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Republican Roy Moore Running For Senate Again; Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

A targeted takedown of a U.S. military aircraft or a mistake in international airspace? The president says he has a feeling Iran did not intentionally shoot down this surveillance drone.

This is new video from the incident from the Defense Department. Now, CENTCOM says that this was -- quote, unquote -- "an unprovoked attack" in international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz. It happened in the very same region where two tankers were attacked last week.

Iran is disputing that claim, saying that the aircraft was in fact over Iran. Important to note this drone is enormous. It has a wingspan of nearly 131 feet and is worth a cool $180 million.

As tensions in the region escalate and Americans question whether the U.S. will retaliate against Iran, the president says you will find out.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran made a big mistake. This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented. It's documented scientifically, not just words.

And they made a very bad mistake. OK?


TRUMP: You will find out.


TRUMP: You will find out. You will find out.


BALDWIN: CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in his live in Tehran.

Fred, have Iranian officials said that this was a -- quote, unquote -- "mistake"?


And, Brooke, they have already released some video of what they say is the surface-to-air missile system firing as it was shooting down this American drone. And, as you can see that missile taking off and firing , if you listen to some of the audio, it certainly doesn't look like the guys that are on the ground there feel like they're making a mistake or accidentally have just shot something down.

In fact, it seems as though they believe that this was a very large success. So, the Iranians themselves even aren't saying this was some sort of mistake. The big dispute, as you said, right now between the U.S. and Iran is, where exactly was this drone shot down?

Now, the Iranians maintain that it was shot down over their own airspace, while the U.S. says it was an international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians are saying it was somewhat south of the Strait of Hormuz.

Now, Iran's foreign minister now even getting involved in this. He said that the drone took off about 14 minutes past midnight local time. And then he made a claim that the Iranians made earlier today, saying that the drone was in stealth mode, as he put it, the Iranians earlier saying that it was masking its transponder, or essentially turning off its transponder, then flying close to Iranian airspace.

He said that it was shot down around 4:00 a.m. local time. The Iranians -- and this is actually quite interesting, because it could shed some light on the situation in the future -- the Iranians now saying that they have actually found parts of the drone in their own territorial waters.

Now, whether or not that's true is still up in the air, but it certainly seems as though we might see some of the debris of this drone in Iranian custody in not too long -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, so clearly two sides to this whole situation.

Fred Pleitgen in Iran -- Fred, thank you.

Rear Admiral John Kirby is a former Pentagon press secretary, former State Department spokesman, and a CNN and military and diplomatic analyst.

So, Admiral, a pleasure, as always.

What did you think, listening to President Trump earlier saying that it was a mistake? What did you make of that?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: When I first heard that, Brooke, it seemed to me like he was trying to signal that they have an indication that this might have been a Revolutionary Guard unit, or even a Revolutionary Guard commander sort of acting on his own. And there's precedent for that, Brooke. The Revolutionary Guard

doesn't report to the civil state government. They're not part of the regular armed forces. They report right to the supreme leader, and they have been known in the past to do things on their own without coordinating it with the rest of the military, much less the government in Tehran.

And it seemed to me like that's what he was trying to say when he referred to a mistake. That said, Brooke, when you look at the way the Iranians have now tried to communicate what happened, the video they're releasing, the maps they're releasing, the aggressiveness of Foreign Minister Zarif on Twitter, it kind of makes me wonder if that is the case, if it was a rogue thing.

It seems like Tehran is backing it 100 percent here in social media.


BALDWIN: Well, what about our own maps?

Because I was watching you after that brief Pentagon briefing earlier, and you were less than impressed with the dots on the map.


BALDWIN: The dots on the map that the Pentagon was presenting, saying that that U.S. drone was in international airspace.

How can the U.S. prove that, in fact, the drone was there?

KIRBY: I think what they really need to do, Brooke, is release the track data that they have, which they will have, which will include a graphic.

You will see in the track data, if they release this, you will see sort of a screenshot of the map from the actual sensor system, not from Google, which is basically what this is. I thought this was a horribly anemic way to try to make their case.

And then to put out a general, a three-star, no less, to the Pentagon on the phone, not on camera, and then not take questions, I think they need to do a much better job convincing the international community and the American people that what happened is exactly what they say happened.

