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Trump Comments on Drone Attack; Pentagon Statement on Drone Attack; Iran's Statement on Drone Attack; Congress Briefed on Drone Attack. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:20] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And underway right now, we're following breaking news out of the Middle East, begging the question, is the Trump administration fumbling its way toward a war with Iran?

Just moments ago, President Trump was asked if the U.S. and Iran are headed to war after Iran shot down a U.S. drone, an unmanned aircraft, near the Persian Gulf. And here's what the president said about the incident that has increased tensions in what was already a volatile situation.


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.

QUESTION: How will you respond, Mr. President? How will you respond?

TRUMP: You'll finding out.

QUESTION: Are you willing to go to war with Iran over this?

TRUMP: You'll finding out. You'll find out.


KEILAR: Abby Phillip is live for us at the White House.

And, Abby, the president says Iran made a big mistake, but he thinks that it may have been human error, not a miscalculation by Iran. What more is he saying?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is really fascinating because earlier this morning when the president tweeted almost the exact same words, that Iran made a big mistake, people wondered if he was ratcheting up the pressure here on Iran, if he was ratcheting up the rhetoric.

Now it appears, based on what he told reporters in the Oval Office, that the president thinks that it was an error on Iran's part. Listen to what he said to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a feeling, I may be wrong and I may be right, but I'm right a lot -- I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by someone that shouldn't have been doing what they did.

QUESTION: Who do you think did that?

TRUMP: I think they made a mistake. And I'm not just talking the country -- the country made a mistake. I think that somebody under the command of that country made a big mistake.


PHILLIP: And he added that he finds it hard to believe that this incident, the shooting down of an unmanned drone, was intentional. And he added that it would have been very different had there been a person on that drone. The context here, Brianna, is that President Trump has been for days and weeks resisting what has seemed to be pressure to move toward military action with Iran.

This is a president who does not want to do that. He has campaigned against moving the United States out of foreign wars. And so he's been resistant privately with his aides to this idea. And so you're seeing here the president publicly voicing actually kind of a toned-down view of this where he's saying, I don't think it was intentional. Someone on the ground there made a mistake.

But the question is, what does the United States do about it? And on that question the president said, we'll see. Will the United States do something to sending a message Iran in return about this incident?

But I think it's clear from what the president said that this is not a president who is eager to sort of view this as Iran intentionally provoking the United States into war. What that means for what the U.S. does going forward, I think, remains an open question as of this moment. But this is a very interesting and new development in this whole saga, Brianna.

KEILAR: It sure is.

Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

And the Pentagon has just released some new video, which purportedly shows this drone, this unmanned aircraft, being shot down. The video is black and white. It's pretty grainy. And it's -- it's a little bit hard to tell exactly what we're looking at here. But this is to be, we are told, the smoke trail after the drone was hit.

I want to bring in CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne. He's live for us from the Pentagon.

And the Pentagon just held a press conference, Ryan. What did we learn?

RYAN BROWN, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Brianna, we're learning new details about exactly where this U.S. military drone was when it was shot down by this Iranian missile. Now, the Pentagon providing a map and additional information saying where it was operating. They're saying very clear that it was in international airspace. The top general who oversees U.S. military air operations in the Middle East saying it was 34 kilometers, that's over 20 miles, off the Iranian coast, well into international airspace according to the Pentagon.

So, again, also the nature of this kind of drone. It's an RQ-4, very large. It wouldn't be involved typically in any kind of clandestine spy operations. It's hard to miss. So this thing, according to the U.S. military, very clearly operating in international airspace.

And the Pentagon also saying that this airspace is used as an air corridor so that this missile attack by Iran could have potentially endangered civilian air traffic that regularly fly in this area. So the Pentagon making it very clear its feelings, despite the Iranian claims, the U.S.' feelings about where this drone was when it was shot down.

[13:05:10] KEILAR: All right, Ryan Browne, thank you so much, from the Pentagon.

