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U.S. Okays Airstrikes in Iran; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Diagnosed with Cancer; Rudy Giuliani Attempted Negotiations in Late-2018 Phone Call with Nicolas Maduro. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 12:30   ET


RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: -- there had been a series of rocket attacks that the U.S. had blamed these Iranian proxy groups for. They'd attempted diplomatic efforts, they'd called their Iraqi counterparts, trying to pressure them to kind of stop these attacks, and it hadn't worked. And in fact, on Friday, one of these attacks had killed an American contractor, wounded several U.S. military personnel.

So I think the U.S. felt like they had been pushed too far. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying President Trump had been, quote, "pretty darn patient" up to this point. You know, there was the drone shootdown, there hadn't been any kind of response to that. This one merited a response.

And I think they're hoping that these airstrikes prevent any more attacks. But, again, there's also the chance that the Iranian-backed groups, Iran itself ramps up their provocations, their efforts in the wake of these strikes. So they'll be watching very closely to see which way this goes.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we heard from John Bolton, who's the national security advisor. He, on Twitter today, said that U.S. strikes against Iranian-backed Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria are overdue, but a good first step. "The ayatollahs must pay a steep price for their ongoing support for terrorism."

And, Ryan, you talked about this. This is a more aggressive posture from this administration.

BROWNE: Well, that's right. I mean, they very much had been seeking -- putting more military personnel in the region, trying to send a message without actually conducting any strikes. That seemed to not work, that didn't stop these proxy groups from continuing their rocket attacks against U.S. locations.

So now they stepped it up with this strike. Again, there's already fallout diplomatically from this. You see the Iraqi government has questioned the U.S. military's presence in Iraq. There's some 5,000 U.S. troops there, they've been helping Iraq fight ISIS and train local security forces.

Iraq, calling these strikes a violation of its sovereignty, so there's new challenges there about whether or not the U.S. will be allowed to stay there in Iraq. So, again, a lot of complications arising from this strike, but I guess the U.S. military felt it necessary to -- in the hopes that it would prevent further attacks by these Iranian- linked militia groups.

TEXT: Trump Foreign Policy Challenges: Iranian aggression; North Korea denuclearization efforts; China trade negotiations; Afghanistan peace negotiations; Standing with world leaders

HENDERSON: And more broadly, if you look at the president's challenges, quite a few here. We're of course talking about Iranian aggression right now, but also North Korea denuclearization efforts seem to have stalled out: China trade negotiations, back and forth with that; Afghanistan peace negotiations; and just generally standing with world leaders, his standing with world leaders.

What do you see as Trump's biggest challenges, Josh, in 2020 in terms of foreign policy? There felt like there was a moment where he was sort of casting about for victories on the world stage. What are you looking for in 2020?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you (ph) have a lot of unfinished business, as you said. The president wants a more robust trade deal with China, he got a bit of a part one before he left: They kind of made some progress, but he wants a lot more.

With North Korea, you have Chairman Kim, who has not denuclearized even though he's had several summits with the president, has continued to make threats. You have Iran that obviously has been a hot spot for the president.

You have an unsettled world in many places, and a president who has taken an unorthodox approach to foreign policy, has not been -- has not wanted to engage, has wanted to pull troops out of places like Afghanistan, out of Turkey, out of Syria, has wanted to bring folks home.

And it will remain to be seen in 2020, what voters will make of this. I mean, the president has been pretty unbowed in what he believes is America First foreign policy, and that his willingness to make personal deals with folks like the chairman. And will that work or not? We don't know.

HENDERSON: And that's the thing. North Korea -- we'll have some sound here, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on North Korea.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I don't want to speculate about what will happen, but we have a lot of tools in our toolkit and additional pressure can be brought to bear on the North Koreans if the United States will take action, as we do in these situations, and that's a -- if Kim Jong Un takes that approach, we'll be extraordinarily disappointed and then we'll demonstrate that disappointment.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENDERSON: And, Rachel, Josh talked about sort of the president's unorthodox approach to foreign policy, none more unorthodox than his sort of love letters going back and forth --


HENDERSON: -- with Kim Jong Un, obviously, going to the DMZ as well. And supposedly there's going to be some Christmas surprise? At this point, it's a little late, we don't know what it's going to be and we don't know how the president might respond.

BADE: Yes. No, we don't. I mean, but, clearly, we've seen, just from the past few months, when, you know, the president meeting with leaders in North Korea, that was the huge story for a long time, a lot of people were just absolutely flabbergasted that a president would do that, a lot of hope for bringing some sort of peace and nonproliferation in terms of nuclear weapons. That's clearly fizzled out right now, and that is another -- one less thing that the president can sort of campaign on in 2020.

