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NYT: Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, Then Calls It Off; Biden Calls Booker About Segregationist Senators Controversy. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This country will not stand for it. That I can tell you.

[05:59:18] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Planes were in the air. Ships were positioned when suddenly, the order came to stand down.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is showing he's since 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 re-electing Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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, ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, June 21. It is 6 a.m. 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, military strikes against Iran in retaliation for Iran shooting down an unmanned surveillance aircraft. Again, this operation was reportedly underway into the evening before being canceled. According to "The Times," it's not clear whether the attack might still go forward.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the U.S. aircraft was shot down somewhere over the Strait of Hormuz. Here's the map. The U.S. and Iran have released different versions of exactly where this happened.

There are big questions this morning. Why did President Trump suddenly reverse course, and what will happen today?

We have it all covered, from Washington to Tehran. So let's begin with Joe Johns. He is live at the White House -- Joe.


That "New York Times" reporting suggesting that the United States essentially telegraphed what sounds very much like a robust military punch in reaction to the shootdown of the drone and then suddenly pulling back at the very last second.

Also interesting to note that "The New York Times" suggested in that report that the administration did not ask the newspaper to hold out -- hold off on putting that information out, which suggests, perhaps, that the administration essentially wanted that information to go open source.

What we have seen again and again from the administration now is some dual track messaging coming from here, coming from the Defense Department, coming from the State Department. And the question, of course, is why?

The president, on the one hand, has downplayed from time to time the provocative actions of Iran in the Gulf. On the other hand, suggesting you're just going to have to see what happens. This is very much a Trump style mark. The question, of course, is will this administration be able to get Iran to the table to sort of cut off all the drama at this stage?

What we do know is that there have been other actions in the Gulf which are concerning, including the Federal Aviation Administration telling U.S. planes to stay out of the area. And that, of course, because of the back and forth between the United States and Iran.

Back to you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much for all of that breaking from the White House. We'll come back to you, obviously, whenever you have anything.

Iran state television just aired images of what it claims is debris of the downed U.S. surveillance plane. And CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Tehran, Iran, with more for us -- Fred.


Yes, these images just coming into us. The Iranians claiming that these are parts of a drone that was shot down. Now, they, of course, from the very beginning claimed that the debris from that drone landed in their territory waters because they say it was shot down over their territorial air space and that they then retrieved it from the Persian Gulf area. Look at these debris. It seems as though they're quite small pieces.

I mean, one of the things that the U.S. has said is that this plane was flying, this drone was flying at an extremely high altitude. And certainly, these very small piece of debris seem to indicate this drone had fallen -- or probably did fall from a very high altitude.

And if you look at some of it, I've actually seen the global Hawk drones up close. You look at some of the debris that we're seeing here, a lot of it seems to be possibly the outer shell of the body of the fuselage of that aircraft. And just a few little pieces of what might be some of the electronics on that aircraft.

Now, of course, as you guys mentioned, there is that diverging narrative between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. saying that this was shot down over international airspace.

The Iranians, we literally just got some more information a couple of minutes ago. An air defense official from Iran said that there were several warnings radioed to this aircraft. And they claim that the last one was radioed to the drone at 3:55 local time a.m. The Iranians say they shot it down at 4:05. So that would have been ten minutes before the aircraft was actually shut down.

Again, the Iranians [SIC] are saying all this happened over international air space as that dispute continues on.

The Iranians, by the way, guys, not commenting yet on that "New York Times" article that apparently a strike on Iran was imminent. But one of the things they've been telling us over the past couple of days, that if the U.S. does strike, that there will be a painful response coming from the Iranians.

And just a little bit of extra info to John's point, about the FAA telling the airlines not to fly over the Persian Gulf. We've heard that a lot of -- or a few international airlines are already diverting their routes to not fly over the Persian Gulf area -- John.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Fred. Thank you very much for all of that news.

Joining us now to talk about this, we have John Kirby, former Pentagon press secretary and CNN military and diplomatic analyst; Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent; and retired Army General James "Spider" Marks, CNN military analyst.

Spider, thanks for being here in studio with us.

[06:05:02] Let me just read again what "The New York Times" is reporting this morning, because here is the heart of the matter. "As late as 7 p.m. last night, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike. The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off. Planes were in the air, and ships were in position. The strike was set to take place just before dawn Friday in Iran to minimize risk to the Iranian military and civilians. But military officials received word a short time later that the strike was then off, at least temporarily." What are you hearing?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What Fred just reported, I think, is really significant. He indicated that the Iranian systems lit up. That the United States could then intercept that activity relative to the drone, which tells you that our intelligence collection is very robust in that part of the world.

