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Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone in International Airspace; Biden Refuses to Apologize for Segregationist Remarks; Pete Buttigieg Faces Leadership Test after Deadly Police Shooting. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:30] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 20, 6 a.m. here in New York, and we begin with breaking news.

An American drone has been shot out of the sky by Iran, and it comes with a dire warning from one military official who said, quote, "This is the way the Iranian nation deals with its enemies."

This morning we're working to get a response from the White House. This incident comes just hours after President Trump actually downplayed the threat from Iran. But what will the president say now? This is all developing as we speak. CNN has reporters on the ground inside Iran.

So let's go right to Frederik Pleitgen, live in Tehran. And Fred, the Iranians are calling this a message.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are calling this a message. And they say that early this morning, in the early morning hours, they shot down an American surveillance drone.

Now, the Iranians are saying that this drone violated their air space, and they shot it down south of the Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S. has a very different take on things. They say that this surveillance drone was actually traveling in international air space and that it was around the area of the Strait of Hormuz.

Nevertheless, the Iranians drawing red lines, saying -- and this is the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard force, which is the unit that shot down this drone. And he says, quote, "The downing of the American drone is an open, clear, and categorical message, which is the defenders of the borders of Iran will decisively deal with any foreign aggression." And he went on to say, "This is the way the Iranian nation deals with its enemies."

Of course, this comes as the two nations very much at odds with one another. Tensions still flaring up here in this region after those tanker attacks last week that the U.S. blames on Iran. The Iranians say they didn't do it.

And if you guys recall, after those tanker attacks, the U.S. said that the Iranians also tried to fire at a U.S. drone at that point in time. This Iranian general, the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, guys, by the way, also saying once again, Iran does not want any sort of war, but he's also saying Iran is very much prepared for war -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Fred. Please stand by for us and bring us the latest from Tehran as soon as you have it.

This action comes just after President Trump downplayed the threat from Iran and as there's a major power shift underway at the Pentagon. So CNN's Joe Johns is live for us at the White House with reaction from there -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far no substantive reaction from the White House, Alisyn. Of course, the White House can reserve the opportunity to allow the Pentagon to speak for itself in situations like this. So we're still waiting from this source or the source across the river to give us something more.

What we do know is this is the latest example of escalating tensions in the Gulf. And the thing that's different, of course, is this is the first time recently that there's been a United States asset involved in the situation.

The administration's way of dealing with all of this so far has been sort of mixed messaging on the part of the president and some of his top lieutenants, indicating, on the one hand, that they're very concerned about things by sending in a battle group to the Gulf as a show of force.

On the other hand, indicating, for example, that attacks on tankers in the Gulf are not as serious as some of them have been posed in the media, suggesting Iran was simply trying to affect the oil markets there.

As recently as just last night, the president himself indicating on FOX, he doesn't think there's much to worry about. Listen.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: As you look at the geopolitical workup there, Iran, Russia, China, tell me your concerns.

TRUMP (via phone): Don't worry about a thing. Everything's under control. The Iran deal that was made by President Obama paid $150 billion -- paid $1.8 billion in cash. I terminated that, and Iran is a much different country, I will tell you. Much different today than when I took over. When I took over, it looked like there was no stopping them right now.

HANNITY: Would you say that they'll never get nukes? They never get nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: I would say, if I were you, don't worry about a thing.


JOHNS: As a reminder, the Trump administration said just very recently that they're sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region.

Also important to say this latest incident could clearly add fuel to the fire for the Iran hardliners of the administration who say a more robust response to Iran is required.

John and Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Joe Johns, live for us at the White House, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary, now a CNN political commentator; Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN military analyst and former commanding general of Europe and Seventh Army; and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.

So General Hertling, I want to start with you. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard says that this was a clear message that was being sent from Iran to Washington. What is that message?

GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The message is "Don't mess with us." And again, this kind of combines with the Limpet mine emplacement on some of the oil tankers that are coming out of the Gulf. They are going to -- they are going to defend their territory.

