Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: "We Were Locked & Loaded" Before I Called Off Iran Strike; Iran Says They Refrained from Striking Plane Accompanying Drone; Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) Discusses Trump Cancelling Iranian Airstrike; Missouri Becomes 1st State Without Abortion Clinic Since Roe v. Wade. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00:] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: "We were locked and loaded to retaliate last night on three different sites when I asked, how many will die. One-hundred-fifty people, sir, was the answer from a general. 10 minutes from the strike, I stopped it. Not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone."

"I am in no hurry," he continued. "Our new military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting and more added last night. Iran can never have nuclear weapons, not against the USA and not against the world."

Meantime, alarming new information also coming now from Iran, which says it refrained from shooting down a U.S. plane with 35 people on board that was accompanying the downed drone.

We're covering all the angles. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins us now with new reporting on the information. CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is reporting from Tehran.

Barbara, I want to begin with you.

What more are we hearing at this hour?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPODNENT: Well, we are still looking at those tweets from the president, Erica. The president saying that this all happened 10 minutes before him.

Look, when there's a military operation pending, the U.S. military already has its ships lined up, its aircraft lined up, it is ready to go, pending the president's final thumbs up approval. That's how it works with any president.

And is the president actually saying that it was only 10 minutes before that he asked about the risk? This seems perhaps very unlikely that he did not have the opportunity to express that concern earlier.

Typically, a president will be fully briefed on a military operation, because a president doesn't need to know just the risks to adversary forces, the Iranians in this case.

In the case of striking Iran, the Pentagon has made the constant upon the that you have to take into account the risk of Iranian retaliation. It's very uncertain what Iran would do. If the U.S. were to strike, would it strike out at American citizens in the Middle East? Would it strike out at U.S. forces?

The president would have to have some curiosity, one can only assume, long before 10 minutes, about what the risk is to Americans if he were to give that final thumbs up.

So these tweets are interesting but not perhaps fully comprehensive about the briefings and the thinking that was going on at the White House last night.

HILL: In some ways, raising new questions.

Fred, what are we hearing from Iran about all this?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iranians are continuing, Erica, to dispel the notions that the president put out there yesterday that maybe the strike on that drone, the targeting on that drone may have been a mistake from some sort of rogue commander.

The Iranians are saying, no, they know exactly had a they're looking at over the Strait of Hormuz. They know exactly what planes and aircraft they're targeting.

That's why the Iranians came out and said, look, there was a U.S. spy plane flying in that exact same vicinity. They say they could have targeted that as well but they chose not to do so, one of the reasons being the people on board.

Today, the commander of the operation said the downing of the drone was a clear message to the United States of the capabilities of the Iranians.

The Iranians continue to insist that drone was over their airspace even as the U.S. says it wasn't, it was in international airspace. The Iranians are saying they shot it down at around 50,000 feet.

Today, for the first time, they showed some of the debris that they allege is from that drone. It's really small pieces of debris they say fell obviously from a very high altitude. They say the debris they're showing right now is only what was floating in their territorial waters, there may be some of the leftover drone somewhere out there. But they're insisting that the aircraft was flying over their own territory.

As far as the threats from the Trump administration are concerned, the Iranians are saying, if the U.S. had made a military move, it would be, as they put it, a crushing response coming from Tehran -- Erica?

HILL: Frederik Pleitgen and Barbara Starr, both on the angles for us. Thank you both.

Also with us now, Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to the National Security Council during the Obama administration, and CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Good to have both of you with us.

I want to start with you on this one.

As we heard from Barbara, and this had many of us scratching our heads when we saw the president's tweet this morning, that he had asked about what the potential casualties could be after he had already made the decision, as Barbara pointed out, it is unlikely the president would not have had all the information before making that decision. Do you agree with that?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALAYST: No. I think what happens -- having been involved in what's called CDE, collateral damage estimates, it's a precondition, it's a fundamental requirement upstream, as you go through the planning process to build a target.

You want to achieve certain results on the ground. You have to establish what you want to achieve. Then you build the package to go after it. And part of all of that is the CDE determination. That's done way up front.

So I -- I don't know what's happening. I can't get into the president's head.

HILL: Right, we weren't in the room. That being said, you've been in similar situations, you know how it works.

MARKS: Right. It's up front. Mr. President, this is what the target looks like. This is the strike package and this is the CDE. It's way up front.

