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Trump Orders Iran Strike, Then Changes His Mind; Interview With Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Stunning Twist in Navy SEAL's Trial; ICE Set to Target Families in Immigration Raids. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 21, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But like so many health workers here, Samuel has been threatened, even beaten up by his terrified neighbors.
(on camera): Sometimes, all the world knows is fear, but they don't look at the individual people.
(voice-over): "We need to treat these patients with empathy," he says. "We need to treat them like they're a member of the family."
In the nearby creche, Ebola survivors now immune to the disease, like Marsena (ph), become family to young babies, who wait to see if they're infected mothers will live or die.
(on camera): You have a smile on your face. Why do you have a smile on your face?
(voice-over): "My smile is the joy of being alive," she says. "I beat Ebola. I'm smiling to the God who gave me life."
Ebola is a disease that breeds unparalleled fear. Here at least, hope remains.
David McKenzie, CNN, Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.
We begin this hour with those internal conversations between the White House and the Pentagon, those conversations that led the president to call off a pending military strike against Iran, after a massive U.S. drone was shot down in the region just one day ago.
First, the president's own candid explanation on why he pulled the plug with only 10 minutes to spare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They came and they said: "Sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision."
I said: "I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed, in this case, Iranians?" I said, "How many people are going to be killed?"
"Sir, I would like to get back to you on that." Great people, these generals. They said -- came back, said: "Sir, approximately 150."
And I thought about it for a second. And I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half-hour after I said go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was -- I didn't think it was proportionate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So that's the president's perspective. Here's the but.
But a source tells CNN that just because the White House doesn't follow through with that, it doesn't mean the talks to execute a response are over. And just as the president is navigating one of really his greatest diplomatic challenges yet, CNN is reporting that he will officially nominate his acting secretary of defense, Army Secretary Mark Esper.
This is happening as Iran continues to broadcast imagery of the drone's wreckage all on its state-run media. A commander in its air force says, the situation could have been worse. He actually said that Iran refrained from shooting down a U.S. Navy plane with 35 crew members on board.
CNN political analyst Mike Bender is the White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."
Mike Bender, welcome, welcome.
I mean, my goodness, it seems every hour, we're getting more and more detail, you know, what went into last night's decision. What are your sources telling you?
MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my sources are telling me that really -- tracking a lot with what President Trump said, that this was a decision right at the -- at almost the last minute here.
But what's important to remember is that as the night grew on and as they got closer to the decision point, what really crystallized in the president's mind was that this was an attack essentially on U.S. technology, this drone, and not on U.S. troops.
It's important to remember that a lot of this escalation started, can be traced back to intel reports from about a month ago that showed Iran was considering attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. That is a dramatically different thing than shooting down a drone. And that's where the president's thinking was right at the last
minute. The other kind of remarkable thing to know about this moment last night inside the White House was that Trump was -- President Trump was largely on an island here. All of his national security advisers, his national security team, were supportive of a military strike.
It was being driven largely by John Bolton, his chief national security adviser. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was behind it, but showed a little more understanding of some -- at least some reluctance from the Pentagon. And his own vice president, Mike Pence, was very much in support of military strikes, although I'm told that Pence came around afterwards and supported the president's decision to hold off.
But these are a lot of the hawkish voices for the president, who made the decision ultimately to hold off here.
BALDWIN: And there are also a number of hawkish voices down the road from you on Capitol Hill. A senior Republican source tells CNN that they aren't happy with what ultimately was the commander in chief's decision. They support a strike in the region.
BALDWIN: How will Trump respond to members of his own party, Mike, if he sticks by his decision to stand down?
BENDER: I think what we will see is how he's kind of handled this sort of situation for two-and-a-half years as president.
I mean, for as much as Trump has this reputation of being a provocateur when it comes to domestic politics, he's really shown a lot of hesitancy and a lot of caution when it comes to military matters. He's had much more aggressive options on the table in Venezuela that he's shied away from.
He's had military options on the table for him in North Korea, and he's obviously not wanted to do that. So this kind of falls right in line with how he's -- his approach all along. He tells his advisers that, if we start a military conflict, that we have to be willing to finish it. And from the inside, he doesn't see much in the Middle East that is worth that gamble.
BALDWIN: He has got the caution militarily. He's on the island.
Michael Bender with all this great color and sourcing, Mike, thank you very much.