The drone that was allegedly shot down, Alisyn, was an RQ-4 variant, which means it's a global hawk. That's $120 million aircraft. And it's the replacement for the old U-2 spy planes.

That thing was high in the air. To be shot down, it took some skills. It took some surface-to-air missiles that could hit a target. And Iran is basically saying, "Don't come into our territory."

As Joe Johns just said, this could escalate very quickly. And that's the unfortunate part about all this. We can continue to place aircraft over the Straits of Hormuz, but Iran is going to be watching for that, and they are going to push the button and push the envelope if we continue to press it.

[06:05:18] BERMAN: Well, General, it's not just the shoot-down here. It comes with this heightened rhetoric from Iran: "This is how we deal with our enemies," they're saying this morning.

So as we are waiting to get a response from the White House and the Pentagon, what are the range of options that they really, realistically, have?

HERTLING: Well, that's the interesting question, John. What are the range of options both sides have? When you're talking about a proportional response to a UAV shootdown, what is it? Is it bombing a city? Is it taking out or destroying a patrol boat, which allegedly this -- the surface-to-air missile was fired from? Is it attacking sites, air defense sites in the nation of Iran?

The question is, what is the requirement for both the U.S. and Iran? Iran is trying to defend their territory. The U.S. is pushing the envelope in the straits, trying to keep the straits open for the about 30 percent of the world's oil. And there is no real easy solution to what kind of proportional response between doing nothing to all-out war that you can have in this particular situation.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well, that's worrisome. Joe, though, the president says last night don't worry about a thing. Nothing to worry about here.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think if he had the chance, he'd take that back.

But I think it feels to me from a political, geopolitical point of view, that Iran is testing this president. The president has never had a test like this. We've had a two-and-a-half-year period without an incident where the president had to use judgment on what a response would be, what a proportional response would be, as opposed to what the rhetoric is. So this -- this will be a big test.

You know, and unfortunately, if you take yesterday as an example, they were speaking with very much mixed messages. And the ironic thing is the president has now kind of drawn a line that says, "The only thing I'm worried about is nukes." And the irony is he unilaterally pulled out of the Iran deal, which, you know, for a time stopped the Iran -- the Iranian nuclear program.

So there's a little bit of a mess there at the White House now, that they're not only going to have to clean up the rhetoric. They're going to have to come up with -- give the president some options on what is a proportional response? And it's a very explosive situation.

BERMAN: How could the world know what the U.S. policy is when the president is saying one thing, and the secretary of state is saying another, and John, when the United States is in between acting defense secretaries?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly right. We have a brand-new acting defense secretary. We have a president trying to de- escalate the rhetoric around Iran while his secretary of state ratchets it up.

We know that the president's advisers, back when -- his former national security advisor was urging him not to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Same thing with the former defense secretary, Jim Mattis.

So you've got an administration caught in contradictions. You have an escalation on the ground. And the problem is, is you know, break out your copies of "Guns of August," because when things escalate, they can get out of hand very quickly. And this requires judgment. Not simply assurances to late-night talk show hosts that everything is going to be all right. That actually is not an option in the real world. CAMEROTA: General, do you agree this is the biggest test of President

Trump in his administration thus far?

HERTLING: Yes, this is -- this is one of the things that a lot of military folks are concerned about, is we see people throwing red meat on the table.

And I think the escalation, the potential not only for talking about elimination of the Iran nuclear deal, and then combining that with calling the Iranian Republic -- the Iranian Republican Guard Corps a terrorist organization, having this maximum pressure campaign, not being tied to a strategy of exactly what it is we want Iran to do, other than to come to the table, which is confusing to them, because they were already at the table --


HERTLING: -- with the Iran nuclear deal. It's confusing.

And -- and many of us have said, you know, we are very concerned about a situation which will test the national security organization within the White House. This certainly could be it, because there are no good options on this one. It -- it's very easy to stumble into a war. It's much harder to get out of one, especially when you don't have a strategy or an end state. And I personally can't see what the end state is in this entire approach toward Iran right now.

