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Protesters Attack Saudi Embassy in Tehran; Trump: I Will "Unsign" Obama Executive Action; Trump: Clinton, Obama "Created ISIS". Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2016 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:34] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Protesters you see here ransacking and setting fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran to protest the execution of a Shiite cleric. Iran condemned his death and the U.S. voiced its concern over mass executions.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking overnight, another levee in Illinois holding back the swollen Mississippi River, it has failed. Massive flooding is now cutting off several towns, the governor says it's the worst he's ever seen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are out of here because the people have been abused long enough, really. Their lands and their resources have been taken from them to the point where it's putting them literally in poverty.


BLACKWELL: And this man in Oregon is leading a group of armed protesters who broke into a federal wildlife refuge building in that state. Their demand is to use the land as free men and they say they are appeared to stay on that refuge as long as it takes, possibly years!

Your NEW DAY continues right now.


KOSIK: Good morning, everyone. I'm Alison Kosik, sitting in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: Good to have you this morning. I'm Victor Blackwell.

And we're starting with breaking news. The execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia has ignited a firestorm of protests.

In Iran, dozens of demonstrators attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran throwing fire bombs, smashing windows and furniture. Riot police called in. 40 people have been arrested but there is more. Hundreds of people turned out to protest al-Nimr's death from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India as well.

Let's bring in CNN's Becky Anderson.

And, Becky, we're learning more about Sheikh al-Nimr. But we're also hearing statements from leaders across the Arab world, and the latest we're hearing from Rouhani in Iran?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Let me come to that in a moment. Let's just go over exactly who Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is, and then talk about the ramifications, Victor. He was an outspoken critic of the ruling Sunni monarchy, in what is -- was a sizeable support base in the eastern region of the kingdom. This is a Shia- dominated region.

And while he was known for fiery sermons and many of those are on YouTube and you can see there is little evidence to suggest that he was active in taking arms or taking up arms against the Saudi state. So, by grouping him with convicted terrorists, by executing him with terrorists belonging to groups like al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia sending a message, it seems. It will not tolerate any form of dissent, be they radical Sunni jihadist or Shia activist.

So, 47 were executed, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. And it's clearly inflaming relations between Riyadh and Tehran. You're right to point out that Iran's supreme leader says Saudi leaders will, quote, "face justice", as protesters in Tehran ransacked the Saudi embassy on Saturday. Our viewers are seeing those protests.

More protests are expected today and we're keeping an eye on this. And this is important, Victor, because we have seen evidence in recent weeks of a thawing in relations between Riyadh and Tehran. Reports that Saudi would send a new ambassador to improve the ties. This latest incident then only strengthens the hand of conservative hard- liners I think in both capitals. And you see that in the Supreme Leader's comments out of Tehran. The road outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran renamed Martyr Nimr today, provocative in anybody's books.

Now compare those comments with those of the more reformed-minded President Hassan Rouhani who has condemned the sacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and he called it unjustifiable. He's ordered the arrests of those he described as extremists who he says broke into the embassy early on and setting fires to it and throwing papers from the roof.

Very, very different reaction from the different camps in Iran.

[07:05:04] And I know that Washington will be watching that very closely, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and speaking of Washington, we've got this statement from the U.S. State Department. Let's put it up on the screen. "We reaffirm our calls on the government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights. We are particularly concerned that the execution of prominent Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr risks exacerbating sectarian tensions."

Difficult line the U.S. has to walk between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

ANDERSON: And you were pointing out this is a spokesman for the State Department. This isn't coming from the White House, nor is it coming from John Kerry. Very difficult times here, as they negotiate the sort of diplomatic language.

The ramifications are already being seen in reaction in this region in the Arab region, the governments of the UAE, and Bahrain and the Gulf are coming out in support of the Saudi monarchy. Shia leaders in Lebanon and in Iraq denouncing the move, perhaps not surprisingly and saying it will worsen sectarian tensions. And this is massively important.

Our very viewers will be aware. There are two very, very important conflicts going on, not least that of Syria. A proxy war many people say between the Shia and Sunni.

So, let's consider the potential impact for Syria -- Iran and Saudi had just agreed, just before Christmas, to sit down at the same table in upcoming talks. January 25th is when the U.N. wanted to kick off these talks about peace in Syria. So the question is with what is going on now and destabilizing effect it has between Riyadh and Tehran, how will that affect these plans?

And then, Victor, you've got Yemen. This is a war that the U.N. has called a human catastrophe. There is no doubt that Washington wants to see the end of the war in Yemen. This is another regional proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Perhaps coincidentally also this weekend when we got the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, we also had an announcement in Riyadh of the end to what was a recent cease-fire in Yemen. So, two conflicts, not least the incredibly important conflict in Syria, displacing outwards of 11 million people, three or four million of those outside of the country, hundreds of thousands of people continue to die. Fifty people a day in Syria per hour we are told by some experts continue to die, just as plans were being put in place to potentially sort that conflict out with a peace deal. You see this sort of regional destabilization happening, incredibly important at this point -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Very complex situation and we may be seeing just the beginning of the response there as we saw that fire bombing in Tehran.