HILL: Right.

MARKS: Up front. I mean, it's way up front. Then, the decision is go. And then certainly the commander-in-chief reserves the right to alter that at any time before a strike.

HILL: So there's that --


[11:05:16] HILL: Go ahead, Sam.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's also open- source information to an extent. We know one thing, we know President Trump watches FOX News. And even FOX News has been very clear that Iran retains the capability and intent to strike Americans. That's why weren't through diplomats in Iraq, for example. That's been broadcast in the media.

Just by watching television, President Trump would have had part of the casualty assessment. He would have known that the Iranian response could have included strikes against Americans overseas.

So it is unlikely, as General Marks just said, that the president didn't get classified intelligence briefings about casualties on the ground. But just by watching television, he would have known the risks to Americans throughout the region.

HILL: In terms of other things that were known, one of the things that stuck out, that stood out, before the president confirmed this on Twitter this morning, in the "New York Times" reporting over, it was clear that the administration and the administration did not in any way ask the "New York Times" not to publish the story. That clearly they wanted to get this message out, that the call had been made and then the president decided to walk it back.

What's the advantage or disadvantage, depending on your take, Sam, of having that message out there?

VINOGRAD: Well, I think this was a miscalculation on the White House's part in terms of wanting this preferably out there because now it looks like President Trump has blurred lines rather than red lines.

I am incredible grateful that the president called off these strikes. I think it would have been grossly irresponsible.

But he has blurred lines on things like Iran's nuclear weapons and Iran's malign activity.

Let's think about where we started. He withdrew from the Iran deal because he said it wasn't broad enough. A few days ago, he said all that he cares about is nuclear weapons. In his tweet today, he made this about nuclear weapons. But then yesterday, up until, I don't know, 7:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, this was about shooting down a drone.

It's very hard to keep track of what actually is President Trump's trigger point when it comes to Iran or, for example, when it comes to North Korea. We almost, according to the president, went to war with North Korea over their nuclear program, then it walked it back.

So the president is emoting a message of confusion and incoherence, which signals to the international community that he does not have firm red lines and does not have results.

MARKS: Erica, can I pile on for a second?

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

MARKS: That's really the key point, which is, let's look at this from a perspective of how the United States builds alliances, engages with partners, gets those on the fence to come to the side of the fence we want them on. That's based on predictability.

The president's audience is not only necessarily the mullahs in Tehran, but it's the rest of the global community. We want to send a strong message with the same verbiage, that we want you on our side, this is something I think we can agree to.

When you have, as Sam very appropriately pointed out, blurred lines, inconsistencies, lack of predictability in your messaging, people put their hands up, you get the emoji, I'm not sure what we're doing now.

HILL: Two things on that. One thing we've heard consistently from the president is, look, I don't want to telegraph what our moves are, I want uncertainty out there because that keeps people on their toes.

MARKS: Yes. At a tactical level, absolutely, I'm not going to send any message out before we engage in a very tactical and kinetic way. But I want to be very consistent, internationally, globally, and very firm, this is what we're trying to achieve, here's a word picture of my strategy. This is what right looks like and this is when we can disengage.

If you don't do that, people start filling in the blanks and making things up themselves and your alliances and partnerships will start to atrophy.

HILL: There's also the practical matter of the tens of thousands of American troops in the region. We have troops in Iraq. We have troops in Syria, in Qatar. As you look at all of that, yes, they're ready to take orders from their commander-in-chief. This is how it works. They're ready to go when that order is given. That being said, does a back and forth like this put them in greater danger?

MARKS: Not from the perspective of their -- of the troops' understanding of what their legitimate, legal, moral orders are. That's not an issue.

HILL: But what about from the regions in the world where they are?

MARKS: Oh, absolutely. That becomes a notion of an asymmetric type of response that Iran and all nations can certainly use.

That's what puts it at risk. You've got exposed soldiers, exposed military folks. They're deployed in foreign lands. We want to make sure all of that around them has a certain level of protection and comfort, that the message we're sending is consistent.


VINOGRAD: Sorry, Erica.

I was going to say, that's why this flip-flop isn't entirely cost- free. From the Iranians' perspective, they've long been claiming what they're doing is defensive in nature, their military buildup is to protect Iran and that their aggressive, offensive, illegal activities are defensive in nature.

