging any consideration of releasing information to the public if it's not yet or if it's not first gone through proep channels. >> how worried are you that this whistle blower will face retaliation now as a result of this uproar that's developed be. >> in effect he already has faced retaliation, hasn't he? the complaint he filed with the full understanding of what the law was was quashed or it's been quashed thus far. so, yes, of course i'm concerned for him or her whomever it may be just as i'm concerned about the content of it but i'm concerned about the underlying law. this law needs to be safeguarded. this law needs to be upheld so we can be safer. >> the inspector general suspected it's a him, not a her. obviously we have no idea who this person is.
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thanks so much for joining us. >> you're welcome. just ahead, democratic lawmakers vent their frustration at the acting dni's refusal to hand over whistle blower complaint about president trump. do they have any recourse? another vaping related death has just been announced as the number of illnesses across the united states is soaring. geico makes it easy to get help when i need it. with licensed agents available 24-7, it's not just easy. it's having-jerome-bettis- on-your-flag-football-team easy. go get 'em, bus! ohhhh! [laughing] c'mon bus, c'mon! hey, wait, wait, wait! hey man, i got your flag! i got your flag, man! i got your flag! it's geico easy. with licensed agents available 24/7. 49 - nothing! woo! it's something we take personally,
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breaking news, new information about the secret whistle blower complaint being held from congress. the whistleblower raised serious concerns about multiple acts. cnn has confirmed the complaint involves president trump and specifically cites his communication with a foreign leader. the washington post reports mr. trump made a promise during that exchange. let's bring in our analysts and our experts. you used to work in the intelligence community. the inspector general didn't disclose a lot of specifics today when he briefed members of the house intelligence committee behind closes doors but in a letter that was released, four page, single page letter he writes this, i nevertheless
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respectfully disagree with that determination particularly the department of justice conclusion and the acting dni agreement with don collusion that the disclosure in this case does not concern an intelligence activity within the dni authority and it need not be transmitted to the congressional init witelligence committee. this rejection of what the department of justice says and the acting dni says, this is a big deal. >> yes the fact it's a trump political appointee shows this is not the deep state. it's really significant that the inspector general is not backing down. he is sticking to his guns. he is saying he believes this falls within the requirement. the law says that the inspector general gets to make the determination of whether or not this is an urgent concern within the meaning of the law. the dni is a purely ministerial
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function. he's obligated to transmit that information to congress. the dni is not allowed to insert his own judgment. unless you really don't want to. unless doj asserts this privilege claim. it shall be transmitted. i think one thing is that is significant to understand is what the white house is arguing is that you cannot blow the whistle on the president. that no matter what an intelligence community member might have heard the president say or promise in these phone calls, the nature of executive privilege is such that person cannot tell congress in a classified facility in a space which that information would be protected. we're talking about an assertion of executive power that is beyond even what we would have seen richard nixon assert. it's just an astonishing claim. >> cnn has learned the white house and the department of justice advised the acting director of national intelligence that the complaint
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by this whistleblower should not be shared with congress. what's their reasoning? >> they haven't announced their reasoning. all we know is the doj has objected to it. i think it's safe to assume it's based on article two of the constitution that defines the power of the executive branch which includes foreign relations. dealings with foreign leaders and again, i don't know this for sure but i think the claim is interactions between the president and foreign heads of state are so much at the core of the president's powers under the constitution it's not subject to review or disclosure by either his subordinate within the executive branch or the legislative branch. all of that defends on whpends facts. that's got to be the general gist. >> laura, what avenues does the house intelligence committee
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have right now. >> it's almost like that in case emergency break glass. we're in unchartered territory. once again we have congress in a role of saying separation of power is supposed to be an agreed upon universality. they can say we need to have the compel to give it to us. what helps that argument is you have this letter. that say i disagree with this. i believe it's urgent. it's not a judgment call. it's about a process to remove any opinion or judgment call from it. they could try to do that. they could ask for it to be urgent. we come back to notion of separation of powers and the notion of where do we stand if congress really does have a
