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AT THIS HOUR

Protesters Clear Out After Attacking U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; U.S. Sends Forces to Protect Embassy After Attack; Chief Justice: Americans are Taking Democracy for Granted; Buttigieg Campaign: $24.7 Million Raised in 4th Quarter; Kim Jong Un: North Korea Free to Resume Nuclear Testing. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 1, 2020 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:26]

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan.

And welcome to a special holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR.

New developments in the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Protesters are withdrawing after a second day of violent demonstrations as the Pentagon orders more troops to the volatile region.

Earlier, security personnel could be seen firing teargas and rubber bullets at pro-Iranian protesters as they tried to climb the embassy's exterior walls. The demonstrators also hurled rocks and tried to set the walls on fire.

Meantime, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said 750 soldiers will be sent to the Middle East immediately. This comes after the military sent two Apache helicopters to fly over the embassy in a show of force.

The president is monitoring the situation from his Mar-a-Lago estate. He tweeted this about Iran's role in the protest, quote: Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of our facilities. They will pay a very big price. This is not a warning. It is a threat.

But Iran's supreme leader brushed off that threat tweeting, quote: First, you can't do anything. Second, if you are logical, which you're not, you'd see that your crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have made nations hate you.

CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon is live in Baghdad with the latest on the protests. And CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne's covering the military response from Washington.

Let's first go straight to Arwa.

Arwa, give us this -- the feeling of what is happening on the ground right now.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were just outside the embassy, and the protesters have at this stage cleared out. The Iraq security forces are in the area. There is a massive cleanup operation that is under way.

But you have to look at what led to this very state. Those U.S. strikes that took place on Sunday against Kataib Hezbollah, who the U.S. says is responsible for carrying out multiple attacks against U.S. installations that led to the killing of a U.S. contractor on Friday.

These protesters that were outside of the U.S. embassy are not your ordinary protesters. They are members of or supporters of what's known as a popular mobilization forces. This is a force that was created in response to ISIS taking over huge swaths of Iraq years ago, but it is mostly made up of former Shia militia who back in the days of the U.S.-led invasion were attacking U.S. forces.

This paramilitary entity is ostensibly under the control of Baghdad. But if we look at what happened, it really begs the question as to how much control does Baghdad actually have. Where were those Iraqi security forces when these protesters were attempting to breach the embassy, torching all of its entrances, spray painting graffiti all over it. They were burning tires today, even as they were withdrawing.

Now, we did speak to one member of the security forces while we were down there who told us, look, we saw them coming, but what were we supposed to do? Had we gone in and tried to confront the group given who they are, given their background, it would have potentially led to even more bloodshed.

And this goes to one of the very core problems that this country right now is facing. This entity, these individuals who make up these kind of paramilitary forces are not only very strong militarily, and yes, they do have long-standing ties to Iran, they're also very strong politically.

Now, right now the situation, Ryan, is calm. But this is Iraq. Things here change very, very quickly.

And we talked to the spokesperson of Kataib Hezbollah, the group that was targeted by the U.S., and he said, look, we have given America our message, that's why we're withdrawing. We're going to now allow the Iraqi parliament to go through the process that it needs to go through because ultimately, we do want to see the Americans out of Iraq.

NOBLES: All right. So, Arwa Damon, with the latest in Iraq where things have stabilized. But as Arwa points out, not necessarily going to be for the long term.

So, Ryan, let's go to you now. What is the U.S. military response to these protests?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, there's been a series of responses, Ryan, to your point. The situation in the military, U.S. military's perspective remains potentially volatile. Immediately, the U.S. military flew two Apache helicopters over the embassy site.

[11:05:02]

You see video of that there. They released defensive flares which are intended to protect the helicopters but in this case were kind of a part of a show of force to warn these demonstrators, many of whom are linked to this militia Kataib Hezbollah that the military was in a position to respond. And shortly thereafter, 100 marines from a crisis response force in Kuwait were flown into the embassy compound aboard MV-22 Osprey aircraft. They are there helping secure the embassy on the ground.

And in addition to that, last night, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that 750 paratroopers from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina's, 82nd Airborne Division would deploy to the Middle East, to the region to be called upon if the situation deteriorates further and there are an additional several thousand U.S. troops that have been placed on standby.

So, the U.S. military are very much posturing itself to respond if the crisis worsens. But we've heard from one senior U.S. official today, Brian Hook, the representative to Iran. He said that, you know, the president took these decisive actions and in part that is why the situation is calmer today, is noting that the protesters had started to disperse.

So, again, they're seeing some signs of more positive situation, but given the militia's presence, given that threat to the bases, those rocket attacks, the military very much wants to remain in a position to defend itself if need be.

NOBLES: All right. And Hook also saying it's because of the efforts by Pompeo and President Trump to reach out to Iraqi leaders that that started to disperse.

Ryan Browne, thank you.

Let's talk about this now with two former State Department officials with extensive experience in the region -- Vali Nasr and CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller.

So, Vali, let me start with you. The ayatollah taunting President Trump saying, quote, he can't do anything. Iran in many ways seems to be baiting the president into taking military action.

What is the Iranian strategy here?

VALI NASR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, first of all, Iran is trying to show that the president's maximum pressure strategy doesn't work. If he thinks by putting economic pressure on Iran he's going to get Iran to come to the table and surrender and cut a deal with him, Iranians are not going to do that. And they are willing to put pressure on the U.S., force the president to contemplate does he want to go to war with a country of 80 million people, or is he likely to consider a plan B and decide to change tracks, and the Iranians want a reduction in sanctions before they would talk to the president.