Becky Anderson, thank you so much. We will continue to speak with you throughout the morning.

KOSIK: And one of our CNN producers, Shirzad Bozorgmehr, he was actually at the Saudi embassy in Tehran last night. He was actually reporting as those protests, those fiery protests were under way. Right now, he is joining us on the phone.

Shirzad, what was it like last night?

SHIRZAD BOZORGMEHR, CNN PRODUCER (via telephone): Actually, when I got there, it was practically over, but there was still smoke coming out of the embassy and there were several fire engines and firemen coming in and out of the embassy. Police are all over the place and some demonstrators there but they weren't doing anything violent, just standing around.

It was about 3:00 a.m. Iran time when it was -- the police started to push the crowd away from the building. By 3:30 a.m., Tehran time, it was all over.

But, right now, I'm in front of the embassy again and despite the fact that the government general's office and police saying a ban gathering in front of the embassy, there are at least 200 people demonstrating with placards and police them is pleading with them to leave and saying, if you don't, we're going to resort to force. And some people are leaving, but there are others arriving. So, it looks like the demonstration is going on for a while, even if it is illegal.

KOSIK: Can you tell what the protesters want at this point? Are they telling you that?

BOZORGMEHR: I beg your pardon?

KOSIK: Are the protesters saying what they want?


[07:10:03] They are saying that Iran should retaliate against Saudis, not only Nimr's execution but also for what the Saudis are doing in Yemen and Syria, and also the 500 Iranian pilgrims who died in the stampede in the Hajj this year in Mecca.

So, people here are angry. But people who are demonstrating here are actually very religious people, very -- some of them are (INAUDIBLE) people, militia. They do represent a certain, cross-section of Iranian society, but not the majority.

KOSIK: All right. CNN producer Shirzad Bozorgmehr, thanks so much. We're going to continue to check in all morning for updates.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's stay in Iran for a moment. I want to bring in CNN global affairs analyst Bobby Ghosh and CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

And I want to start with you, Bobby, this morning and kind of help us understand the difference in tone and response we are seeing from Iran's leaders. We're hearing from President Hassan Rouhani denouncing the protests, trying to, you know, call them illegal acts done by extremists individuals, and then we are hearing from the ayatollah, you know, a much harsher tone.

Give us some context and dissect what is happening here?

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This is the traditional divide within Iran, where you have reformers like the president, like the foreign minister, although we haven't heard from him this morning, who take what we would regard as a moderate, conciliatory line. Whereas you have hardliners led by the grand ayatollah, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who take a much harsher line.

And it allows Iran to both have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, you have a government that presents a kind of gentler face to the world but, on the other hand, you have these militias and organized thugs who can run rampant, as we saw last night. It's a little -- as a sort of kind of two-step, it's getting a little tired, frankly, to have to hear from the president of the country, the buck doesn't stop with me, blame somebody else, blame the hard-liners, it's not me, it's not my government.

Well, he is the president of the country. He is the elected leader of the country. At some point, you need to see him step up and take responsibility for things that are taking place within his country. It's understandable in many countries in the world, there are duopolies in the power structure, but this for me any way, is getting a little long in the tooth.

BLACKWELL: Let me come to you, General, and the response potentially beyond the strong word that we have seen from Rouhani, from al Abadi, from the secretary general to U.N., even from just the spokesperson at the U.S. State Department, will this end at statements at condemnation or concern in the case of the U.S., or do you expect there will be more?

All right, I think we might be having an audio issue.

Bobby, let me stay with you, Bobby, because we are having an audio issue with the general.

Bobby, let me put up this picture we saw put on the supreme leader in Iran, his Web site, a split screen comparing Saudi executioner here with Jihadi John of ISIS. The split screen here.

What's your response -- let me put the same question to you. The ayatollah said there would be divine justice. What does that mean? Will we see more?

GHOSH: Well, he is a religion man. He is an ayatollah. So, it is expected for him to call upon divinity and divine justice.

That image speaks to how many in Iran, and indeed many in the Middle East, see things. They see ISIS and Saudi Arabia as actually two side of the same coin. They point out that ISIS follows a particular strain, extremist strain of Islam that is the official religion in Saudi Arabia, Saudi financing, long been suspected goes into ISIS, not necessarily from Saudi government, but from private donors.

So, it's a very common theme across the Middle East and especially in Iran that ISIS and Saudi are essentially two side of the same coin and should be regarded in the same light.

