Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Okays Iran Strikes, Then Calls Them Off; Large Refinery Fire In Philadelphia; Protests In Hong Kong Ramp Up Again. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:57] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, "The New York Times" says President Trump ordered, then called off strikes against Iran.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And breaking news out of Philadelphia. Live pictures here of a large fire burning right now at a refinery complex.

BRIGGS: And more breaking news, this out of Hong Kong. Live pictures right here as thousands of protesters return to the streets, this time surrounding a government building. It looks like emergency --

ROMANS: It's hot there, yes.

BRIGGS: -- services are called because Ivan Watson told us it's very hot and very humid. We'll have a live report straight ahead.

Welcome back to a breaking news Friday around the globe. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour this Friday morning.

Breaking overnight, the president steps back from the brink. "The New York Times" reporting the president authorized military strikes against Iran, then called them off. The strikes were in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

The "Times" says the president initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries. The "Times" reports there were ships in position and there were planes in the air when the president walked the whole thing back.

Not clear whether he simply changed his mind or whether strategy or logistics or weather caused the pullback. It is also unknown whether the attacks may still occur.

What is clear is that the president's public response has seesawed since the drone shoot down. Thursday morning, Mr. Trump seemed inclined to give Iran the benefit of the doubt, at the same time leaving open the possibility of war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find it hard to believe it was intentional if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.

We'll be able to report back and you'll understand exactly what happened. But it was a very foolish move -- that, I can tell you.

REPORTER: Mr. President, how will you respond?

TRUMP: You'll find out.

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

TRUMP: You'll find out.


ROMANS: For the very latest, let's go to Tehran and senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. You know, Fred -- you know, the fact that it was so close and walked back, what is the response there in Tehran?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the Iranians directly, so far, haven't responded to that "New York Times" report, Christine. But over the past couple of, say, 24 hours to 48 hours, the Iranians have made very clear that if the U.S. makes a military move that there would be a big response from them.

It's quite interesting to see because before that, from the civilian leadership here in this country, from the military leadership, as well, they have been saying that first of all, that the U.S. would bear the responsibility of any sort of military strike that it would conduct here in Iran.

And also, that there would be a crushing response not just between the U.S. and Iran's forces, but they said also in a broader area, which obviously could very well mean that they're talking about a possible response from Iranian proxy forces in and around this region.

But at the same time, of course, you still have those diverging accounts of what actually happened with that drone going on.

The Iranians unequivocally saying that what President Trump was saying about this possibly being an accident is not their line. They're saying this drone was shot down deliberately because they claim that it was in their airspace.

The Iran foreign minister even coming out and tweeting a location -- the coordinates of where he said it was shot down. We checked those out and those would be about nine miles off the Iranian coast and that would obviously put it within Iranian territorial waters and Iranian airspace as well.

The U.S., of course, has a very different take on that, saying it was about 20 miles off the Iranian coast, which would put it in international airspace.

So that is still very much up for dispute. The Iranians have now taken that matter to the U.N. and complained there.

And a little bit of breaking news that we're going to get you guys a little more on in the next couple of minutes, Christine.

The Iranians have just -- on their public T.V. network, have just released the first images that they claim are of that drone that was downed. So they're showing some of the wreckage, some of the debris now -- some photos on T.V. and also have put that on their Web site. We're going to get that turned for you and bring that to you as quick as possible, guys.

ROMANS: Get that verified for us, Fred, and turn it for us. Thank you so much, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran.

All right, let's bring in "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin, a CNN political analyst. And, retired Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton, a CNN military analyst. They both join us from Washington.

[05:35:06] You know, we talk about this drone. The pictures of the wreckage will be interesting because this is a $110 -- $130 million piece of equipment -- essentially, an unmanned aircraft. This is clearly raising tensions in the region.

And, Col. Leighton, tell me, what -- why -- talk to me a little bit about the mechanics of this. If you order retaliatory strikes on radar and missile batteries, say, for example, and then walk it back, what could be the reason the president would have stopped if the "New York Times" reporting is correct?


The basic reason could be twofold. One, he got cold feet or he decided that at this point in time the most important thing to do is do a show of force. And depending on what the Iranians were able to see on their radar screens as the strike was moving toward their country -- the strike that was aborted -- that could have been the message that the president wanted to send.

I think it's too early to tell. We don't know enough about what was going on within the deliberations last night at the -- at the White House. But, the basic thing that I get from this is either there was an issue where he decided he didn't want to go ahead with it or he had this as part of a deliberate plan. And it will be interesting to see what actually the real answer is.