And Iran is insisting that this drone was not over international waters, running completely counter to what the U.S. is saying. It's saying the U.S. violated its airspace.

I want to check in now with CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He is live for us from Tehran, Iran.

What are you hearing, Fred?


Well, the Iranians, they came out very early this morning and immediately said that this drone had veered off into Iranian airspace. It was quite interesting to hear because the Iranians usually don't come out with information this quickly and usually don't come up with this much information. They say that it violated, as they say, their airspace and then was shot down by one of their surface-to-air missiles. The Iranians, unlike President Trump, not saying that this was some sort of mistake. They say the drone was in their airspace and that's why they shot it down.

Now, Iran's foreign minister, after President Trump made his first initial tweet saying that the Iranians had made a big mistake, the Iranian foreign minister came out with a statement of its own -- of his own, also via Twitter. He said, and this is a quote, the U.S. wages economic terrorism on Iran -- that's what the Iranians call the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear agreement and putting sanctions on Iran -- has conducted covert action against us and now encroaches on our territory. We don't seek war but will zealously defend our skies, land and waters. We'll take this new aggression to the U.N. and show that the U.S. is lying about international waters. So that's the take from the Iranian foreign minister.

The drone, Brianna, was shot down by Iran's most elite military unit, the Revolutionary Guard. And the head of the Revolutionary Guard, he came out earlier today with some pretty bellicose rhetoric of his own, also saying that Iran is ready for war. Here's what he had to say.


MAJOR GENERAL HOSSEIN SALAMI, COMMANDER, IRAN'S REVOLUTIONARY GUARD CORPS (through translator): Destroying the U.S. spy drone had a clear, quick, explicit and accurate message, which is that defenders of Iran's borders will give strong and firm responses against any invasion of any strangers against this land.


PLEITGEN: So there you have the Iranian side of things, certainly from the Revolutionary Guard. They've been all day saying that any sort of invasion, any sort of incursion into their airspace is what they call a red line for themselves. In fact, the head of Iran's national security council came out not too long ago in an interview and warned other entities, other countries from aggression as he called it against Iranian airspace. So certainly the Iranians, in their view, say that the drone veered into their airspace. They obviously consider this also to be a serious incident themselves and continuing to say a lot of similar things that the Trump administration has been saying over the past couple of days, essentially saying they don't want an escalation, they don't want this to turn into a war, but they are ready if it does happen, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much, from Tehran.

And I do want to bring in CNN military analyst James "Spider" Marks.

And, you know, the tensions here, Spider, are going in the wrong direction if you're trying to avoid a conflict.


KEILAR: So let's talk big picture. What would a war with inn look like?

MARKS: I'd prefer not to talk what a war with Iran looks like because I -- I would say that we're not moving in the direction of conducting a full scale engagement against Iran. In fact, I think the president is indicating now, hopefully in more measured tones, that we're going to try to de-escalate what's taking place.

KEILAR: You read into when he's talking about maybe a mistake was made, even as he sort of indicates that all options are on the table? How are you reading that? MARKS: Absolutely. And I hope that he's pushing back against his

national security advisor, who is very hawkish in this regard. I can't speak for Secretary Mike Pompeo. I would think he's probably not as hawkish but is moving in a very definitive way.

But the United States gains nothing by trying to conduct a war against Iran. We have a very checkered past in terms of trying to conduct regime change. But I think if we take a step back, what is the strategy? I'm not certain, and I think we could agree that the strategy's not clear. Our -- is the United States simply trying to poke Tehran to poke Tehran or are we trying to decrease their ability to try to acquire nuclear weapons, which is not happening right now.

KEILAR: Or -- you were going to add something. OK. I'm sorry, go on.

MARKS: Well, I was. Absolutely. No, no, no.

KEILAR: I do want to -- I want to talk to you about the geography.

MARKS: My point is, so the options on the table is, could the United States strike very precisely against that firing battery?