BERMAN: Joe Lockhart, this is literally the 3 a.m. call. I mean, this shootdown happened overnight, a $100 million piece of hardware. The call comes to the White House, saying the Iranians shot down one of our expensive drones. What is the messaging you are listening for? You've been in the White House --


BERMAN: -- for situations like this. What are you listening for this morning?

LOCKHART: Well, I think they need to do a little cleanup first and start speaking with one voice and start putting -- start setting expectations about what won't happen before they start talking about what will happen. Because --

[06:10:16] CAMEROTA: That's not the president's style.

LOCKHART: That's not the --

CAMEROTA: He doesn't like to say what won't happen --

LOCKHART: That's not the president's style.

CAMEROTA: -- because he likes to send the message to Iran anything could happen.

LOCKHART: But -- but I think, as both John and the general have said here, it is easy for a -- to stumble into a war and for things to escalate, particularly with an inexperienced leader, one who's impulsive, and one who reacts very strongly to how people cover them.

It's very hard to hold off, you know, the call of war as a politician, because that makes you look strong. But a great leader is the one who can show restraint.

BERMAN: All right. Joe, John, General, please stand by. Again, we're awaiting a White House response from this attack. And again, Iran says, "This is how we deal with our enemies," so I imagine there will be a White House response.

CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, we turn to our other big political story of the day. Joe Biden and Cory Booker at odds over the former vice president's comments about working with segregationist senators. So we discuss how Biden's defense is roiling the Democratic field. That's next.


[06:15:57] BERMAN: All right. A major shift overnight in the Democratic race for president, with candidates demanding apologies from each other by name. And a lot of that back and forth played out right here on CNN.

It started with former Vice President Joe Biden praising his work with segregationist former senators, using language that some found offensive. Many of his Democratic opponents, including Senator Cory Booker here on CNN, took offense, but then late last night, Biden surprisingly said it is Booker who should apologize.

CNN's Jessica Dean is live in Washington for us. And Jessica, as we said, this played out late into the night. What are you hearing this morning?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so much back and forth on this one, John. And this is going back to Tuesday to a fundraiser, where these comments were initially made.

By yesterday, as you alluded to, it all blew up, and now we've had all of this back and forth. It's led to the sharpest criticism we've heard yet from 2020 Democrats as they go after the frontrunner, Joe Biden.

It's also led Joe Biden, who has multiply -- multiple times said that he would not attack his fellow Democrats, to call one of his opponents out by name.


DEAN (voice-over): A defiant Joe Biden facing extreme backlash after making remarks recalling his work with segregationist senators in the 1970s. The Democratic frontrunner telling donors at a fundraiser that former Senator James Eastland, quote, "Never called [him] boy. He always called me son." And that former senator Herman Talmadge was, quote, "One of the meanest guys I ever knew," adding, quote, "Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done." Senator Cory Booker slamming the former vice president, writing,

quote, "I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans."

But Biden refused to do so.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The point I'm making is you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views, but you just simply make the case, and you beat them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize to Cory Booker?

BIDEN: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period, period, period.

DEAN: Booker not backing down either.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that I was raised to speak truth to power and that I will never apologize for doing that.

DEAN: The Democratic rival calling Biden's response insulting, adding he is, quote, "missing the larger point" of his criticism.

BOOKER: This should not be a lesson that someone who's running for president of the United States should have to be -- to be given.

DEAN: Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign, quickly defending him, tweeting he, quote, "did not praise a segregationist. That is a disingenuous take."

And the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, is backing Biden, too, telling "Politico," quote, I worked with with Strom Thurmond all my life. You don't have to agree with people to work with them."

But some other 2020 rivals firing back at the former vice president.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But to coddle the reputations of segregationists, of people who, if they had their way, I would literally not be standing here as a member of the United States Senate, is, I think, it's just -- it's misinformed, and it's wrong.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We all have to work with people with whom we have very different points of view. I do it every day. But I think to be singing the praises of people who were vicious segregationists is not something that anybody should be doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DEAN: And all those candidates about to see one another as the majority of them head down to South Carolina tomorrow for Representative Clyburn's famous fish fry and the South Carolina Democratic Party convention.