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meaty recourse. can he say no and thumb his nose even without knowing the content. to know there's no process that can be respected in place to have the president of the yiet p -- united states power limited is terrifying. >> he wrote the complaint quote not only falls within the d initiation's jurisdiction but related to one of the most significant and important of the dni's responsibilities to the american people. >> i think she's right about the argument that the legislatures will make. one of their problems is that this statute, the law and i made a mistab aboke about this on ne opinion this law has a provision that says these decisions are not subject to judicial review
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which i'm not sure every court would follow that but i think it makes congress's job even harder to persuade a court that the executive branch is making a mistake here because there is this unusual provision in the law itself. >> how do you see this unfolding? >> i think there's so much of a mystery here because we don't know what the complaint is. the fact this person came forward and decide knowing that, assuming this person is a responsible member of the intelligence community, the fact this person came forward and decided that what the president said in this call was so beyond his article two authority, i
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mean, i don't want to be irresponsible and speculating but it better be something big for someone to put together a whistleblower complaint and go to the dni, it would have to be a very, very serious thing. we know the president has enormous latitude. >> that's why it's written in they have to independently review. they can't say oh it's a big issue. i'll take your word and escalate it up the chain. we're talking about congress is not being guaranteed the information and that's a problem. >> one of the reasons to have an expecter general is to sound an alarm like this to build political pressure. there's one other way this might resolve and if this whistle blower would go to congress and provide this information to a member of the gang of eight in a
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secured classified state it's very difficult to imagine what sort of substance of a complaint would constitute a criminal violation. that person would probably only face being fired. the same is true for the inspector general. if this issue continues to build up with of those two individuals or someone else in the executive branch might decide enough is enough. i think it's important enough i'll take that step. >> everybody stick around. there's a lot more to discuss. we're following the breaking news after this. machine plap
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analysts. we're following the news on the whistleblower complaint being held from congress. we know the president had several contacts in the weeks leading up to this complaint in mid-august by the whistleblower. you see all those leaders from around the world, foreign leaders. the president either spoke with them or exchanged letters with them. we have no idea who this individual may have been. >> this is soused out. he has phone calls that are not pub luckily reported. we're playing bit of a detective game trying to narrow it down. the truth is nobody knows what exactly this whistleblower was
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complaining about. the president has so much latitude this had to be something pretty serious to get a member of the intelligence community to use the whistleblower act on this. presidents in the past can promise world leaders all sorts of things. some things that are quite unsavory. this has to be something, if we're to believe this person, it has to be something quite serious. >> the president saying in a tweet another fake news story. it never ends and he concludes by saying i would only do what is right any way and only do good for the usa. there's been a lihistory of allegations of compromising intelligence. >> the president ends the tweet by saying no problem, great. we're all in agreement. if you have not broken the law or abused the constitution of the united states then share that information with congress. there's nothing that requires the president to assert
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executive privilege. he can waive it. it would waive executive privilege over all foreign calls with foreign leaders. what exactly is the president hiding and why. if you had someone like the republican chairman of the senate intelligence committee come out and say the president told me what was in this complaint. i reviewed it it and i'm not really concerned that would take all of the air out of the balloon here. it would tamp down the political rhetoric. the idea the president is deciding the fight this and tempting to not let congress get this information tells it's something serious. >> you think we'll learn something next week? >> i'm still waiting to find out what happened in helsinki. i doubt we'll have the clarity we all seek.
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the notion the member of the intelligence community in congress would not have the information is unforgivable. there's a separation of powers that relies on co-equal branches of government in a checks and balance system. perhaps there's a pass there but if congress doesn't have the information then we are all at a loss and we don't know whether the president of the united states has made a promise that congress can now has to pay for with its appropriations or other means. it's very concerning. stick around. there's more news we're following. horrific flooding in houston. cnn is on the scene as the waters are rising and texans are trapped. all money managers might seem the same, but some give their clients cookie cutter portfolios. fisher investments tailors portfolios to your goals and needs. some only call when they have something to sell. fisher calls regularly so you stay informed. and while some advisors are happy to earn commissions whether you do well or not. fisher investments fees are structured so we do better when you do better.