ROMANS: There's some talk about this afternoon, too. It's daytime now in Iran. Maybe tonight -- could there be a strike, Dave, tonight? We just don't know where we go from here.

BRIGGS: Yes. Josh, what are your thoughts and your reaction?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it doesn't seem like a deliberate plan to me, to be honest with you.

I mean, I was talking to senior national security officials just a couple of days ago who said that if Iran were to directly attack U.S. assets, such as a drone, there would be a direct military response. So that's what everyone was thinking -- including, apparently, the president -- until he decided to change his mind last-minute.

I think the most likely scenario here is that he blinked, OK? The president stepped off the escalation ladder. And if you're against an escalation, then that's a good thing.

But it can't be a good thing that our messaging, our signaling, our processes inside the highest levels of the U.S. government seem to be in disarray, frankly, and seem to be --


ROGIN: -- all over the place, and what that means to our diplomacy going forward is anybody's guess.

BRIGGS: Yes, but the processes as we've become used to for decades are largely gone --


BRIGGS: -- and it is presidency by the gut of one man.

ROGIN: That's right.


ROGIN: That's exactly right.

ROMANS: Literally, shooting from the hip here.

Colonel Leighton, what about command and control on the U.S. side here? We have an outgoing acting Defense secretary. What is the chain of command for this kind of -- this kind of a decision?

Can the president just make this call? You're hearing from some in Congress who are saying no, no, no -- you need to get military authorization before we go down this path.

LEIGHTON: Well, Christine, that is the subject of a lot of debate. Most people in Congress, of course, will want to have some say over what actually happens here. A lot of people are -- in Congress, as well as within the military even, believe that Congress is the sole authority to declare war.

And the one thing that, of course, the administration I think would want to do is use the authorization to use military force that was started in the wake of September 11th -- to have that be part of the justification to go after Iran.

And personally, I think that would be quite a stretch and it really would not be the type of AUMF, as it's called, that would actually work in this case. It would not be broad enough to take in Iran at this point.

ROGIN: But, Christine, can I just say that --


ROGIN: -- apparently, they made the decision to strike without worrying about any of that, OK?


ROGIN: And again, I talked to very senior administration officials over the last couple of days. They didn't say they want to use the 2001 authorization. They said we'll figure out what the justification is, OK? They can use any justification.

And especially, after Iran attacks something of ours, much less a person of ours, the justification argument kind of goes out the window.

So I think Congress wants to have its say. It's clear that the Trump administration doesn't care what Congress wants, OK?

ROMANS: Right.


ROGIN: And it's clear that they don't have the unity to actually exert whatever influence they really have.

So this really is all in the hands of two people -- the Ayatollah and President Trump -- and we're depending on those two individuals, basically, to keep us out of a war, and that's a scary proposition.

BRIGGS: And on the U.S. side, it seems to be between two people -- one John Bolton and the President of the United States. Let's remind people what Bolton has said in the past about confronting Iran.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the Mullahs regime in Tehran.

Our goal should be regime change in Iran.


BRIGGS: Regime change in Iran. That was just months before being appointed the national security adviser to the president. Now, he says that doesn't matter. What matters is what the president wants.

But --

ROMANS: What does the president want?

BRIGGS: Yes. Josh, let's step back a little bit. First, it was the U.S. pulling out of the JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal.

Step two was declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Crippling sanctions really hurt the Iranian economy.

[05:40:04] But now, getting forward, what does an off-ramp look like here?

ROGIN: Well, I think that's actually the perfect question because when I talk people who are close to Bolton and also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is very close to both of them, they say want to increase pressure forever while deterring Iran from responding.

They want to squeeze them. They want to tighten the noose on the Iranian economy. And if they happen to cause regime change -- oh well, all the better.

Now, the calculation there is that the Iranians won't respond violently. But apparently, that calculation was wrong and now, we're facing a situation where Iran is going to have to continue to increase its reaction --


ROGIN: -- and it's not clear what the United States has prepared for that. It doesn't seem to be an off-ramp, Dave, and that's the real problem here.

ROMANS: But, Colonel, you've been -- you've watched Iran for, what 30 years. The question is if Iran takes down an American drone, right, and the United States responds, what does it look like the day after and the day after that? Have we gamed this out?

LEIGHTON: Not really, Christine, and that's really part of the problem. Yes, there are war games. There are exercises that have some of these scenarios in them, but they're not as widely-deployed as they really need to be within the military.