I think, going back to Iran, I think it's interesting to watch the president in the next couple of weeks because he's really torn against himself. I mean, he likes to, you know, say America First, I'm the tough guy, nobody's going to screw around with us and we're going to defend ourselves. But at the same time, he campaigned in 2016 on getting out of the Middle East, as you were just mentioning --


BADE: -- not being engaged in -- militarily --


HENDERSON: Endless wars, right.

BADE: Exactly, endless wars. And so it'll be interesting to see which side he takes on that because that will obviously affect potentially 2020.

HENDERSON: More to come on this, certainly from North Korea and Iran.

Coming up, a new poll says President Trump is the most admired man in America, but he's sharing the honor with a political rival. We'll tell you who, next.



HENDERSON: Topping our political radar today, the most-admired man in America is two men. It's a tie between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. That's according to an annual Gallup poll, asking Americans to name the man and woman they admire most in the world.

This is Obama's 12th time as number one, and it's President Trump's first time. Now, who tops the list of most-admired women? Former first lady

Michelle Obama, followed by Melania Trump, who's in the number-two spot. And a fun fact? Queen Elizabeth finished in the top 10 this year for the 51st time, more than any other woman.

A familiar sight at a Georgia church yesterday: former President Jimmy Carter in the first row at Sunday services. The 95-year-old returned to Maranatha Baptist for the first time since undergoing brain surgery last month. The procedure, to relieve pressure on his brain, kept the former president hospitalized for more than two weeks.

And lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are showing their support and love today for Congressman John Lewis. The Civil Rights icon and Georgia Democrat says he has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. The 79-year-old says he's planning to start treatment in the coming days, and wants to continue his work. Congressman Lewis is serving his 17th term in Congress.

We've got CNN's Phil Mattingly, who joins us from Capitol Hill. Phil, talk about the love, the respect, the admiration that folks feel for John Lewis, and that's coming out in the wake of this news.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You've seen it over the course, really, of the last 12 to 15 hours, since the news broke last night. The bipartisan outpouring of support, of love, of prayers for Congressman Lewis. And I think it's a reflection of who he is and how he's regarded here on Capitol Hill.

Look, he's not apolitical and he's not nonpartisan, but he is John Lewis. He's kind of referred to by a lot of people, particularly in the Democratic Caucus, as the conscience of the House. He's somebody that -- I tweeted this last night and got an overwhelming response from members of Congress and text messages and direct messages after I did, saying that one of my favorite things in covering Capitol Hill is when a new Congress comes into town.

And when you see these freshman members come in, and then they see John Lewis for the first time, and then they get the opportunity to meet John Lewis for the first time, just kind of the awe on their face, knowing what he's been through, knowing his story, having seen the pictures from Selma, having seen the pictures from the march on Washington. There's just nobody here that even reached the level that he reaches in terms of kind of transcending this body, this kind of body politic as it stands.

And I think Tim Ryan, the congressman from Ohio, was on a little bit earlier, on CNN, and put it in a pretty good place. Take a listen.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): He's been an inspiration to every single member of Congress in the 18 years that I've been there. You know, to see him, now, face a terrific battle ahead of him, he has a lot of people praying for him. If anybody has the strength and the courage to beat this, it's John Lewis.


MATTINGLY: So, Nia, I'd say -- there's two quick things I would say, kind of in summary here. One, his regular trips to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, bipartisan coalitions, bringing Republicans and Democrats down there, have had a huge impact on lawmakers here. They repeatedly talk about it as kind of one of the most important or prominent moments in their careers.

And the other thing, too, is just how he's respected. And I think it's across the board, regardless of party, and I think you'll see that in the weeks ahead as well.

HENDERSON: A true American hero, and he is certainly in our thoughts and prayers.

And we got new developments in the last few minutes. The Southern District of New York, filing federal hate crime charges against the man who stormed into a New York rabbi's house and tried to kill everyone inside with a machete.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is in Monsey, New York. Brynn, what does the federal complaint say?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. This was just filed, Nia, five federal hate crime charges against Grafton Thomas, who's currently being held behind bars on $5 millions' bail.

And a lot of detail in this criminal complaint filed by the Southern District of New York. First, let me tell you that the special agent who wrote the complaint essentially said that Thomas walked into this home, as we know, a rabbi's house where a hundred people were gathered, celebrating the seventh night of Hanukkah. And the complaint says he had his face covered, and he essentially said somewhat -- saying, no one is leaving.

And then he started to carry out this attack, according to complaint, injuring, we know, five people. We know one person had a skull fracture, but the complaint states that one person even lost their finger. Then we know that Grafton -- Thomas Grafton -- Grafton Thomas, rather, fled the scene.

He was eventually arrested in New York City. According to complaint, when police pulled him over, he had blood on his body, on his hands. And when they did a search of his car, they also found a machete and a knife. And they also found other evidence inside his home, including online searches with anti-Semitic undertones.


