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U.S. National Security Adviser Warns Iran; Rex Tillerson Confirmed as Secretary of State. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 1, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: That is awesome.

So, whether you're a Patriots fan or a Falcons fan, you can look for the former president and former first lady there with the good old coin toss ahead of -- or at the game on Sunday.

Maeve, thank you so much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: And we're back. You're watching CNN, top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with us.

We have got some breaking news regarding the full Senate vote confirmation here on Rex Tillerson who is up to be the next secretary of state.

I have David Chalian, our CNN director, with the news.

David Chalian, has he been confirmed?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He has.

Rex Tillerson now will become Donald Trump's next secretary of state. I believe the vote was 56-43, which means that the all the Republicans held, 52 of them, and added four more Democrats. I'm not sure which Democrats those were just yet, Brooke. We will be looking into that to see who crossed party lines to support him on the floor.

But, remember, this is a big, big win for Donald Trump. When Rex Tillerson was first put out there, first of all, you remember the very public dating with Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani and others that were under consideration for secretary of during the transition period.

And then when Donald Trump landed on Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, there were many questions about his relationships to Russia, to the Russia president, Vladimir Putin. You heard a hand- wringing and concern from Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, members of the president's own party, hawkish folks when it comes to Russia.

And yet all of that has been assuaged to get what looks like unanimous Republican support on the Senate floor and to get Rex Tillerson over to Foggy Bottom and start running Donald Trump's diplomacy.

BALDWIN: Rex Tillerson to be the next U.S. secretary of state.

Manu Raju is our go-to guy on Capitol Hill watching the numbers -- 56- 43, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

Once again, as David was saying, we're seeing unanimous Republican support behind this nominee, an effort to really lock down Republicans actually happening behind the scenes to get some of those Republicans who were nervous about Rex Tillerson's views on Russia, after Marco Rubio said he was going to be supportive.

John McCain said he was going to be supportive, and Lindsey Graham said he was going to be supportive. Made very clear that Donald Trump was going to get his secretary of state nominee.

Now, the question going forward is when will he get the rest of his nominees? We heard just moments ago that two Republican senators were going to vote against his education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos. Those two senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

And if no other Republican votes no, that's means it's a 50-50 split. And Mike Pence, the vice president, may have to come in to break the tie. So, her nomination on shaky ground. That's what the Republicans want to move to next.

And what happens to the rest of Donald Trump's Cabinet? Democrats trying to slow-walk Steve Mnuchin to be treasury secretary, Tom Price to be health and human services secretary, and Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, among others. So, this a part of a longer-term effort by Democrats to make it as hard as possible for Donald Trump to fill his Cabinet, scuttle other parts of his agenda.

But at the end of the day, Donald Trump likely to get most if not all of his nominees through, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. You can tell the Republicans, you can tell the president is frustrated by the sand in the wheel so to speak that the Democrats have been providing in this process.

Manu, thank you so much on that.

And on that, Gloria Borger, it's fascinating to watch what so many people thought. You have Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief, so many people thought this would be mega-mega-fight, right, the confirmation battle.

And here you have it, and then juxtapose that with the news that Manu just reported, these two female Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, both saying no to the education secretary. How about that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Congress is kind of hard to predict sometimes.

At the beginning of the Tillerson fight, you had a lot commotion being made by John McCain, by Lindsey Graham and by Marco Rubio, Republicans who were saying I don't like him on Russia and I need to meet him face to face.

Obviously, Tillerson did himself an awful lot of good in those face- to-face meetings, where I believe he privately assured senators that what he did as CEO of ExxonMobil will be different from when his client is actually the United States of America when he's dealing with Putin and probably convinced them that in fact he may be a very good person to deal with Putin because he understands him so well.

I think with Betsy DeVos, it's a completely different story. She did not have a very good confirmation hearing by all accounts from members of the committee.