[11:10:07] In light of what we just learned, I think it is entirely probable that the regime can upped the ante in terms of their conventional military activities and claim, perhaps rightfully, that what they're doing is really defensive in nature, that they're trying to protect against American strikes, they're trying to deter American operations.

Because now they know, as the president just tweeted, and as the "New York Times" reported last night, the White House was minutes away from bombing Iran. So I think this adds fuel to the Iranian regime's ability to play the victim card in that respect.

HILL: Samantha Vinograd, Major General "Spider" Marks, we appreciate you joining us with your expertise. Thank you.

And coming up, what do the Democrats think about the president's decision to order and then scrub strikes on Iran. We'll ask the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Plus, a bombshell rocks an already dramatic case. A Navy SEAL confesses to killing an ISIS detainee. The SEAL who made that confession isn't the one on trial for murder. Details ahead.


[11:15:57] HILL: We're continuing to follow breaking news out of Washington, President Trump confirming he ordered an air strike against Iran only to call it off with minutes to spare. The canceled strikes would have been in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. drone.

Iran, meantime, saying today, saying today it refrained from shooting down a U.S. spy plane which was flying near the drone with a number of people on board.

Congressman Anthony Brown is a Democrat from Maryland. He's the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Sir, we appreciate you being with us today.

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD): OK, thanks for having me.

HILL: As we look at what we've heard from the president this morning, noting that, in his words, it wouldn't be proportionate to shoot down an unmanned drone, he talked about, asked about, made it sound in his tweet, it was as if he asked about the potential casualty estimates after he had already made the decision.

From a number of folks we've spoken with, and based on your own experience, it seems that would not be the traditional order of things. Do you think the president, in the end, made the right decision?

BROWN: Look, at the end, I think he did make the right decision.

But what this demonstrates is dysfunction in the national command authority, that 10 minutes before a potential strike against Iran -- and we don't know where that strike would have been and what the target would have been -- we now believe that it could have included 150 casualties. But that decision being made 10 minutes before the strike, that demonstrates a broken system, a lack of understanding and knowledge by our commander-in-chief, the president.

And really a strong call that the administration has to come to Congress, not necessarily for authority to defend and make a retaliatory strike, but come to Congress, inform us of what your intentions are, how are you going to go about it. The president himself has said he's not in a rush. He should rush

down to Congress and inform us what he wants to do.

HILL: If he does do that, I hope you'll let us know. Because we'd like to know more about that conversation.

I want to put on, on Wednesday, you tweeted, "It's not unreasonable to believe the Trump administration is bringing us closer to armed conflict with Iran."

As you just said, you're happy to see what the president did here. Are you relieved that he's saying he wants to take a little more time, wants to have those discussions? Do you feel that's putting him in a better space?

BROWN: Look, I think it creates space. And we need space. We don't want to escalate and miscalculate, which is what could have happened last night. It almost happened last night.

A few things need to happen. We need to engage with our allies, we need a coalition of willing partners if we're going to do something against Iran.

Secondly, there's got to be congressional consultation in conference. We deserve that on behalf of the American people.

The other piece is, let's not forget, Iran is a bad actor. What they did in shooting down a U.S. drone is wrong. We need to reassert our right for free flight in international airspace and freedom of navigation in international waters, and say to Iran, in no uncertain terms, that anything resembling this will result in a retaliatory strike, a proportional retaliatory strike.

HILL: Is there anything you've seen in the events of the last 24 hours that in your mind could serve as a reset or open the door to negotiations with Iran?

BROWN: We need to. Right now, there's new information that I have that suggests that we're kip diplomatically engaged at the appropriate level. We need to have mil-to-mil dialogue, military to military dialogue. We need to have high level diplomatic engagement with Iran.

If we can't do it ourselves, have credibly third-party intermediaries. Certainly there are a number of our European Union allies who could serve in that role.

HILL: When we talk about down the line, seeing what happens next, what those conversations are, the president in his tweet, in mentioning these 150 casualties, talking about how it was not proportionate with downing an unmanned drone, it seemed he was setting some parameters there. Is there a red line you're seeing now?