And John and Alisyn, of course, South Carolina, that one of those critical early states, and the majority of the primary electorate there made up of African-Americans.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Dean in Washington, stand by for us. Let us know if you hear anything new this morning.

Back with us, Joe Lockhart. Now joining us also, Margaret Talev, CNN political analyst; and Wes Lowery, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and a CNN contributor.

[06:20:08] Wes, I should note you're in South Bend, which we'll get to in just a moment.

I want to replay the moment from last night where Joe Biden was pressed with Cory Booker's criticism. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize to Cory Booker?

BIDEN: Apologize for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period, period, period.


BERMAN: Wes, when he said that overnight, you wrote, "He really said the black senator is the one who should apologize. He really said that." What did you mean?

WES LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, politicians are, first and foremost, communicators. And so if you intend to communicate something, and 48 hours later you're still having to explain what you were attempting to say, because everyone else took it a different way, there's some type of failure there.

In this case, the vice president said that he was pining for the days back when they used to work with open segregationalists [SIC] in the Senate. His -- the two Democratic senators, who are black, two of the only three current black senators, both said they were offended by this. They thought it was either racially insensitive or the coddling of these segregationists. And the vice president responded by saying they're the ones who need to apologize to him.

Clearly, both optically and also just in terms of interpersonal relationships, that is a striking statement to make, that Joe Biden is how the victim in this conversation; that everyone is just taking what he said in bad faith. Because "Don't you know me. I'm --"

I just think that in a diverse and big primary on the Democratic side, this is one of the things that a lot of candidates are going to have to have to grapple with, is that when you're trying to talk to a diverse coalition, you're trying to mobilize Democratic voters, which again, in our two-party system are the racially and culturally diverse party. The Republican Party is much more monochromatic that way. You have to be able to communicate to folks.

And when minority groups tell you something you've said is offensive to them, it is very rarely productive to get in a kind of semantic argument with them about who really is the victim here: the white guy who said the potentially insensitive thing or all the black people who are offended by it.

CAMEROTA: Joe, you've had to help presidents with messaging. Joe Biden prides himself on crossing the aisle. So you hear him say this. This is a theme that he wants to talk about. He believes in it. He believes we can still do it. He was trying to, I think, show the most extreme examples by citing these two segregationists.

What should he have done differently?

LOCKHART: Well, I think it's not only does he believe it. It is a central part of his strategy.

He is, you know -- most of the Democratic candidates are working from the left in. He's working from the center to the left. And he's making an argument to a group of people, looking ahead, both for the primary but looking ahead to the general election, that says people want to return to a time where people -- where the Congress got something done. And you can work with people that you don't agree with and you don't like.

So there's an underlying strategy there and argument that I think is valid. It's the -- it's the execution of that strategy that has fallen short here. And he is saying things in a way that leaves him open to the attacks that he has. And he's showing -- and this isn't the first time -- a certain hubris about taking responsibility for those.

CAMEROTA: Right. I mean, if you think about Anita Hill, if you think about the not necessarily understanding the personal space between people and not being able to sort of hug them, he doesn't like to apologize.

LOCKHART: No, he doesn't. And his apologies are often conditional and start with the word "if," as opposed to start with the word that "I, you know, take responsibility for this."

And a part of this is just something that -- that candidates only learn when they get in the presidential race, which is it is different than anything else they've ever done in politics, even being vice president; where every word you say and how you say it is examined. And you have to use your words more carefully. But then you also have to be able to be nimble enough to go out and

put these stories to rest and not let them fester. And I think what we've seen in the first couple months of the Biden campaign is he's done a lot of things right. He's -- he's got to get better on this.

BERMAN: So it is interesting, Margaret. Senior African-American Democrats came out very quickly in defense, or in support, I should say, of Joe Biden, including Jim Clyburn. And everyone is going to South Carolina for his fish fry this weekend. Jim Clyburn's the No. 3 in the House.

Senator Chris Coons (ph), who's a big endorser of Joe Biden. They've come out in support of Joe Biden.