[15:05:00]

They were unimpressed with her grasp of detail. They didn't like -- one infamous answer is perhaps we need guns in the school because in a state like Montana they needed to keep away the grizzlies. That didn't go over too well.

But now you have a situation with her -- and here is what interesting, is they have to probably keep Jeff Sessions in the Senate a few more days...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: So that he can vote, yes.

BORGER: He's got to vote yes.

And then they have Mike Pence to break the tie. So they might want to sort of keep the Sessions vote off the floor a little bit longer.

BALDWIN: And then you have the Democrats, David Chalian, who we've been talking about this, the boycott. They weren't even in the room for some of these votes.

CHALIAN: Listen, the Democrats are hearing from their constituents and their base to be defiant of all things Donald Trump right now.

And you see it in the protests we've seen in the streets, and you see it in the grassroot communities online, small dollar fund-raising. All of the sort of activist base of left, inside the Democratic Party, sort of the fuel for any Democratic Party, the activist base, is sort of demanding the blockade of opposition to anything that Donald Trump is sending to Capitol Hill.

And this is where it becomes a challenge for Chuck Schumer and his fellow leaders in the Senate to sort of figure out sort of the chess moves of how to keep their base energized and yet pick their fights wisely. BALDWIN: Let me ask you two to stand by, please, because we also

heard at the top of the White House daily briefing from President Trump's national security adviser, General Flynn, who made his first appearance at the briefing. He had out of the gate very strong words for Iran after Iran tried to launch this ballistic missile, defying a U.N. Security Council resolution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: These are just the latest of a series of incidents in the past six months in which Houthi forces that Iran has trained and armed have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatened United States and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea.

In these and other similar activities, Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region. The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran's malign actions, including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms.

The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East, which places American lives at risk.

President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration as well as the United Nations as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let me just be precise. This is what Iran's defense minister has said, that this missile test no means a contravention of the joint comprehensive plan of action or the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 from Iran.

Obviously, the U.S. very bold condemning it, saying this was a provocative act.

We're going to bring in General Mark Hertling momentarily.

But, David Chalian and Gloria Borger, to you first. Just I think the overarching question, even in talking to Tony Blinken last hour was, well, what does putting Iran on notice mean?

BORGER: Right. It's hard to say.

I think by stating it so publicly also at this press conference, it's effectively saying we're watching you. We know where they stand on the Iran nuclear deal, of course. They don't like it. They want to kill it, undo it, amend it, whatever.

But it's hard to know sort of what they have up their sleeve. But I think he's sending a very public signal, which is that we're watching you, we think you're violating the agreement. And if you're violating the agreement, that gives us an opportunity to figure out the next steps, whatever those may be.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Actually, forgive me, David. I have got General Hertling, so let me just pivot to him just militarily.

General Hertling, we were just discussing General Flynn saying we're putting Iran on notice. In talking to Tony Blinken, he said, listen, Iran did this during the Obama administration as well. What do you think of the response of the NSA director?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I saw the written press release from the office of the national security adviser, Brooke, and I thought it was very amateurish.

Words are important in diplomatic language. I'm a soldier, but I have been involved in a lot of diplomacy both in Europe and in the Middle East. This will be taken the wrong way. There's a series of things you have to do. And to include in a press release, whether you admit it or not, that the ex-president or the former president didn't do things the right way, and then you give a term like, we're putting you on notice, which is not part of diplomatic language, and it's not preceded by something like a demarche or things that most Americans don't know about, this will cause more confusion.

[15:10:12]

And it's worse than saying we're going to draw a red line and then not do anything about it, because we have seen things like this in the past, where language becomes confused. And it causes, unfortunately, bad things to happen on both sides.

This is the kind of thing that brings people to war -- or to a war footing. And it's not good.

BALDWIN: I'm listening to you so carefully, but I'm also thinking 46 percent of the country elected President Trump, one of the reasons precisely I think for this bold, brash way he speaks, David Chalian.