MARKS: Yes, they could. But I think the United States -- I mean that's an option. That's a legitimate option. But we would have to be very clear to demonstrate that we have no greater or grander ambitions, so our military posture would have to be very defensive, very passive, except for that, and that's a very tough read to transmit.

KEILAR: Help us understand what's happened here because Iran took the shot, right?

[13:10:00] MARKS: Right.

KEILAR: This was a choice that was made at some level. The president is casting doubts as to where. But Iran took the shot. This according to the U.S. is where this drone -- this -- it's large -- this is an unmanned aircraft -- where it was shot down.

At issue is, which airspace was this in? Iran says it was theirs. The U.S. says this is international. They say Iran is basically categorically lying.

So how far does Iranian airspace protrude toward the Strait of Hormuz here?

MARKS: I think the international laws of airspace and sea space is it does not exceed beyond 12 miles.


MARKS: And the Straits of Hormuz are over 34 miles wide. This is in the Gulf of Oman, not the Straits of Hormuz. So much greater airspace.

Plus, I would hope we'd take off the table that Tehran might have a better read on where our aircraft was, that unmanned aircraft was, than the United States. I think if Tehran's lips are moving in this case, they're lying. We shouldn't give much credence to that at all.

KEILAR: And the U.S. -- and the U.S. was very clear, when we saw the briefing from the lieutenant general in the region --

MARKS: Right.

KEILAR: That this was farther than the dozen miles that you're talking about.

So let's talk -- let's talk about this drone. Tell -- what do we know about this plane? This is the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

MARKS: It's been in the inventory for about 21 years. It's state-of- the-art. It's a huge aircraft. It's almost the size of a Boeing airliner that you would get in tomorrow to fly home. It's a monstrous aircraft.


MARKS: Great capabilities. And you can put on that aircraft, you can mix and match the types of sensors you want to have. Do you want to do imagery? Do you want to do signals intelligence? Do you want to do measurements and signatures intelligence, kind of getting into some arcane business? But this is an incredibly capable aircraft and it's real-time.

So it's a crew of three, but on the ground. Totally unmanned. So you've got a payload individual, you've got an aircraft individual, and you've got a recovery individual. So this is a team that does this as a matter of routine and it's an immense capability.

When I was in conflict zones, this was a capability that I would lean on routinely. It would give you a stand-off capability. Now, clearly, that gives you a technical response to what you're seeing. It's always nice to have some type of a human intelligence as well to complement this. But in this case, you had a technical engagement against a technical aircraft. It's pretty easy to read that.

KEILAR: General, it strikes me when I asked you before what a war with Iran would look like. You were very clear to -- you don't want to talk about it. You don't want to consider that it's a possibility. You want to have faith in what you're hearing from the president that this should be de-escalated away from that possibility.

MARKS: I do (ph).

KEILAR: Explain that. Explain -- I mean this is -- Iran has been preparing for a possibility like this for years.

MARKS: Forever.

KEILAR: This is not an easy sort of one and done kind of situation if this goes further, if this escalates.

MARKS: Correct.

What you're going to get out of Tehran always is a whole host of polemics, vitriolic language, very strident against the United States. The United States and Tehran have not had a relationship in over 40 years. The United States would be ill-advised to go to war in Iran. I mean look what we tried to do in Iraq. I mean having been a part of that. This is -- and Iran is three times the size of Iraq and the difficulties associated with that.

And to try to achieve regime change is immensely difficult doing that from dissidents. I don't know what the indicators are on the ground that the population is ready for a regime change. I would say they probably want it, but show me something. Get some momentum going. We haven't seen that yet. So for us to try to instigate that at this point is incredibly ill-advised.

I would not want to talk about what war in Iran looks like. I would hope that we, in very measured terms, walk away from that, de- escalate. I mean there really are three rules. Rule one is force protect when you're deployed. Rule two is de-escalate. There's always a rule three, which is, if rule two doesn't apply, then crush them. So let's assume rule one and rule two can work.

KEILAR: Very telling.

MARKS: We hope.