So there's a lot coming out about this case. Of course, now it's going to be up to the two districts to decide what happens next for Thomas, and we'll continue to update you.

HENDERSON: Brynn, thanks so much for that report. And we'll be right back.


HENDERSON: Today, more evidence that Rudy Giuliani went outside official channels, this time in Venezuela, to try to engineer U.S. foreign policy. "The Washington Post" reports that Giuliani participated in a September 2018 phone call with Venezuela's dictator, President Nicolas Maduro.


The call, sources tell the "Post," was part of a shadow diplomatic effort to give Maduro an exit and reset relations with Venezuela.

According to one former administration official who spoke to the "Post," the White House learned of the call between Maduro and Giuliani after the fact, and did not know why the president's personal attorney was involved.

Josh, this was your reporting, part of a team at "The Washington Post," and I just want to read from this story. "Giuliani's willingness to talk with Maduro in late 2018 flew in the face of the official policy of the White House, which, under National Security Advisor John Bolton, was then ratcheting up sanctions and taking a harder line against the Venezuelan government.

"Around the time of the phone call, Giuliani met with Bolton to discuss the off-the-books plan to ease Maduro from office -- a plan Bolton vehemently rejected, two people familiar with the meeting said."

Giuliani showing up a lot. Obviously, this is the theme of what happened with Ukraine as well. Why? Why is he many places in foreign policy? He tried to be secretary of state. In some ways --

DAWSEY: Right.

HENDERSON: -- he seems to be acting as secretary of state.

DAWSEY: Tried to be secretary of state, as you said. And in some ways, he's been kind of a shadow secretary of state since. We've seen him, obviously, in Ukraine, playing a key role in the ouster of the ambassador. In Venezuela, he was working with Maduro here (ph) on the phone. We reported that he's tried to replace ambassador to Qatar.

He's kind of meddled in events all over the globe. He's taken official -- meetings with State Department and Justice officials. And he's also kind of had a number of foreign clients where he's worked for other companies -- I mean other countries for security interests. And meanwhile has been, you know, working for the president as his unpaid pro bono personal lawyer, and that's why the Southern District of New York is now investigating.

But what we've really found from the offshoot of this impeachment probe, has been what he did in Ukraine was not an anomaly, it was not a one-off. It was a systematic effort around the world to have influence and some comingling of business and his own political influences that have disturbed a lot of folks around the president. If (ph) you (ph) talk to many people around President Trump, they wish

Rudy Giuliani would go away, they think he's a problem for the president, they think he's not helping the president. But the president doesn't see it that way --

HENDERSON: Right (ph).

DAWSEY: -- and the president's made no firm move to distance himself from Rudy Giuliani heretofore.

So I think what you're going to see, going forward, is he's going to be a center player in the impeachment saga, but there will be lots of other new revelations likely to come out about him as well.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. Josh, great reporting.

Up next, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire quiz the 2020 presidential candidates and maybe not on the issues you'd expect.



HENDERSON: While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates work to hone their closing messages ahead of a CNN Iowa debate on January 14th, the voters in the early states aren't settling on just one outstanding issue as they make their choice. Here's a sample just from Sunday.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Doesn't have a name on it. What is your foreign policy and your top foreign policy priority?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was wondering what you're planning on doing to help restore the voting rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was wanting to know what your opinion was on separating church from state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is around rural health care accessibility. So in terms of how does the plan benefit people who live far from large cities.



HENDERSON: Tarini, the 35 days until the Iowa caucuses, you've been there, listening to the candidates. What are they stressing in terms of their closing arguments to voters?

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So even though voters are asking questions on a range of issues, what the candidates are doing in their responses is really honing in on this electability argument. That is what matters, 35 days out from Iowa.

What you hear from voters, over and over again, is that they want someone who can beat Donald Trump. That is what they care about. You know, they might ask about the issues, but at the end of the day that's what they care about and that's what the candidates are trying to respond to in every single answer they give.

HENDERSON: And we see Booker trying to make this argument in an ad he's got up in Iowa.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): The call of this election is the call to unite in common cause and common purpose. Because we know that our fates are united, that we have a common destiny. And as your president, that's how I will move us forward together.


HENDERSON: He will win, Heather. That is the message of that ad.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. Booker is clearly banking it all on Iowa. It's win there or bust. But clearly, he has failed his message, he has failed to gain traction so far, he missed the debate stage two weeks ago.

And he, like several other top candidates, will be in their seats in the Senate in Washington in the next few critical weeks ahead of Iowa. So it's unclear how much he can do between now and then to convince Iowa voters that he's the one to win.

HENDERSON: Yes. Booker had, I think, a lot of promise, coming into this debate. But you look -- I mean, into this contest. But you look at polls, and he's not doing as well as I think a lot of people expected him to do, 35 days until Iowa. We'll see if there's time.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.