From the White House, let's go to Christopher Harmer. He's a retired Navy commander. He's currently a military staff writer at TheDrive.com. And Kathy Gilsinan is a staff writer for "The Atlantic." And she wrote a lot about this today and this general who I know you profiled in your piece. And I want to ask you about that in just a second. But, Commander, I'm starting with you.
The president says that this strike was -- quote, unquote -- "not proportional" to shooting down an unmanned drone. Do you agree with that?
CHRISTOPHER HARMER, FORMER U.S. NAVY COMMANDER: Well, I don't know exactly what the strike consisted of.
I have seen a lot of different reporting on it. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the civilian casualties were roughly realistic around 150. I think that is disproportionate. And, in some reason -- or, in some cases, you do want a disproportionate response in order to provide future deterrence.
On the other hand, right now, what I think the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran wants is a disproportionate response. Keep in mind, the peak of popularity for the leadership regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran was in 1988, when the United States Navy shot down that Arabian Airbus, caused several hundred civilian casualties.
Right now, the Iranian public simply does not trust, does not respect, does not want the current leadership in the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue. And so the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership is actually hoping to incite a disproportionate response.
So, right now, I think cooler heads, fortunately...
BALDWIN: So, they want it?
HARMER: I think that's what they want.
BALDWIN: You think they want it.
HARMER: I think they want a disproportionate response.
BALDWIN: Back in Washington, Kathy -- and we were just listening to Mike Bender and what he's saying is jibing with what we have been hearing from our sources here at CNN, that it was -- he mentioned hawkish John Bolton, and it's the national security adviser who unanimously believed that striking -- military strikes would be appropriate.
But then, on the flip side, that the president's military advisers warned that it would lead to a larger escalation, conflicting between the two. What do you make of that?
KATHY GILSINAN, "THE ATLANTIC": I make of that the fact that John Bolton has spent a long career in public life talking about the Iranian threat, and advocated -- advocating even as recently as a few years ago for a specific policy of regime change in Iran.
I think that the military leaders are -- understand perhaps better than John Bolton what the costs of that might be, and so are behaving cautiously in order to highlight what those potential risks are. BALDWIN: What about though -- of course, everyone knows about John
Bolton's hawkish ways on Iran, but in "The Atlantic" you profile a man whose name maybe not everyone knows who is also playing a prominent role in shaping the current policy. Tell me more about General Kenneth McKenzie.
He's the new head of CENTCOM. And I want to distinguish a little bit between the military buildup and the possibility of a military strike in the region. So, John Bolton got a lot of attention for sending out that statement in early May saying that a carrier strike group was destined for the region in the face of these incredible -- credible reporting about imminent threats in the region.
But that request for forces and two subsequent request for forces actually came from General McKenzie, who's in the region, who is monitoring the intel, who is seeing also the Defense Department in a place of trying to shift resources to other theaters, and thinking possibly, hey, I don't know that I have enough resources to meet what I think are these threats.
So the military is at a moment of -- at least in Central Command, the command that is in charge of that region, they are portraying these moves as defensive moves.
But, clearly, there are Democrats on the Hill, for example, who worry that -- about the security dilemma, essentially. Your adversary isn't necessarily seeing moves that you see as defensive, as, in fact, defensive. They may see it as offensive.
BALDWIN: Important to differentiate.
And, Commander, I want you to feel free to weigh in. But I also want to -- I want to quote Peter Baker. He wrote this piece in "The New York Times" today.
In part, he wrote this: "Mr. Trump," he says, "has always been a commander in chief of contradictions. He talks like about a bellicose warmonger, but acts like an isolationist peacenik. He warns enemies that he will rain Down fire and Fury on them, while striving to avoid more of the foreign wars he blames his predecessors for waging."
So I can't help but think of, as we learn about this now acting Defense Secretary Esper, we just heard he will be nominated soon. What would his challenges be essentially reporting to a boss who is so unpredictable on such important issues?
HARMER: Well, I will simply say, without doing a political analysis of the situation, I will say, from a strategic perspective, the United States has been involved in four wars over the last 18 years in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Now, I understand some of your viewers were in support of those, some were opposed, but nobody can credibly claim at this point that we have got an acceptable outcome in any of those locations. And it's beyond dispute that combat continues in all of those locations.