KEILAR: General Marks, thank you so much for explaining all of this to us.

And we're also getting word right now that the White House is going to brief lawmakers very soon. We're going to take you to Capitol Hill as this situation is escalating.


[13:19:14] KEILAR: We're back now to our breaking news.

Congressional leaders are heading to the White House shortly for an in-person briefing on the situation with Iran and President Trump is also expected to be in this briefing as well.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, there was an earlier briefing there on The Hill. Tell us what you're hearing about it.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, lawmakers left that hearing very serious about what they heard and warning about next steps that might be taken. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, spoke to our colleague Ted Barrett looking very serious afterwards and saying this. She said, we have to de-escalate. That's what we have to do. The high tension wire are up in the region. We must de-escalate.

Now, she would not specify what was said in the briefing or what prompted her to react this way, but other lawmakers reacted differently. One lawmaker, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of this president, someone who's a big proponent of foreign intervention like -- such as the Iraq War, he made I very clear that if Iran -- if Iran wants to (INAUDIBLE) United States, the United States should respond. He said -- he said this. He said -- he said, here's what Iran needs to get ready for, severe pain. If they are inching -- itching for a fight, they are going to get one.

[13:20:34] So the ultimate question is, what does the president ultimately decide to do? What are the next steps? And lawmakers are not revealing that. But they know that this briefing this afternoon could be significant where the top leaders, a smaller group of leaders from the top House and Senate leaders, as well as the committee chairmen in the House and Senate and key committees, ranking members as well, will all go to the Situation Room to hear what the next steps are. And we'll see how Congress responds as members, some say they want a vow before any military action is taken.


KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju on The Hill. Thank you very much.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's just see what happens. You just -- let's see what happens. It's all going to work out.


KEILAR: It will all work out. That is what the president is saying here as we witness this flare-up, this escalation with Iran. He says he believes that this was likely human error by Iran or someone in the command of Iran that led to the shooting down of this unmanned American aircraft.

But when asked if the U.S. plans to strike back, the president just said, quote, you'll soon find out.

Well, we've heard rumblings from Republicans recently about possible action against Iran. Let's listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could we win a war with Iran?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That didn't take you a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two strikes. The first strike and the last strike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are the conditions or the circumstances that would justify going to war with Iran?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if Iran struck out militarily against the United States or against our allies in the region, then I would certainly expect a devastating response.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is considering a full range of options.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Does that include a military response?

POMPEO: Of course.

BRENNAN: So when you talk about military response, you're talking about that, keeping the waterways open? You are not, at this point, talking about a strike on Iran?

POMPEO: Oh, goodness, President Trump has said very clearly he doesn't want to go to war. At the same time, we've made very clear that we're --

BRENNAN: Do you have the legal authorization for a strike on Iran?

POMPEO: We always have the authorization to defend American interests.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If I were the president, I would tell the Iranians, if there's an attack on a ship or a pipeline or anything like that, we're going to blow up your oil refinery and take you out of the oil business.


KEILAR: All right, with me now to discuss this, General James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Obama.

And earlier this week the president, he tried to downplay the threat. He said, don't worry about a thing.

So when you're trying to read what he's saying and on one hand he's trying to say this is going to be OK, but then he's also making clear that all options are on the table, how are you reading this?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you have to read it both ways, I guess. I think he made the comment about, don't worry about it, everything's OK, before the most recent incident involving a shoot-down of the Global Hawk or Global Hawk-like aircraft.

I would pause at -- that, you know, first reports are never quite correct here. And both sides could be correct in believing where the shoot-down occurred.

KEILAR: In Iranian airspace or international?

CLAPPER: Well, here's a possibility, I don't know, but that's pretty tight airspace there. So it's quite possible that there could have been a very shallow penetration of Iranian airspace by the Global Hawk-like aircraft, I think it was a Navy UAV. And by the time the Iranians reacted, when they actually went to shoot it down, it was over international waters. So both we and they could be -- believe that we're both correct.