It might very well be that, like with the issue of the Hyde Amendment, this isn't as much about race as it is about generational politics. And what this highlights again is the vice president's age.

[06:25:02] MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: John, I think that's true. But I think any way you slice it, it's a problem, at least in this initial 48 hours.

And no -- you know, don't apologize, never apologize works -- has worked pretty well for President Trump. But I'm not sure that it translates on the Democratic side the same way that it works on the Republican side. There's only so many times you can rely on Jim Clyburn to clean things up for you.

And so Biden's advisers are going to tell him that he's got, like, a day to get this message better before he heads into that -- into that fish fry.

And today is the day when Joe Biden would probably like to be talking about Iran, about President Trump's approach to Iran, about how that differs from how Joe Biden would handle Iran. Instead, he's talking about this.

So I think in the sort of initial rollout of this, he's exposed a vulnerability for President Trump to take advantage of. And he's given Cory Booker all the air time and attention that Cory Booker has not been able to get on his own until now. He's given him a breakthrough moment. And strategically, that's probably a stumble for the vice president.

CAMEROTA: Wes, I see your rigorous nodding. What -- how could he have done this differently? If he was trying to use the most extreme examples, what should he have said?

LOWERY: Sure. You know, I do think -- so first of all, and I think Joe's right here. That this is a big part of the vice president's strategy. That he wants to project a message that he is someone who can take us back to a politics that felt, perhaps, a little less vitriolic; where folks worked together; where things got done in D.C.

Now, I think there is an actual ideological argument about whether or not that is even an accurate portrayal of what the history was there and whether or not that's possible with the current Republican Senate.

But that said, I do think that -- you know, this is remarkably sensitive. Any time you're invoking the names of segregationists, no matter what point you're making, a chunk of the population isn't going to hear anything you say after the names of those folks.

And I think, again, when you're talking to a big and diverse coalition, you are not always going to get this presumption of, "Well, I know what the vice president really meant here." Sometimes people are going to be offended by the things -- the specifics of how you said it.

I mean, I think another thing that was interesting here is that he addressed Senator Booker by his first name in telling him he should apologize.

BERMAN: Right.

LOWERY: Now, do I think everyone is going to be offended by that, or it's going to be a major issue? No. But I -- do I -- have I talked to some voters or some members of my family who might be offended by someone referring to one of the only elected black senators in modern U.S. history by their first name to dismiss their criticism? There are going to be some people who don't like that.

And so again, how the vice president conducts himself is really important, the specifics of the words he uses and the tone that he uses.

BERMAN: Wes, we're just about out of time. I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't ask you about South Bend. You were in South Bend covering Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is dealing with an officer-involved shooting and, according to the article you wrote overnight -- and I read it very carefully -- having some trouble.

LOWERY: Certainly. You know, he -- the mayor is back here. He's one of the few Democratic candidates who himself is an executive currently. He runs a city.

There was a police shooting over the weekend, where a white officer shot a black -- a black man. And there was some tension here in the community. There was some frustration.

And this has been a challenge for the mayor. He -- he's been very deliberate about how he's conducted himself here. But the mayor also has some frosty relationships with the black community here in South Bend. And so while he's received a pretty charmed coronation nationally as people have gotten to know him, this presented a chief challenge.

He took it so seriously that he kind of suspended his campaign for a couple days. He's been back here. And he's gotten mixed reviews.

Now, do I think anything that's happened in the last few days is going to be fatal to Pete Buttigieg? Certainly not. And he certainly has impressed some folks here on the ground. But that said, again, it speaks to how dicey these issues are and how many candidates, especially the white candidates in the Democratic field, deal with a minefield when they start entering issues of race.

BERMAN: All right. Wes, Joe, Margaret, thank you very much.

An unbelievable twist in the David Ortiz shooting investigation. And by unbelievable, I mean it's hard to believe, literally --

CAMEROTA: Yes, no --

BERMAN: -- what officials are saying down there.

CAMEROTA: I'm with you. I'm with you.

BERMAN: Also, there is this new video released by Dominican officials, moments after the shooting. We'll discuss, next.