So what I'd like to posit is -- and I don't know this. But it's not unusual for the United States to conduct operations, get the intended target to light up. Then you can identify what's aberrant, what's different. Then you can make a determination, which might be we achieved that objective. Let's go back and adjust our plan. And we still reserve the right to conduct that operation with some modifications.

BERMAN: You're suggesting it's possible that the goal here was a show of force, was to show the Iranians that we could do this, that this could happen to you?

CAMEROTA: Or just intel gathering?

MARKS: Well, those two together. It's exactly right. You show force in a -- in some type of a provocative way. Intelligence lights up. You collect what that intelligence looks like, and you overlay what you think it should be. Now you see what it is. You can go adjust your plan.

BERMAN: Admiral, if I can go to you on this, what do you read from this? Again, as of 7 p.m. last night, the planes were in the air, the ships were in position. This operation was underway. And then the president called it off.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, so clearly, they were intending to strike. No question about that. The -- you know, we had had reports here in Washington that people were coming back to the Pentagon and staffing the offices. So this was a serious strike that was definitely in the works. I don't know why the president called it off. But frankly, I'm glad that he did.

He'll get criticized for that. But I think now he has maybe created some space for himself that he didn't have yesterday to try to figure out what the next step is here.

CAMEROTA: Abby, what do we know about the president's feelings about this versus the secretary of state's feelings about this versus national security advisers' feelings about this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Alisyn, I think we do need to know more on why this was called off. Because it's going to matter, I think, whether or not this was a strategic or tactical decision, or whether or not it was a decision that the president made, because he changed his mind, essentially, about what he wanted to do here.

But inside the White House, there has been, for quite some time, an effort to convince the president that a more aggressive stance on Iran is necessary, that based on all the things Iran has been doing in the region over the last several weeks, including this incident, the oil tanker incident in the last week, it warranted some kind of response.

And he's been getting that feedback from his closest national security advisers. But also on Capitol Hill. One of his closest lawmaker advisers, Senator Lindsey Graham, has been giving him that advice.

But the president is very hesitant to do that. He is, in fact, concerned about this escalating beyond what he is willing to execute. And even as much as he's -- he talks tough about Iran, he's not really that interested in some kind of military action. He just wants to get to the negotiating table, even though I think a lot of people think that that seems unlikely that he's going to be able to get Iran back to that table after he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

So look, I think that this is -- there's legitimately inside the White House an effort to try to find a strategy that is not going to escalate this thing beyond what the president is willing to stomach. It's not clear that they determined what that was last night.

Or it sounds like there is a possibility that this could be part of an effort to give the president a little bit more space, issue a warning, and then he still reserves the right to do something in the future, whether it's in the near future or further down the road.

BERMAN: And again, we are pressing the White House for some kind of response or explanation as to what happened.

General, what would the likely targets be here for a strike like this? And how logistically complicated is it, or what are the logistics for turning something like this around?

MARKS: Well, to your second question, to turn it around is simply stop what you're doing. Reverse course. Everybody shut down your systems.

I mean, you still put folks at risk. When folks are in aircraft, when folks are deployed in the water, you've got to be very cautious how -- about how you go from an offensive posture to defensive posture.

But force protection is always rule No. 1. So that's in place.

The very specific target would be, in my mind, the recommendation would be go against that firing battery that conducted the attack against the drone. Very, very precisely but simultaneously, turn off all your own systems so you don't project a very aggressive posture to the Iranians, because they're looking at what you're doing.

BERMAN: Make it look like a limited strike as you're doing it.

[06:10:03] MARKS: Yes, make it limited and ensure that there's no misunderstanding about its limitations.

CAMEROTA: And Admiral, how often does that happen? A stop the presses, shut it down, turn this around order come from the White House?

KIRBY: Very rare. I mean, can't speak for this particular administration, but administrations I've served under in the past, that's a very rare thing. To have it go that far to the brink of actual kinetics, of missiles being launched and then pull it back. But again --

CAMEROTA: But no missiles were launched. I mean, airplanes --

KIRBY: No, that's what I mean.

CAMEROTA: Airplanes were in the air.

KIRBY: Airplanes were in the air, ready to go. Yes, armed and ready. And then to pull them back right at the brink of actual execution is an extremely rare thing to do.

The general's right. It is more risky to wait until that point to make that decision, because there's always miscalculation, or delay in communication could cause a problem. Clearly, that didn't happen here, but it's rare.

Again, I think the president should be commended for this, for pulling it back and for giving himself a little bit of decision space. As I said, he'll get criticized for this. People will compare it to Obama and the red line in Syria. It's not the same thing.

And now it'll be really interesting to see what they do today and the decisions that they make and the kinds of discussions they have. Because I think Abby's right. There's a great deal of chaos over what the policy is and the strategy for Iran. Now they have a little bit of a chance to take a breather and try to figure that out.