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>> reporter: scenes like this playing out over the i highways. cars stranded in the flood waters. it's giving people an unwelcome flash book to the days of hurricane harvey. tonight a deluge in texas. forecasters are warning that what's left over from tropical depression imelda is causing dangerous flash flooding. rain is unundating parts of southeast texas with over two feet of water in half a day. some areas have seen 35 inches since tuesday. the national guard is being sent in to help evacuate people from their homes. conditions on highways are treacherous leaving some drivers stuck in their cars. houston's advising the you're safe where you are, stay there. >> if you leave a safe place and get out on the road and putting yourself in a much more unsafe
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situation. stay put. >> reporter: residents who had to evacuate say the quick rising water took them by surprise. >> it was just rising and rising. it's been like this for hours. it was just time to go. >> reporter: towns northeast of houston are seeing the most serious flooding. in beaumont police have received hundreds of calls for rescues. animals are also being flooded out. >> we have another one. >> reporter: these ranchers risk their lives to save their horses. >> it's just the view from my second floor room of my hotel in beaumont, texas. >> reporter: people staying in area hotels were wading through furniture in the lobby as water streams in through the front door. nearby by the first floor of this kparapartment complex was washed out. one neighbor filmed him neighbor
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trudging through the water. >> we have some people that are elderly and disabled. >> reporter: many are comparing the sudden flooding from this storm to deadly hurricane harvey in 2017 which caused catastrophic damage to the same region of the state. >> this is so much worse than harvey. >> reporter: the good news over the last few hours there's been a break in the rain. that has given flood waters a chance to reseecede a bit but there's chance of more rain and the flash flood warnings remain in effect throughout most of the evening in southeast texas. >> thank you. we'll stay in touch. just ahead, political uncertainty and deadlock in israel. will it lead to an unprecedented third election and what could it mean for the united states and president trump? breaking news on the vaping related illness. another death just revealed. eli. only marco's can deliver america's most loved pizza.
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political deadlock in israel right now where officials are warning about the president a third election is possible after tuesday's close and indecisive vote. let's go to orrin leishman. he's in jerusalem for us. benjamin netanyahu and his rival benny gantz have been trying to form coalition governments and
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so far, falling short. >> reporter: wolf, the situation now is no clearer than it was 48 hours ago and political deadlock remain essentially the name of the game here. benny gantz declared victory saying it's becoming clear that he has the biggest party, but he's in no position to put together a coalition government of 61 seats. in that case, prime minister benjamin netanyahu didn't quite declare victory, but he came close, saying he's united, and the orthodox party is behind heim, each though he doesn't have the biggest party, he has the biggest unified party and he says he should be the next prime minister. in that situation, both of these leaders, gantz and netanyahu have called for a unity government with each other's parties, but not necessarily with each other as individual leaders and that's where this gets more complicated than it's been, wolf. >> very complicated, i must say. how does this all impact prdz and his relationship with prime minister netanyahu and what trump has called the ultimate
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deal, some sort of middle east peace deal. >> trump may already be distancing himself. he says the u.s. relationship is with israel and not with any particular leader and that certainly isn't what netanyahu wants to hear after cultivating the relationship with trump over the past three years or so. as for the peace plan, well, trump's special envoy jason greenbleit is on his way to the region and netanyahu is in charge of religious zionists who don't want to make concessions to the palestinians and gantz will be getting his first look at the administration's efforts so who knows where two years of effort on that peace plan stand right now. >> orrin leishman in jerusalem for us. thank you very much. just ahead other another death linked to vaping as dozens more get sick and a criminal investigation is launched. come on. [ cars honking ] it's so late. yay. it fights traffic. no parking. -i told you. oh, a spot! hold on.
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breaking news tonight. an eighth death linked to the use of e-cigarettes was just confirmed here in the united states as more americans are getting sick from vaping. the cdc, the centers for disease control, reporting an additional 150 cases of lung injury linked to vaping in just one week, bringing the total now to 530. most of the patients are men and more than half are under 25 years old. health officials say they're working urgently to learn exactly which products or substances are making people sick. the food and drug administration revealing it has launched a criminal investigation into the
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chain of e-cigarette suppliers. thank you very much for watching. i'm wolf blitzer in the situation room. you can follow me on twitter and instagram @wolfblitzer and tweet the show at cnnsitroom. erin burnett "out front" starts now. >> "out front" next, breaking news. the intelligence communities inspector general revealed the damning whistle-blower complaint was about multiple akctions tha involve more than just a call for the president and what's the white house response tonight? >> a 2020 democrat zeroing in on a new target, elizabeth warren and will the new attack stop her surge? and they're meeting to discuss a plan of action as tehran threatens all-out war. let's go "out front." good evening. i'm erin burnett. trump's white house silencing a whistle-blower, a whistle-blower a


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