So I think the military is very skeptical right now about opening up a fifth-front war in the Middle East, especially given the fact that Iran is by far and away the most militarily capable opponent we will have faced off against, even since for the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein and the Republican Guard.
So I think the military is very skeptical of taking what we think or what may be portrayed as a limited strike that could quickly escalate out of control.
BALDWIN: Christopher Harmer, Kathy Gilsinan, thank you both so much. Great to have both of you on.
GILSINAN: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Want to get now to this breaking news on immigration raids that are set to begin this weekend.
CNN has learned ICE agents are expected to target as many as 2,000 migrants starting on Sunday. The operation was apparently fast- tracked after a tweet from President Trump.
CNN En Espanol anchor Maria Santana is helping break the story today.
And so what are you learning?
MARIA SANTANA, CNN EN ESPANOL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we're learning that ICE is set to start immigration raids in 10 U.S. cities this Sunday targeting primarily families.
And this operation is striking for several reasons, striking because we know the timing and the scope pretty much of it. And we know that not because, yes, we have great sources, but because the president was the first one to announce this, and ICE almost never gives plans that are so specific or wants them even to be published, and for safety reasons, the safety of people in those cities.
SANTANA: But also the safety of their agents.
The other thing that's very striking about this is that part of this operation will target families or others, like criminals and work site enforcement that will also be going on at the same time. But this is the first time that ICE focuses on families.
And there has been a lot of reservations by many people in the administration within these agencies to do that. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, we have learned, is one of the people that's been very hesitant about this, that has expressed many concerns.
And, apparently, the agency ICE is going to do this despite...
BALDWIN: Yes, Mark Morgan feels differently.
SANTANA: Yes, besides -- despite those concerns.
BALDWIN: But isn't -- so, to your point about families and there hasn't been this desire to separate families, yet I can't help but think, if they're going into these 10 domestic U.S. cities, and one member of the family may be a citizen, another may not be, how is that even supposed to work?
Well, that was one of the concerns that officials, according to our sources, were trying to debate, how to do this.
SANTANA: And what we have learned is that when there is a mixed status family, meaning the parents may be undocumented, but the children are citizens, then what would happen is that at least one parent would be fitted with an ankle bracelet, so to allow them to be with the U.S. citizen child.
SANTANA: As you know, ICE can't legally hold a U.S. citizen or child in custody.
BALDWIN: In custody.
SANTANA: So they would allow this parent to be with that child to get their affairs in order. And the rest of the family will stay in custody.
Now, there's a lot of variables that go into this. According to one of my sources, if there's one mom, but -- and one undocumented child and one of the -- and then another child has a U.S. citizen, then what there?
Does the mom take both of them with her if she's let out? Is one of the children going to stay in custody?
So, ICE, Mark Morgan, the acting ICE director, held in a press call on the record with the press this week. And he said that the purpose of this was not to separate families. A lot of people have been concerned that that's the appearance that this has.
But he said that's not the goal, even though sources are telling us that some family separations are going to be inevitable.
BALDWIN: And it's starting Sunday, 10 U.S. cities. We will be covering it.
Maria Santana with the excellent reporting -- Maria, thank you very much for sharing all that with us.
SANTANA: Thank you. BALDWIN: Coming up next, a stunning twist in the murder trial of
former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. A prosecution witness testifies, to everyone's surprise, that he was actually the one to kill that suspected ISIS fighter. So where does this case go from here? We will talk to our lawyers.
And one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's longtime allies in the House goes on the record in favor of impeaching President Trump. I will ask her why.
And, later, Mayor Pete Buttigieg canceling a big event for 2020 Democrats to deal with the fallout of a police shooting back home for him in South Bend. I will get reaction from the head of the NAACP there.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: The government will not drop charges against a decorated Navy SEAL after a shocking twist during his trial.
Eddie Gallagher is accused of stabbing and killing an ISIS prisoner in Iraq in 2017. But a medic who has immunity took the stand, stunned the prosecution, and testified that actually he was actually the killer and not this Navy SEAL.
Caroline Polisi is a federal and white-collar crime defense attorney. And Elie Honig is a former federal and state prosecutor.
You said it, Elie. This is straight out of like some courtroom thriller TV drama, when all of a sudden the other guy on the stand says, no, I did it.