Now, I frankly, don't dispute it. We don't need to fly this particular drone into somebody else's airspace. The reason we have these large RQ-4s is so that they can operate in international airspace at very high altitudes with strong sensors that don't require them to be put at risk inside somebody else's airspace.

So I'm not doubtful myself of their story, but they got to do a much better job telling it.

BALDWIN: What are -- what are U.S. military options in the region?

KIRBY: Well, military options, I think, run the gamut, right?

You could go full-on conventional strike, retaliatory strike, to something more pinprick, maybe hitting a Revolutionary Guard asset somewhere here, maybe even near where the launch site was. You can go right at the Revolutionary Guard.

But that's also very, very escalatory, not that Iran didn't escalate it themselves. But that does take up all the tensions a notch. Or you could do something that's overt and visible, but not provocative. Maybe put more ships in the Strait of Hormuz, maybe start escorting tankers, maybe flying more reconnaissance flights that are protected by fighter aircraft, that kind of thing.

You could do as show a force. So there's lots of options here, from the low intensity to the high intensity. Now, I suspect that they're teeing these options up for the president. Hopefully, he will choose one that doesn't take the tensions up any higher than they already are.

BALDWIN: Admiral Kirby, thank you so much for, of course, your perspective. You know the region well.

KIRBY: You bet.

BALDWIN: Let me bring in a man who needs no introduction, Wolf Blitzer. He is here.

You know the region, obviously, well. Two, the same first question to you. Just listening to President Trump earlier today, sitting next to Trudeau, almost teasing over what the next moves may be and saying it was a mistake, your take on that?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm skeptical that this was a mistake on the part of the Iranians, for the simple reason this wasn't the first time they launched some sort of missile, surface-to-air missile, to destroy a U.S. drone.

The other day, when drones were flying over those two oil tankers that were hit by Iranians, if you believe the U.S. explanation, the U.S. flew a drone. There was an attack. It didn't hit that drone.

So this was the second time we see the Iranians launch a surface-to- air missile against a major U.S. drone. And these aren't like little toys, these drones.


BLITZER: As Admiral Kirby just said, these are big, big aircraft.

BALDWIN: The size of an aircraft.

BLITZER: They're unmanned, but they're significant. They cost almost $200 million.

So if it would have been the first time, maybe, but this was the second time, and everybody was publicizing that first miss of the drone. And I know from conversations I have had, the U.S. military is pretty impressed that the Iranians have the capability to hit this drone, which was flying, what, about 30,000 feet.

BALDWIN: You were once the CNN Pentagon correspondent. You have been in many of those briefings. And so listening to the briefing and the quick phone conversation from the general from Qatar, what did you make of -- what did you make of his explanation or, I guess, the brevity of the call, and all of this, by the way happening without a defense secretary?

BLITZER: Yes, I think they need to do a significant on-camera briefing and allow reporters, journalists to ask questions.

Admiral Kirby said the same thing. He's a former Pentagon spokesman. I spent several years reporting from the Pentagon. I don't remember a time when they would just have a little phoner, somebody would make a statement, they would hang up, and say...

BALDWIN: So brief.

BLITZER: This is a really tense situation right now. This situation could clearly explode.

I don't think the president wants it. He's been an isolationist, basically, most of his adult life. He wants to get out of there. But, ironically, despite his own intentions, in the past couple of weeks, he's authorized 2,500 additional U.S. troops to head to the region, whether to Qatar or to Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, or anyplace else in the region.

Kuwait, the U.S. has a lot of troops there. Right now, the U.S. has more than 70,000 troops in the Persian Gulf area, if you include Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, not too far away, plus another tens of thousands of civilian contractors, a lot of diplomats.

There are hundred -- there are a lot of American families right now who are looking at what's going on in that part of the world who are beginning to get very nervous, because, despite what the president wants -- and I don't think he wants to go to war -- this thing could explode. This could escalate.

BALDWIN: That's the fear.


And even the president, as he was wrapping up the quick Q&A at the White House today, was just saying -- reminding everyone: I campaigned on this, I want to end these wars, reminding everyone of Afghanistan 19 years in.

Yet he still seems to be at odds with some members of his own administration, who are clearly much more hawkish on places like Iran.