BERMAN: I will say, the president's language on this, if you listen to the words he says, very specific. He said yesterday, Abby, it would be very different if there were a pilot involved here. This was an unmanned surveillance aircraft. He seemed to draw a line there the minute that U.S. military personnel were specifically targeted.

On the other hand, though, the world is looking at this and some of the language the president has used. And Peter Baker in "The New York Times" has a terrific article and says that President Trump has sort of a modified version of Theodore Roosevelt's famous "walk softly and carry a big stick." Peter Baker writes, "He's adopted a modified version of Theodore Roosevelt's maxim when it comes to overseas military threats. Speak loudly and carry a small stick or carry a big stick and wave it around without actually using it much."

PHILLIP: That pretty much sums it up, I think, perfectly. But it -- it becomes problematic in moments like this. Because you have part of the administration at the State Department and actually, frankly, from the National Security Council using really bombastic language in response to some of these provocations from Iran.

And it's kind of hard to tell if they are -- they are using some kind of good cop/bad cop strategy within the administration. Or if this is simply just the president and his advisers being on a different page.

I mean, I think that in the administration, there's a feeling that they can do both, that you can talk tough on Iran and also have a president who's reluctant to act. But at some point, that dynamic becomes transparent. And people start to see that President Trump actually is not that interested in taking action. And what effect does that have?

I mean, I think that's really the question that we have right now. Is it detrimental to the United States to have a president who pretty clearly doesn't want to act on his own rhetoric? Does that really just sort of -- it kind of spoils the game. Everybody knows what's going on. And it diminishes the effectiveness of some kind of good cop/bad cop strategy.

BERMAN: All right, friends. Stand by. Obviously, we're monitoring all these developments. We're trying to get an explanation from the White House. We have reporters at the White House, as well. So as I said, stand by.

The meantime, there's other breaking news this morning. Want to show you some live pictures from Philadelphia. Firefighters are battling this huge blaze that has triggered explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. This is a fire at a refinery. The flames and the smoke can be seen for miles. We are told that the blast could be felt in southern New Jersey.

No immediate reports of injuries or a need for evacuations, we are told. Parts of Interstate 76 closed this morning as the morning rush gets underway.

CAMEROTA: OK. So of course, we'll keep following all of the breaking news out of Iran.

Also back here, there's politics. Joe Biden and Cory Booker hashing out their differences, apparently, after Biden defended working with segregationist senators. Did either of them apologize? What was said on this phone call?


[06:18:51] BERMAN: All right. The breaking news this morning is this major developments out of the Persian Gulf. "The New York Times" is reporting the president ordered and then called off a military attack on Iran in retaliation for the shootdown of a U.S. surveillance aircraft, unmanned aircraft.

We are trying to get fresh reaction from the White House and the Pentagon. Reaction is coming around from all the rest of the world. We will bring it to you as it comes in.

First, though, new details this morning about a phone call between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Cory Booker. Biden called Booker after Booker told CNN that the former vice president's comments about working with segregationist senators were insulting. Neither man, we are told, offered an apology. Abby Phillip is back with us, along with John Avlon, CNN senior

political analyst.

Listen to how Cory Booker described, I think, the state of his dialogue with Joe Biden overnight.


BOOKER: And I understood where his intentions were. I understand where his heart was. The fact is, though, it's not about me or him. He said things that are hurtful and are harmful. I believe he should be apologizing to the American people and having this discussion with all of us.


BERMAN: Joe Biden's not apologizing to the American people. Nor is he apologizing to Cory Booker, John Avlon. So where is this situation this morning?

[06:20:06] JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think Cory Booker has used it very effectively to raise his profile in the race. When he says he understood Biden's intentions, but he still deserves an apology, I think you see that kind of crossroads in the debate right now within the Democratic Party. Biden has been doing very well with African-American support, much better than Senator Booker or Senator Harris.

But this hangs a lantern on a lot of his fundamental problems about his longevity. You know, he's trying to make a point.

BERMAN: His age.

AVLON: His age, correct. Didn't mean to be too delicate about that.

CAMEROTA: His age but also how long he's been around.

AVLON: Yes. Same deal.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that -- it's both, you know? Look, he's trying to make a point about how the Senate depends on working with people you disagree with. But by invoking Senator Eastland, one of the most vicious racists and segregationists from the period of the civil rights era, he ends up owning and resuscitating that rhetoric.

At the end of the day, I'll take Jim Clyburn on this, where he said, "Look, I worked with Strom Thurmond my whole life," and he couldn't disagree with him more.