BLACKWELL: General, I think we fixed your audio issue now. The question I posed to you, we had on on the bottom of the screen the Iraqi prime minister saying that these executions will topple the Saudi regime. We've got statements now from leader around the world, but will there be any state-sponsored response beyond the strong words?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, interestingly enough, Victor, I had some input from a friend of mine who is in Iraq right now.

[07:15:01] And he said last night the Saudi Arabians before this reopened their embassy in Baghdad for the first time in 25 years. And it was shelled last night by a rocket.

So, that tells you that there is going to be some extreme violence associated with this. We have to tamp it down, though. I think this is a critical time where, as you stated earlier, Iran and Saudi Arabia are starting to come together to try and affect change in many parts of the world that are seeing this conflict in the Middle East. Their representatives and their politicians and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is a much more progressive leader and wants to end this kind of approach.

But he's got a hard, tough fight in front of him, balancing the inclusion of the Shia minority, about 15 percent in Saudi Arabia, with the Wahhabist leaders that are there. It's internal politics in one regard, but it's also external influence and it will cost tension unless cooler minds prevail. That doesn't seem to be happening right now.

BLACKWELL: All right. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, Bobby Ghosh, good to have you both this morning.

KOSIK: Still to come, Donald Trump has based much of his campaign on criticizing President Obama. Well, now, he vows to undo an executive order Obama hasn't signed yet.

BLACKWELL: Plus, now, five levees breached along the Mississippi River in Illinois. The latest just happening overnight. The state's governor is particularly concerned about people in those flood zones, of course. And it's not just because of the rising water.

KOSIK: And coming up, a group of armed protesters occupy a federal building in Oregon. They say they want to use the lands as what they call free men and are taking a stand against the government's use of power.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are out here because the people have been abused long enough, really. Their land and their resources have been taken from them to the point where it's putting them literally in poverty.



[07:20:05] BLACKWELL: Up first, President Obama's eighth and final year in office is reportedly gun control. The president's long promised response to mass shootings is expected to come in the next few days via executive order. But it won't last long if Donald Trump is elected president.

Last night in Mississippi, the Republican presidential front-runner vowed to, in his words, veto any action the president takes on guns, calling it an assault on the Second Amendment.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has the latest from Biloxi and was at that rally.

A huge crowd there at the start of the year, and a new promise from the front-runner.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Victor. Donald Trump wasting no time at all, targeting something that doesn't technically exist yet. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, he is going to sign another executive order having to do with the Second Amendment, having to do with guns. I will veto that. I will unsign that so fast, so fast!


MATTINGLY: Now, Victor, the interesting thing, of course, is President Obama hasn't released that yet, White House officials still somewhat coy about the specifics of what an executive order will entail. Donald Trump's position puts him firmly in the center of where the Republican party is on this issue.

Other presidential candidates, including Ted Cruz, also coming out and saying they would attempt to undo any executive action taken on guns. Texas Governor Greg Abbott coming the president to come get the guns in Texas if he wants to.

So, Donald Trump really appealing to conservatives on this issue. And last night, it certainly got a big cheer from this rally here in Biloxi.

BLACKWELL: We are told the president will be meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to figure out the option for an executive order. There was one thing that really wasn't directly discussed by Donald Trump. It was his inclusion in recruiting video produced by an arm of al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, in Somalia.

What's been the reaction, though, from Trump supporters?

MATTINGLY: An hour long speech from Donald Trump and no mention of this. Now, obviously, this goes back to December in the Democratic debate where Hillary Clinton said the remarks by Donald Trump particularly related to banning Muslims from come to this country as refugees were serving as an incitement, were serving as an opportunity for jihadist organizations to recruit. That video didn't exist at the time. Now, according to experts, it does.

Donald Trump didn't mention it last night but his supporters, I went and talked to them about this a couple times yesterday, Victor. And they had really three responses. First, was, they hadn't seen is. Second was, it didn't matter because Donald Trump was saying what need to be said. The third was it was a fabrication, one person actually, one supporter telling me that he believes Hillary Clinton's campaign might have been behind the video.

So, Victor, whatever stance they took on it, they weren't that bothered by the existence of this video, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Phil Mattingly reporting for us from Biloxi -- Phil, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our CNN political commentators Jeffrey Lord and Ben Ferguson.

Jeffrey, I want to start with you this morning.


BLACKWELL: We heard from at least via Twitter and some of the interviews, Donald Trump called for an apology from Hillary Clinton after she made the claim that he was in these ISIS videos and he turns up in an al Shabaab video. But why no mention of it there?

LORD: Why no mention of --

BLACKWELL: Of his inclusion in the video.

LORD: Oh, oh, I see what you're saying.

Well, you know, look, I think that she -- she made a mistake and, clearly, in this hypersensitive communications age, somebody out there decided to take her up on it and put him in one. Other people have been in one. I understand that President Clinton is in one of them.