And secondly, what we're looking at here is the law of unintended consequences. We've got a situation where the minute that you start escalating, no one knows exactly what the Iranian reaction will be.

We can certainly suppose that they're going to use their proxy forces -- that they're going to do other things throughout the region and perhaps around the world. And we really don't know how much this -- they will use those forces -- they will leverage those forces to achieve their ends.

Iran will not be like Iraq. It will be much worse. It will be much more difficult. And that's the kind of consequence that we have to look at here.

ROMANS: And, Josh, the President of the United States was elected, in part, by railing against stupid foreign -- stupid and costly foreign wars and talking about America first.

Where -- what are your sources saying the president's gut is on this -- on getting involved militarily with Iran?

ROGIN: Well, everybody inside the system knows that President Trump is considering the politics of this as well as the national security implications --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROGIN: -- as any president would. But in this case, the politics for President Trump run counter to the advice of this National Security officials. And in the end, as we're seeing, Trump will always choose politics over national security and now, everybody knows it. And that means the Iranians know it, too.

BRIGGS: And remember, we are sending 1,000 additional troops to the region. The president talked the other night -- just Tuesday night about troops coming home from the region. So, boy, is it hard to derive strategy from what's happening.

But you two shed a lot of light --

ROMANS: Thank you, guys.

BRIGGS: -- on all of that. Josh and Colonel, thank you so much.

Two more breaking stories. Next, live pictures of a large fire burning right now at a refinery in Philadelphia.

ROMANS: And these live pictures of protesters in Hong Kong there, surrounding a government building. Live, breaking details, next.


[05:47:08] ROMANS: All right, we've got some breaking news right now in Philadelphia. You're looking at live pictures of a refinery fire there. The fire reportedly breaking out at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, which processes about 335,000 barrels a day.

No comment from the company yet. No word on injuries or the cause of that fire. We're going to bring you some more information as it develops.

BRIGGS: More breaking news, this out of Hong Kong where protests are ramping up yet again. Demonstrators, this time, have occupied a main highway around government headquarters, demanding the complete withdrawal of the China extradition bill that caused mass protests last week.

Ivan Watson is live in Hong Kong where it is very hot and humid. Ivan, what are you seeing?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we see a new tactic on behalf of the protesters. They have surrounded the headquarters of the Hong Kong police. You can see some of the police officers there kind of standing in front. They're not wearing armor, they're not using gas masks or threatening people with tear gas or batons. And the crowd, which has filled the streets around here, has been

chanting things like "Shame" and "Release" meaning some of the people who were -- protesters who were detained during violent clashes with riot police on June 12th.

The Hong Kong authorities have apologized for their policies publicly on several occasions in recent days, but that's clearly not enough for these demonstrators here who are taking this right to the doorstep of the police and showing that they're still very angry.

Some of these people are just 17 years old. I talked to a 17-year-old schoolgirl who said she came out of school to join in this protest.

We don't know if there is any one clear leader right now. They have been calling for the resignation of the top official in Hong Kong who is appointed by the Chinese government in Mainland China.

They have been calling for the police commissioner to come out and speak. There's a lot of anger at allegations of excessive use of police force on June 12th.

And judging by the much less aggressive posture of the police right now, some of these police officers listening to insults hurled at them by the protesters -- they are not trying to repeat the mistakes that were made in the past week and hoping that the anger in the crowd might dissipate -- Dave.

BRIGGS: A stunning amount of restraint for the time being.

Ivan Watson, great reporting there live from Hong Kong. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, a dramatic twist at the end of a Navy SEAL's trial in San Diego.

Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher on trial for murdering a young Iraqi prisoner and other battlefield crimes. But a SEAL team medic in Gallagher's deployment shocked the courtroom yesterday, testifying that he, not Gallagher, killed the prisoner.

[05:50:05] Medic Corey Scott backed up other witnesses who said Gallagher stabbed the prisoner. But, Scott then said he covered the prisoner's tracheotomy tube with his thumb, suffocating him because he knew the prisoner would die anyway.


TIM PARLATORE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR CPO EDDIE GALLAGHER: Today, for the first time, somebody went to one of these witnesses and actually asked the real question -- what is the cause of death?


ROMANS: The medic testified he was only admitting the murder now because he had been granted immunity and cannot be charged. An outraged military prosecutor as much as accused Scott of lying on the stand. Scott replied, "He's got a wife and family. I don't think he should spend the rest of his life in jail."

The Navy says it will not drop murder charges against Gallagher. It says the credibility of a witness is for the jury to decide.