But this is going to be a problem for Joe Biden. I think his deeper intentions argument is right. But it's not going to wash with a lot of folks who say why are you invoking James Eastland as a paragon of civility in American politics?

CAMEROTA: And yet, Abby, these things do have a tendency to blow over. I mean, with Joe Biden, first, there was the personal space issue and whether or not he owed certain women an apology for massaging them or touching their shoulders or whatever it was.

It was Anita Hill.

These things do blow over, because they're not what any voter lists at the top of what they're looking for in a president in terms of solving issues. I think that it's just what is the -- at what point do these things sort of pile up for Joe Biden, where I guess, younger voters start to think that he can't represent them?

PHILLIP: Yes, I think you're right. I mean, there is a sense in which some of these issues are so resonant where we are, and they're resonant on Twitter. And people are talking about them all the time.

And then you go, and you talk to real people, and you wonder how much they're really discussing some of these minute developments in the Democratic race at this point.

But at the same time, what we're building at the moment is a picture of what Joe Biden is like when he is up against some kind of controversy like this. How does he respond to it?

And it was interesting to see him kind of take a very combative tone about this. Instead of saying, "I understand where you're coming from, I understand why you're concerned about the fact that I used the example of Eastland not calling me 'boy.' And I understand where you're coming from with that." He didn't say that. He said, "Of course I'm not going to apologize. In fact, you're the one who needs to apologize to me."

I think that tells you a little bit about his demeanor and about his approach to dealing with these kinds of issues. That that, I think, might start to penetrate to people as they're like, "Hmm, I wonder if this is the kind of personality that we want going up against Trump." And we'll find out.

And I also think Joe Biden has not been out here sitting down, doing these interviews on, you know, these primetime shows like his other contenders. At some point, that has to end. I think it will end. I think we're told over the weekend Joe Biden is going to do some kind of interview.

But that has to end, because I think that he's going to have to start to explain himself directly, staring someone in the face and explaining his thinking behind some of the things that he's doing.

BERMAN: This stuff is happening without being tested. I mean, he's doing this on his own terms. These are unforced errors, which is interesting.

AVLON: Who does that sound like?

BERMAN: Well, so John, game the next few days out for me. What are you looking for? The Jim Clyburn fish fry, down in South Carolina. It's a big weekend in South Carolina.

AVLON: It's a huge deal. BERMAN: I do want to say that, CNN's been on the ground in South

Carolina talking to African-American voters. We'll play it for you a little bit later in the show. The general theme is, I think we're hearing from older black voters in South Carolina that they don't have as much of a problem with what's going on. Sort of the Jim Clyburn take on it, but it might be a different story with some of the younger voters.

AVLON: It might, indeed. And then there are also questions of who actually turns out to vote, famously, in American politics, particularly primaries. Older voters turn out.

Jim Clyburn's fish fry is much more than a fish fry. You're seeing basically everyone running for president come to kiss the ring and to hobnob with their colleagues upstate in South Carolina this weekend.

And again, Clyburn's comments about this, I think, have a degree of moral authority within the Democratic Party, which is "I worked with Strom Thurmond my whole life." Strom Thurmond being the 1948 Dixiecrat candidate who was in the Senate until, you know, '90- something. You don't have to agree with everybody you work with.

Biden, again, made a big mistake by invoking James Eastland. But the question is the larger point of can you work with people you disagree with? Even Hakeem Jeffries said, "Look, I disagree with almost everything that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth, and I still worked with him on criminal justice reform.

CAMEROTA: And if bridge building is still what Democratic voters in the primary want.

AVLON: I will remind people that No. 3 issue for Democrats was being able to work with Republicans.

PHILLIP: You know, even if bridge building is something that Democrats want, there's a real question about whether bringing up examples of working with segregationists is necessary --

AVLON: No, it's not.

PHILLIP: -- in this particular Democratic primary. I think that is really the issue here. I'm sure he can come up with other examples that do not involve segregation.

[06:25:05] BERMAN: And he might be able to come up with a language besides using the word "boy" there. And I wonder if that will come up in an interview when he's pressed on that.

CAMEROTA: Well, we're going to have the director of his communications for his campaign on later in the program to ask.

All right. Thank you both very much.

We do have some breaking news, of course, this morning. Our top story, the military mission to strike Iran. It was called off by President Trump at the last moment last night. We have the very latest for you on what happened and what happens next.

And some shocking video. TSA officers attacked at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.


CAMEROTA: Breaking news this morning. The president calls off an imminent attack on Iran moments before it was supposed to be carried out. So we will have much more on this throughout the morning.

But first, back here, President Trump's confidant, Hope Hicks, refused to answer dozens of questions during her closed-door testimony before a House panel. Hicks, though, made on interesting admission about lying.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with more. What did she say, Lauren?