And there's a history for this. We lost at least one drone over Iran that actually did penetrate Iranian airspace in about 2011, I think. And I think -- I'm pretty sure that their rules of engagement are if a -- if a U.S. vehicle of any sort, manned or unmanned, penetrates Iranian airspace, they'll shoot it down.

So I think it would be a good idea to kind of take a breath here and do a detailed critique of what actually happened, a complete trek of that unmanned aerial vehicle. And I also think it would be a really good idea to initiate some -- if this hasn't already been done, initiate some dialogue directly with the Iranians, if need be, through intermediaries in the theater, for example, the Omanis, who have done this in the past.

KEILAR: There's --

CLAPPER: But if the policy is to provoke and goad the Iranians, it's working.

KEILAR: There's no room for nuance in what you described. If the process is, there's an incursion into airspace, shoot, or if you think there may be an incursion into airspace, shoot, then essentially it's almost like an electric fence, even if the -- you know, I guess my question here is, a choice was made.


[13:25:12] KEILAR: And even if that's in line with sort of what an automatic response is in Iran, there's no room for the nuance of what this may mean in reaction from the U.S.

CLAPPER: That's correct. And this is -- what you just said is compounded by the possibility that perhaps the Iranian radars were in error. They were off a grid or so, off some distance. And that wasn't accounted for. So there's all kinds of possibilities and nuances here. And it would be a really good idea to try to reconstruct what actually happened because, in my experience, through many similar crises, the first reports are never quite accurate.

KEILAR: But what's the motivation then for even if it's -- if there's an incursion, shoot? What is the motivation for there even being that knee-jerk reaction?

CLAPPER: Well, the Iranians very, very sensitive about their sovereignty, and -- to include their airspace. And given the previous experience of a drone from the United States overflying their territory, and given the pretty strict discipline that the RGC has where there isn't a lot of room for judgment, you know, they saw it overflying and they took the action that they've been instructed, which was, shoot it down. And it may well have been over international waters when the actual shoot-down occurred. And, of course, if it fell into international waters, that proves -- that proves that. But there is the possibility that there may have been a shallow penetration of Iranian airspace.

KEILAR: This moment is begging the question of how President Trump and how the Trump administration is handling really crises abroad in general. You have a number of global tests right now. There's Iran, which we're witnessing almost in real-time. There's this Saudi Arabia, the controversy on multiple fronts, from Jamal Khashoggi's killing, to arms deals, China, North Korea, Mexico in conflict over tariffs and trade and immigration, Venezuela, and there's also, at this point in time, there's no secretary of defense.

What do you make of the U.S.' next move, but also what this just means big picture for how this president is doing?

CLAPPER: Well, first, the United States has always confronted a multiplicity of crises simultaneously, or regional hot spots. And we pretty much, in the past, managed to walk and chew gum and handle more than one contingency at a time.

I'm not sure in this case how this administration works. It -- whether that -- they're actually capable of coping with multiple crises, particularly if one gets really serious, really hot, as in -- as in combat, which, you know, is certainly a possibility in Iran. And it will be interesting to see --

KEILAR: Are you concerned -- are you concerned that they're not equipped to deal with one?

CLAPPER: Well, sure. Well, sure, I worry about that. I --

KEILAR: More so than other administrations?

CLAPPER: Well, that's a relative term. And you're dealing with circumstances that are not necessarily under U.S. control as well. So you have all these imponderables, unknowns, what others are going to do or not do. And so this would be a real test for this administration, I think.

But I would -- I would vote for some pause here, figure out what actually happened and attempt to do some direct communication with the Iranians. This is also a good time, which we're not real -- we haven't been real good at lately, for trying to get consensus among allies and friends about this as well.

KEILAR: General Clapper, thank you so much for your insight.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: And we have more on our breaking news ahead. What will the president do in response? Also, his rivals are pouncing, but Joe Biden is defiant against calls that he apologize for comments about unity or bipartisanship with segregationist senators. So how is this playing in South Carolina?