I don't really think there is anything extraordinary here. You know, so they put him in there. They don't like Donald Trump and for that matter they don't like Clinton's either, they don't like the Americans.

BLACKWELL: Ben, let's come to you, over the issue of guns, and we are hearing from Donald Trump, in his words, veto or unsign the executive order if there ever is one. I spoke with you yesterday about the poll that shows that 87 percent of Republicans support background checks for people who buy guns online or at gun show. That's from Quinnipiac just before Christmas.

But it seems there is no nuance here from Donald Trump on this.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I think it's a smart political move by Donald Trump, because it will be very interesting to see, the devil is always in the details of these executive actions by the White House and they are trying to figure out what they can get away with. And I don't think it's going to be as simplistic, as you and I are talking about.

I think they are going to go as far as they possibly can, even knowing that they are going to be challenged legally on this because they are not going through Congress, they are going around Congress.

I think the point that Donald Trump is going to make and people are going to like is the fact he is saying, look, when you're the United States of America you don't get to make laws without going through Congress. That's not how this country works. He is attacking the Second Amendment.

[07:25:00] I don't trust him on the Second Amendment is what Donald Trump is saying and if you vote for me, I'm going to rescind this, I'm going to undo it. And that's another reason why many people are continue to back Donald Trump because they like the idea that he is saying you can't just be a dictator when you're a president.

You have to work with Congress and you can't make laws like this when Congress doesn't back you and/or support you.

BLACKWELL: Jeffrey, let me get to a tweet that was tweeted up by a top aide, Michael Cohen.


BLACKWELL: It was a retweet of a post suggesting that Hillary Clinton was behind the video from al Shabaab. One says, "Mr. Cohen, I would not be surprised if Hillary is somehow behind this. Clinton's play dirty tricks when desperate."

There's another that says, "Huma Abedin, the Clinton aide, put in order for video the second Hillary Clinton led at that debate."

Is that something that is widespread? I mean, you're a Trump supporter. Is that something widespread among Trump supporters that, I guess, you know, assumption or conspiracy theory that this was something that was drummed up by the Clinton's?

LORD: Well, I think what he may be referring to, I don't know, but it sounds to me, Andrew McCarthy who was the prosecutor, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the blind sheik, is now a columnist for "The National Review". And years ago documented that members of Huma Abedin's family have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. So, perhaps that's what he is suggesting there, that there is a tie, through a tie.

I don't know. You'd have to ask him. I don't think there is anything unusual. This has been out there for quite a long time from a pretty reputable columnist.

BLACKWELL: Well, let me ask a more direct question. Do you expect it or do you believe that this was something that was drummed up politically, not by al Shabaab, beyond, you know, the connection -- reported connection --

LORD: Victor, I do think -- I do think when Hillary Clinton says this in public and gets all of the intended publicity, that there are people out there on the other side, ISIS, et cetera, that will take her up on it and just do as she suggests and put him in a video. Sure. (CROSSTALK)

LORD: What?

BLACKWELL: After, therefore, because of? This was produced because Hillary Clinton said that he was in that ISIS video?

LORD: I'm not saying that she, you know, there is a conspiracy here. I'm simply saying by the act of saying this in public, the bad guys will pick up on it and do it.


FERGUSON: Victor, I think there is something here. There a difference between recruitment and propaganda. This video, I talked to two different intelligence sources and they both said this is what we refer to as a propaganda video. They saw an opportunity after Hillary Clinton named Donald Trump to put him in a video for propaganda purposes.

This is not what they say is a traditional recruitment video and they saw an opportunity to then get even more press for al Shabaab which is really playing number two to ISIS in terms of media and what attention they get, this throws them in the spotlight, it brings more attention to them, it also will help I'm sure al Shabaab with fund-rising as well.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Donald Trump should have put a video because Donald Trump was talked about by Hillary Clinton as being in a video. This is not a recruitment video as much as this is absolutely propaganda video, they saw an opportunity, they seized on it and blame whoever you want to, but the reality is, Donald Trump wouldn't have been in an al Shabaab a video a couple of weeks after Hillary Clinton talked about it if it wasn't for the fact she talked about it.

BLACKWELL: All right. We will end it there. Ben Ferguson and Jeffrey Lord, always good to have both of you.

LORD: Thanks, Victor.


BLACKWELL: All right. Two things we want you to know about. Later this morning, you can hear from two of the top presidential candidates on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION", Bernie Sanders, Carly Fiorina live at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. And then, Monday morning, Donald Trump will be live with Chris Cuomo, Alisyn Camerota, Michaela Pereira on "NEW DAY" beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

KOSIK: Chris Brown is back in hot water with the law this morning. Ahead, what Las Vegas police say he did to a woman that now has the singer under investigation.

Plus, in Mexico, armed men killing newly elected mayor inside her own home and the mayor was attacked just one day after taking office. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)