Am I wrong? I think half the country is thinking good on General Flynn for saying that.

CHALIAN: Yes.

No, certainly, tough talk has been part of the Trump approach. There's no doubt about that. And I think that this tough talk is designed to buy some time for them to figure out next steps, because, obviously, General Flynn didn't go to the briefing room with an actual sort of policy plan to unveil.

It seems that it was sort of a brushback pitch in the moment and trying to buy some time.

BORGER: Well, the question that -- I was going to ask the general. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: OK, sorry, guys, one voice.

Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I was just going to ask the general whether you think this is provocative.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: The language provocative?

HERTLING: It is very provocative language.

And one of the things, Brooke, you just said that 46 percent of the American people like this tough talk. There's only less than 1 percent of the American people that are serving in uniform. And, unfortunately, those are the ones that have to back up the tough talk.

So those wearing the uniform would prefer to have their leaders use a little bit more precise language and make sure you know what you're doing before you get into it. So, tough talk is action certainly, but action doesn't always equate to progress.

And that's the unfortunate thing. We also have right now a National Security Council that doesn't have a State Department official. It doesn't have a lot of the undersecretaries involved. So, these kind of epithets and insults and provocative actions are being thrown around without people coordinating what might happen next.

I would ask the question, does the Central Command commander, a four- star general, know that Mike Flynn was about to send this message, because he's responsible for the actions in the Middle East, or was he sort of, like some of the things we have seen in the last few days, undercut by this and surprised by this action?

You don't want a commander in the field, a four-star combatant commander, to be shocked by a statement from the White House without being informed of what might happen.

BALDWIN: Let me thank all of you. We do have a State Department official. We just showed you at the top of the hour the official confirmation. The vote was 53-46 among senators putting in place the next secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

Want to thank all of you.

Coming up next, the White House is responding to new questions over this U.S. special forces raid in Yemen. Originally in a press release, they called it a tremendous success, despite a Navy SEAL and several civilians being killed. How the White House is characterizing this raid today coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:35]

BALDWIN: We're back, breaking news, the White House now responding to how they classified a U.S.-orchestrated raid that left a U.S. Navy SEAL dead and characterized the raid as, their word, a success.

The White House statement following the raid in Yemen begins like this -- quote -- "In a successful raid against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world."

It goes on, offering condolences to family of Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, the first American combat death of Trump's presidency.

Now, just a little while ago in that White House daily briefing, we heard Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He was asked about this and he addressed the call President Trump made to Owen's wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You never want to call something a success 100 percent when someone is hurt or killed.

And that was the case here. But I think that when you recognize that an individual like this loved this country so much and deployed over and over again because he knew that the mission that he was conducting was so important to our protection, our freedom, our safety.

And I know that when the president spoke to Karen (ph), his wife, and talked about the three children that he left behind, she continued to be impressed with -- to impress upon the president, rather, that while it was an unbelievably sad and emotional for her and her family, that he loved doing this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let me bring in Thomas Gibbons-Neff. He's the national security reporter for "The Washington Post." And he's had just phenomenal reporting here on this raid.

Thomas, thank you so much for being with me.

And just beginning with all of your details I read in the paper today, how did this raid go down?

THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me, Brooke.

Yes. In the early -- as I said, as I understand it, in the piece is that this was a direct action raid. So you're putting boots on the ground to go after AQAP militants and Yemeni tribal leaders that had just recently pledged their allegiance to AQAP, al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

[15:20:02]

So, basically, the counterterrorism mission in Yemen for the last year or so has been sporadic, drone hits. Central Command puts out reports about militants killed, sometimes high-value individuals, leaders of that sort. But this was kind of a raid that was going in to gather intelligence on the group, because drone strikes are only -- they can only give you so much information.

They're taking militants off the battlefield. They're not really giving you more targets to go after. That has to be gathered through intelligence. So this was a raid to gather that kind of intelligence, so they could look at it and see where those drone strikes are needed next or maybe future raids will be needed.