BROWN: In terms of red line, look, the United States should not accept an attack on U.S. persons and U.S. property. And we should always reserve our right to strike back, to retaliate. It always has to be proportional. [11:20:10] If we're flying in international airspace, if we're

navigating in international waters, and we are attacked, we should be able to, and we are, retaliate, strike back in a proportionate matter. We should send that clear signal.

Last night's dysfunctional go/no-go decision demonstrated there's dysfunction in our decision-making progress. That doesn't send a good signal.

HILL: Politics aside, I want to get your take on what's happening not only for the tens of thousands of troops stationed in the region but also for their families back home. You obviously served in Iraq. Based on all of your time, how is this impacting the troops? I know the troops are ready to go. They follow orders from their commander- in-chief. But their families, this is a lot of back and forth for them.

BROWN: Right. Before I even mention the families, let's talk about the troops out there. It's not just one or two aircraft armed and fueled and ready to go. You're mobilizing tens of thousands of sailors, airmen, and Marines in the region.

When the president makes a decision like he did last night to launch a strike, that puts a lot of people on alert. That's high stress, high tension. It's a tense environment in which to operate. We shouldn't discount or take that lightly. No matter how ready those troops are, that's a tense, stressful moment.

In terms of families, absolutely. They woke up this morning -- because they didn't go to bed last night knowing this was going to happen. They didn't get word back from their servicemembers in theater because they wouldn't do that. They woke up this morning learning what all of us learned. That is very stressful for military families, the uncertainty of what is going to happen next.

Does this president, the commander-in-chief, does he exercise a disciplined process to make sound, reasonable judgments to introduce armed forces? Or does he do it willy-nilly like he demonstrated last night?

Again, glad that we didn't strike and glad we didn't take out 150 Iranians, civilian or military. That gives one a little bit of comfort. The larger picture is that the national command authority, the decision-making process is broken.

HILL: Congressman Anthony Brown, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

HILL: Stay with us. Much more to come here on CNN, including a decision out of Missouri involving that state's sole abortion clinic.

Stay with us.


[11:27:19] HILL: Breaking news into us here at CNN, a judge has just ruled in the battle over Missouri's only abortion clinic.

CNN's Ryan Young joins us live from St. Louis with more on the breaking news.

So, Ryan, what did we learn? What did the judge say?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First things first, I'm holding this phone to my head just because my earpiece is malfunctioning.

But I wanted to tell you this, there's a news conference that'll be held in the next few minutes from the Planned Parenthood folks.

As of now, things with the injunction put in place earlier. So the state has denied the Planned Parenthood license moving forward, but because of the injunction is still in place, the court is saying everything is status quo until the next decision. We'll learn more about that.

Look, there's been a lot of conversation in this state with just one abortion clinic that is still open. What we did know is, right now, they're still servicing women at that clinic.

This clinic has moved forward with deciding not to do the second pelvic exam, which a lot of people have been talking about. We did run downstairs to do this live shot for you.

We do know just in the next few minutes, there will be more conversation in terms of getting information about how the state will move forward.

But so far, the license has been denied, but because the injunction that the judge put in place, we do know abortions will continue in the state for the foreseeable future.

HILL: All right, Ryan young with the latest on those developments there. Ryan, thank you.

And as he mentioned too, we should be hearing from some representative from Planned Parenthood in a short time. We'll bring you those comments as they come in.

I want to bring in Paul Callan, our legal expert.

Paul, as we look through this, there has been a lot of back and forth over this 72-hour rule dealing with a pelvic exam, Planned Parenthood doctors are doing, that there didn't need to be a pelvic exam 72 hours before a procedure because there's one that happens on the day of that procedure regardless.

Now we're seeing this judge weigh in here, essentially, just extending this even further, this decision.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it is extending it further. And just to get into the weeds a little bit, what pro-choice advocates are saying is that by imposing these additional requirements, medical requirements, this is really just an attempt to stop abortions from happening. And it's a ruse, really, a medical procedure that's not necessary.

I think you're seeing the beginnings of a fast track of some of these cases that will eventually wind up in the Supreme Court and we'll see a reexamination of Roe v. Wade with the new conservative majority in the Supreme Court.

HILL: To that point, we know, from talking with you and Jeffrey Toobin and other legal experts, that there has been for a number of years actually a plan in place by folks who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, to start with these cases with an ultimate goal of getting one or more to the Supreme Court in a way that then would force a decision, a second decision, really, on Roe v. Wade.