And I have been -- for 20 years, I have been talking to President Trump as a civilian. Since he's been president, he hasn't given me an interview, but spoke, when he was a civilian, talking to him all the time as a private citizen, and he's been very consistent.

I have gone back recently to the late '90s, and looked at some of the interviews we did. He was always very skeptical of deploying troops. Forget about the Middle East.. Whether in Germany, or Japan, or Korea, or elsewhere, he wanted those troops here in the United States. He didn't want to be spending a lot of money with NATO, for example.

He's been very consistent on that. I think he's very consistent now. What might he do? I'm sure the military is giving him a lot of options. Remember what he did during his first year in office, when there was a threat from the Syrians using some poison gas.

He launched more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles. He sent a very strong statement. It stopped as a result of that. So, I mean, he could do something like that and see what the Iranians do.

My own gut tells me the Iranians are taunting him a little bit right now with these attacks on these oil tankers, the pipelines. They hit us civilian airport in Saudi Arabia. The Iranians have some assets and they have some significant capabilities.

And as much as they don't want to see the U.S. use military force, I'm sure -- and I don't think the president wants to either -- this thing could explode accidentally, if things get much more intense. And I suspect they will.

BALDWIN: Wolf Blitzer, will we see you in "THE SITUATION ROOM"?

BLITZER: I will be in "THE SITUATION ROOM" later today.

BALDWIN: We will see you there.


I know there are meetings that are in another Situation Room. I will be in my "SITUATION ROOM."


Wolf Blitzer, you are the best of the best. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Any moment now, controversial Alabama Republican Roy Moore will announce whether he is running for U.S. Senate again, despite President Trump even asking him not to.

Plus, President Trump saying the swing states may not be important for him to win reelection, as long as he can get his base out to vote.

And, later, CNN goes there in the Gulf of Oman. I will talk to the reporter who got up close with one of the tankers that the U.S. believes was attacked by Iran.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Tensions peaking today after Iran shot down a U.S. drone.

But relations between the two countries have been deteriorating since May of 2018, when the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. But since April of this year, the threats and coded messaging have escalated again and again.

So let's start there. The U.S. declared Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization. On May 1, the U.S. imposed a round the new sanctions against other countries who purchase Iranian oil, which was a huge blow to its economy.

Days later, two U.S. officials told CNN that the Pentagon received intel -- intelligence of a possible threat against U.S. forces in the region. And they sent to carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East.

May 12, four international commercial ships were attacked off the coast of the UAE. The U.S. and the Saudis suspect Iran is behind the blast, which Tehran denies.

Just one day later, a major escalation. Saudi Arabia says two oil pumping stations were attacked by armed drones. The Iranian-backed Houthi militia claims responsibility for that.

And President Trump delivers an intensified threat -- quoting him here Twitter -- "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran," which brings us to last week, when two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

Now, the U.S. released video in which it says it shows an Iranian boat retrieving an unexploded mine from one of the ships, which Iran dismissed as unfounded. The U.S. Navy just allowed one of our CNN correspondents to get an up-close look at it.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This hole just over my shoulder, the Americans say was caused with an Iranian-built limpet mine.

They can't say, however, with total certainty that it was put there by the Iranians. Nonetheless, it blew through both the outer hull and the inner hull of this ship, penetrating the fuel tank area.

Some experts say that that is deliberate. It was a sign that whoever planted this mine knew what they were doing, that they wanted to send a signal, but not cause a disaster.


BALDWIN: And that brings us to this week. Monday, the U.S. deployed 1,000 additional troops to the region.

And on the very same day Iran announces, it will violate the nuclear deal's uranium limit if Europe doesn't help them circumvent U.S. sanctions.

The correspondent you just saw there on your screen at the scene of that tanker attack, Sam Kiley, he joins me now live from the UAE.

So, Sam, just give us some perspective on this part of the world. And how concerned are our Middle East leaders that this will escalate into more?


KILEY: Well, I think the short answer is deeply concerned, Brooke.

Here in the Emirates, for example, a nation traditionally in lockstep with Saudi Arabia and the United States in rhetorical attacks on Iran, particularly over its nuclear program, has been very anxious to observe throughout this recent process that they are not pointing the finger at Iran, and simply saying that, over the seaborne attacks -- there have been six ships that have been attacked now with explosives -- they're saying simply that they believe a state actor was behind it.