BRIGGS: Just-released surveillance video shows a man attacking a group of TSA agents at a security checkpoint at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Look at this. The incident happened Tuesday morning.

A TSA spokesman says the man was immediately subdued and arrested. One officer taken to the hospital; four others were treated at an urgent care facility.

Phoenix police say the suspect is charged with criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and misdemeanor assault.

ROMANS: It appears Congress is taking the potential threat from UFOs seriously. A group of senators, including Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intel Committee, reportedly received a classified briefing this week about a series of encounters by U.S. Navy pilots with unidentified aircraft.

Now, President Trump recently confirmed that he also was briefed on reports of pilots spotting unidentified flying objects.

Back in April, the Navy introduced guidelines to formalize reporting of unexplained events so the military could keep track of what may or may not be happening out there.

BRIGGS: Hmm, from UFOs to very slow-moving objects.

A South Carolina woman redefining the meaning of driving under the influence. Police say Megan Holman was asked to pull over a mile from her home after she was seen driving erratically in a silver Power Wheels toy truck. Holman's motorized ride can clock up to five miles per hour.

She did manage to avoid a formal driving under the influence charge because it was a toy vehicle. She is, however, facing a public intoxication (laughing) -- excuse me -- not funny, not funny.

ROMANS: It's not DUI because she was driving a toy --

BRIGGS: Apologies, yes.

ROMANS: -- not an actual car.

All right, let's get a check on "CNN Business" this morning at 52 minutes past the hour.

Taking a look at global markets, Asian stocks grappling with concerns over geopolitical tensions with Iran. Oil prices soared yesterday as those tensions flared.

But on Wall Street, the focus stayed on hopes the Fed will cut interest rates to protect the economy from the president's trade wars. You can see futures right now leaning a little bit lower. A record high for the S&P 500, up one percent. Interest rates tumbled. Ten-year Treasury yields dropped under two percent yesterday and mortgage rates are falling fast, so lock it in if you're looking for a refinance.

Also soaring on Wall Street, workplace messaging company Slack. Stock jumped about 50 percent on its first day of trading. It's now valued at more than $20 billion. Especially notable because it opted for a direct listing, meaning it didn't have investment bankers who were pitching the stock to investors.

The last company to do so was Spotify, which has underperformed since it started trading, although that's probably because Spotify has faced heavy competition from services like Apple Music.

Next, an update on two of our breaking stories this morning. We'll be right back.


[05:57:30] ROMANS: All right, I want to bring you these breaking pictures here. This is a refinery fire in Philadelphia. Local media reporting explosions heard and now, this fire is burning at Philadelphia Energy Solutions. This processes some 335,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

No comment from the company yet. We're making calls right now. We don't have any word of injuries here or the cause of this fire.

But this looks like it's the biggest refinery on the East Coast there in Philadelphia. And again, local media saying that there were explosions first and now, this thing is burning there.

BRIGGS: Yes, about 1,000 employees work there.

The fire is said to be contained to the property but homes as far away as South Jersey felt those explosions earlier this morning, some reporting art even falling off the walls.

The good news is it looks contained and we'll continue to update you throughout "NEW DAY" on that.

But more breaking news and live pictures, these out of Hong Kong where protests are ramping up yet again. Demonstrators demanding the complete withdrawal of the China extradition bill that caused mass protests last week.

Police officials condemning protesters for blocking the main highway around police headquarters, calling for, quote," peaceful and rational protests."

Those protesters also want Carrie Lam, the chief executive, to step down.

ROMANS: Our Ivan Watson has been reporting that the officers are sort of hanging back, taking a much less provocative stance than last week. No batons, no face masks. They're just standing there by their police headquarters surrounded by these peaceful demonstrators who are basically just chanting.

BRIGGS: Wow, quite a scene.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us, everybody. We're going to follow all of these stories on "NEW DAY." I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Here's "NEW DAY" with all your breaking news.


TRUMP: This country will not stand for it -- that, I can tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flames were in the air, ships in position when suddenly, the order came to stand down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Launching a strike and then pulling it back probably could give the Iranians an awful lot of intelligence about our capabilities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is showing he says we made a decision and wasn't willing to follow through.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a very constructive conversation about that. I let him know he's somebody that I respect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats piling on Biden on an issue like this. They're going to end up reelecting Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, Biden is putting himself in a deeper hole. I think he ought to be ashamed.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, June 21st. It is 6:00 here in New York.

Major developments. Breaking overnight, the planes were in the air. "The New York Times" reports that overnight, President Trump ordered, then abruptly called off.