BALDWIN: So we know troops were under fire, called in an airstrike, and we know three other American service members were injured. There was this U.S. Osprey collecting the wounded. It crashed. What happened then?

GIBBONS-NEFF: As the article kind of shows, there was obviously a lot of friction on the ground.

How that firefight, this long gun battle kind of started, is unknown, but getting on the ground, a million factors could happen. So as soon as someone is wounded, that immediately adds friction to a situation. So once that happened and you get in a protracted gunfight, there were Marines offshore with close air support assets, whether that be Cobra gunships or close air support jets that could come in and drop bombs, so that the Navy SEALs could get out of there.

So, they had the wounded, including Owens -- he was wounded on the raid, but would later died of his wounds -- the Navy SEALs took off in their aircraft and went to go link up with the Marine aircraft that were coming from the Gulf of Aden and were going to transfer over at a rendezvous point. And that's when the Osprey went down.

BALDWIN: OK. Thomas, thank you very much for your reporting, "The Washington Post" reporting on what exactly happened.

I have David Chalian still with me and General Mark Hertling.

David, just first to you. Sara Murray was in the briefing today. And she followed up with Sean Spicer on, you lost the life of Mr. Owens, this Navy SEAL. Do you still view it as a success? And he was very careful to characterize and couch today.

How did you hear it?

CHALIAN: Yes, I think he completely sort of reframed the statement that was put out in President Trump's name from the White House over the weekend. You read it at the top of the segment.

And the first words of the gate were declaring this a success, and then went on to pay respects. But the first sentence out of the gate in that written statement was declaring it a success. Today, Sean Spicer, when answering Sara Murray's question, says you can't ever call something a 100 percent success when you lose a life or have wounded service members, as your do here.

That to me seems that they are walking away from that very first sentence of that written statement, not that they don't think they achieved some objectives of what this is about. But clearly just calling it a success, leaving it at that no longer seems to be sitting well with this White House.

BALDWIN: General, you have been in charge of these sorts of raids.

A lot can go wrong.

HERTLING: Yes. The reporter just said something, Brooke, where he said about a million things can go wrong on the ground.

And it can multiply by a factor of 10 on that. These are not video games. Bad things happen sometimes. No plan survives the first contact. That's cliche. Special operation forces are very, very good. Navy SEALs, Army Delta, Army Rangers, they do operations in a very -- but in this kind of a situation in Yemen, a lot of things can go wrong.

And, as the reporter mentioned, there are some times when you just can't do a drone strike. This was a capture-kill mission, which means they were going in after somebody, and they had the orders of attempting to capture both the individual and trying to get some intelligence linked to that.

If that doesn't happen, then they have to kill someone. That's the secondary. But when you put special operators on the ground, they know the kind of threats. And in fact the military is the profession that knows, when you join, you are possibly going to be asked to give your life for the country.

The mission was a success by all accounts. They got a lot of intelligence and they were able to pull out a couple of individuals. It was a tough firefight. There was not a crash of that Osprey, but what is called a hard landing.

And that is due to what is called brownout conditions, when that aircraft tries to land and kicks up a lot of dust. Those are all the kinds of things that can go wrong in an operation in the desert when you put men against other men shooting at each other.

[15:25:00]

You can never say it's going to be 100 percent successful. You hope for the best. And, unfortunately, a young chief petty officer gave his life and sacrificed his life for the mission on this one.

BALDWIN: Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens.

General, thank you. David Chalian, thank you very much. Back to our breaking news here, Rex Tillerson being confirmed as secretary of state. We will get live reaction from one of the State Department officials who was just pushed out by the Trump administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right, some breaking news we're following.

Moments ago, the full U.S. Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. The vote for the former ExxonMobil CEO was 56-43. Tillerson's confirmation comes just days after the Trump administration -- quote -- "cleaned house" at the State Department.