Saudi Arabia, of course, is pointing the finger, as is the United Kingdom. I think if we can assume, as is likely, I think, from the American perspective, that Iran has been conducting all these attacks, this latest drone strike is entirely consistent in a display from them of their abilities.

They are signaling to the United States how angry they are about sanctions, how much they're hurting, and also signaling about their military capabilities, carefully calibrating their response.

Remember, this is a flying robot that was shot down. Nobody got hurt. It was expensive. It's arguably embarrassing for the U.S. military, but it hasn't done any damage, other than to stuff. No people have been hurt.

But in this region, where we look straight across the landmass, not very far across the sea there is Iranian territory. It is a simply frightening prospect that this could escalate over the downing of a flying piece of machinery with no human connected to it -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. So there's real fears that this could escalate into that, it sounds like, at least from your part of the world.

Sam Kiley, thank you very much.

Just in to CNN, we have live pictures, as controversial Alabama Republican Roy Moore is announcing he is running for Senate again, even though, by the way, many in his party would rather him not.

Plus, rivals are pouncing on Joe Biden over his remarks about segregationist senators. Biden is defiant. You will hear my interview with his campaign senior adviser next.



BALDWIN: He is back.

Controversial Alabama Republican Roy Moore just announced he is going to make another run for the U.S. Senate seat that he lost in that special election in 2017.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: And, yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020.

My campaign site will be It's very simple. I hope you can go to it and look and see what we stand for and what we're going to do in Washington. Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I. They know I can. That's why there's such opposition.


BALDWIN: The last time Roy Moore ran for the Senate seat, his campaign was engulfed by that scandal involving alleged sexual contact involving teenage girls when Moore was in his 30s.

Now, Moore vehemently denied those allegations, but he lost. He lost to Democrat Doug Jones. And on Twitter, the president says he has nothing against Roy Moore, but doesn't want him to run because he says Moore -- quote -- "cannot win."

CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston joins me now.

And, Mark, I know you can't climb into his head or heart, but why does the man think anything's changed in the last two years? Why does he think he can win?


One is, Roy Moore has never backed down from any kind of a confrontation. He was removed from his position as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, not once, but twice. So he has a history of this. And he did lose that race to Doug Jones by less than two points in a year when Donald Trump won the state by 27.

So, the question is, can he win in a general election? Quite possibly. But, Brooke, he needs to get to the general election. And there's a primary right now for that seat with a lot of big names in Alabama running for it.

So Roy Moore has to win that. And I don't think he's going to have very much support in doing so.

BALDWIN: All right. Let me ask you about President Trump. In this new interview with

"TIME" magazine, he seemed to shrug off the need for him to win over these 2020 swing states.

This is what he said -- quote -- "I think my base is so strong, I'm not sure I have to do that."

Let me just remind everyone what his former adviser Steve Bannon said, putting it like this. And apologies for some of this language.

He said -- quote -- "You have to get every F'ing deplorable. Everybody's got to show up."


PRESTON: Well, I have been don't use the F-word, sometimes quite liberally, and I actually have to agree with Steve Bannon there.

When you put it in political strategical sense, you need to try to get everybody to the polls, not only your base, but, in this case, you are going to have to try to get those swing voters.

Now, what's interesting is, right before I came on air, I talked to one of his confidants, one of the President Trump's confidants, and asked him the same question, and, literally, without hesitation, Brooke, the confidants said, well, you know that President Trump thinks that Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, these are states that are Trump states now. They're not swing states.

So, when Trump said that, he probably actually meant it.

BALDWIN: OK. Good to know about your pennies in the swear jar as well.

PRESTON: Oh, I'm just kidding. It's a Thursday.


PRESTON: Kind of.

BALDWIN: Mark Preston, thank you so much.

PRESTON: Thanks.

BALDWIN: I like to have a little fun with you.

Coming up next here: Former Vice President Joe Biden, he is hitting back after his 2020 rivals criticized him for remarks about segregationist senators. I just talked to a senior adviser to his campaign. You will hear her explanation.

Plus, new details about why Senator Cory Booker decided to be Biden's most outspoken critic.