You have seen this play out. But, in this case, he's -- his one crime that he's charged with is murder. So how would this change the case?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a plot twist right out of Hollywood, but it does happen sometimes.
And it's sort of a prosecutor's worst nightmare, because it makes your task, which is already difficult, even more difficult, because now you have to convince the jury not only did the guy you charge do it, but the guy who tried to take the fall on the stand was lying.
HONIG: And why would he do that?
So, now, here, they may have some ways to argue that because I think the argument is, he's trying to protect somebody else and he has immunity that, the guy who said, I actually suffocated the victim. BALDWIN: Yes, which I want to come back to.
HONIG: So, yes, look, it complicates the job.
But it's still doable. It's not fatal to the case.
BALDWIN: Is the medic, the person who sat up there and said, I did it, I asphyxiated this prisoner, is he credible? I mean, how has this not come out in previous questioning?
CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, exactly.
And just to clarify, this did not come out on direct examination. This came out on cross-examination, which is like -- I mean, that's, as Elie said, a prosecutor's worst nightmare. You just -- that's just eviscerates all of their credibility in front of the jury.
Juries do not like it when they feel like prosecutors have done a shoddy investigation, don't know the facts of the case well. This is repeating the narrative of the defense, huge win for the defense. They're saying, this was a rush to judgment. You didn't get all your facts straight.
This actually could be the nail in the coffin, even though there are other charges here. I think if a jury feels like the prosecutors aren't shooting straight with them, it could eviscerate their entire -- their entire argument.
HONIG: I do think the prosecutors still have a shot, though.
I think the argument you have to make to a jury is that this guy sandbagged us, right? He went up there with an agenda. He's trying to protect his friend. He never mentioned this in his prior sworn statements.
BALDWIN: Never mentioned it.
HONIG: So it does make life harder, no doubt.
BALDWIN: But what about the immunity point?
HONIG: Yes, yes.
So immunity does not mean that the medic or anyone who gets immunity has a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card, you can do whatever you want. There is some risk to him.
One, you can still be charged for perjury. So if a witness gets immunity, gets on the stand and lies, you can still charge that person with perjury, if you can prove it.
BALDWIN: Yes, but could he be prosecuted for murder? HONIG: He could.
But all that immunity means is, you can't use his testimony in that trial against him. So, if they do end up somehow charging the medic for murder, they can't say, well, you testified in Gallagher's trial that you did it. That's out the window.
But if they go find other evidence, hypothetically, if there was a cell phone video of the medic choking the victim, yes, you can go charge him for murder.
POLISI: But, Brooke, this prosecution has really been plagued from the start. The head prosecutor in this case was actually taken off the case by the judge for unethical conduct.
He inserted software, tracking software in e-mails that he sent to defense counsel. That is a huge ethical no-no. The case is moving forward without the lead prosecutor there. And I think you're seeing it really crumble before our eyes. It's just absolutely -- I can't impress upon you enough how bad of a move this is for the prosecutors, yes.
BALDWIN: I got you. I got you.
Caroline and Elie, thank you both very much on that. So, we will keep watching it.
Coming up next, this congresswoman who served for 20 years with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now publicly breaking with the speaker of the House over an impeachment inquiry of the president. I will ask her what her personal tipping point was in her decision-making and why this weekend is a big one for the 2020 candidates who will collide in one place.
BALDWIN: Some 73 House Democrats now support an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. That is all according to a CNN tally.
And one of the latest to join that list is Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. She is a close friend of someone who has been publicly and privately opposed to that idea, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
And Congresswoman Schakowsky joins me now from Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Schakowsky, nice to have you on. Welcome.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL): Thank you so much for having me.
BALDWIN: So, all right, in announcing your decision, you declared that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. And I tracked down some tape. I know that last week you told our
correspondent on the Hill Manu Raju that Trump may be begging for impeachment because he thinks it will help him politically.
Now, at the time, you were not fully committed to impeachment proceedings, but said that you were moving closer. So, what was the tipping point for you personally?
SCHAKOWSKY: Well, personally is the right word, because I'm not whipping this. I'm not trying to get others to join.
But, for me personally, it was not only the letters and the calls from people with -- from my district who are very much in favor of impeachment, in a lot of ways, it was really about my son, who said: "Mom, come on, you're a progressive Democrat."
SCHAKOWSKY: Doesn't this president actually meet the criteria.