And I think secondly the Iranians want to give the U.S. a payback in Iraq. They do blame the United States for the torching of their consulates months ago, and they wanted to basically put the United States in the hot seat in Iraq. They baited the United States by attacking the base which caused the killing of a personnel. And the United States reacted.

And now, the U.S. has now made itself the issue in Iraq and has taken a lot of pressure off of Iran which was the subject of much of the protests in the past months.

NOBLES: So, Aaron, when we spoke yesterday, the situation in front of the embassy was volatile. It seems to have calmed down now. But as Arwa Damon reported, you know, you really can't predict what the future could be there.

What do you think the next move for the U.S. should be?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, it the reality is we need a strategy. I realize that's an overused word in Washington these days.

But the reality is, I think Vali's right, U.S. policy toward Iran is drifting. It's caught somewhere between a president who's unwilling, I think frankly wisely, so far at least, not to get involved in a major confrontation either in Iraq or directly with the Iranians. On one hand, a president tied up in domestic political interests who vacated the Iran nuclear agreement, and seems ready to meet with President Rouhani. But whether or not there's a serious negotiating strategy afoot I don't know.

And that drift is going to continue to produce these sorts of confrontations. And sadly, unfortunately, we are not playing on a home court -- a home court advantage here. We're in Iraq where the odds asymmetrical warfare, the politics, the demography, the geography is tilted heavily against the United States.

So, again, I think what the calming does show, I realize the president wants to take credit for it, it always shows that the Iranians can orchestrate this and calibrate it to their own interests. They made a point, and they're capable of making additional points in the weeks to come.

NOBLES: So, Vali, earlier this morning, I talk today to Brian Hook, who's the U.S. special representative for Iran, and I specifically asked him if he was worried about Iran and Iraq growing too close. Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN HOOK, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAN: We have seen recent protests in Iraq against the Iranian domination in Baghdad. So we have seen thousands of Iraqis rise up against Iranian domination. Iran has been running an expansionist foreign policy for some time.

[11:10:01]

President Trump is standing up to that. And the regime is not used to being told no.

But for the last three years, we've put in place the kind of sanctions and other deterrent measures that have weakened the regime and weakened its proxies. So the regime does not enjoy the support of the Iraqi people. You had a handful of terrorists who were at our embassy yesterday. But that does not represent the views of the Iraqi people who want Iran out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So, Vali, the point he's making here is that the average Iraqi does not support the Iranian regime. But there's no doubt that there was at least some level of coordination here because the Iraqi security forces to a certain extent stood down to allow the protesters all to get to the embassy.

I mean, what is your reaction to how Mr. Hook responded to that?

NASR: Well, I think these are talking points that he's putting forward. But in reality, the United States decided to attack that base without talking to the Iraqi prime minister, without letting the Iraqi government know.

President Trump talked to Israel's leader, Saudi Arabia's leader, UAE's leader, but didn't even talk to the Iraqi leader. And that was an insult to Iraqi nationalism. The United States has managed to relieve pressure off of Iran and make itself the subject of anger in Iraq -- of Iraqi nationalists.

It's not just a bunch of terrorists coming to the walls of the embassy. The most senior ayatollah in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, condemned the U.S. attack on -- on that base. Iraq's prime minister has declared three days of war -- of mourning and called the 25 militiamen who were killed by the U.S. attack as martyrs.

So if the United States really wanted to expel Iran from Iraq, turn the Iraqi against Iran, the past two days have been a self-inflicted wound. It has been counterproductive. Iran is now in a better position in Iraq than it was two days ago. And I think to Aaron's point, the signal Iran is sending is that yesterday was not Benghazi, but Iranians are in a position to produce Benghazi at will any time in the coming year.

NOBLES: So, Aaron, we only have about a minute left. But, you know, the Iraqi prime minister described that attack, that air strike, the U.S. air strike as a threat to their sovereignty. I mean, what is the status of the relationship with the Iraqi government right now, and what can be done to improve it?

MILLER: I mean, I think it's fraught, Ryan. This is probably the most severe political crisis since the ill-fated and ill-advised 2003 invasion of Iraq.

And we have a role to play there. I mean, you've got 5,200 American forces training, assisting, largely counterterrorism. But the role of the United States and the portrayal, as Vali suggests, of the United States as an external foreign interloper, however badly the majority of the Iraqi people may want a reduced Iranian role is going to continue I think to plague American policy.

And again, the president's confronting drawdown situation in Afghanistan, a muddled policy in Syria. And now, the most stable of these unstable situations, the United States has a very hard road ahead in the next six months.

We need a policy, primarily toward Iran. Either going to confronts it, or you're going to negotiate with Iranians. But the drift I think is dangerous and is going to cause additional problems.

NOBLES: All right. We're going to leave it there. Excellent expertise as always from both of you.

Vali Nasr, Aaron David Miller, we appreciate you being on. And happy New Year.

MILLER: Same to you, Ryan.

NOBLES: Coming up, Chief Justice John Roberts delivers a message of judicial independence and a rebuke of false information. Was it a veiled swipe at President Trump?

Plus, a major fund-raising haul for Pete Buttigieg. What will this -- what will the impact on the Democratic presidential campaign be with the Iowa caucuses just around the corner?

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[11:18:36]

NOBLES: A warning from Chief Justice John Roberts whose New Year will include presiding over President Trump's impeachment trial. Roberts warns in his year-end report on the judiciary about the dangers of misinformation in the Internet era.

He writes in part that Americans, quote: have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside. In our age, when social media can spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public needs to understand our government and the protections it provides, and that is ever more vital.

CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue joins me now.

So, Ariane, what else did Chief Justice Roberts say in his interview report?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, you know, it's interesting because every New Year's Eve, the chief justice issues a report. But this one was different. He never directly tackles the current

climate or his past friction with the president or even the fact that the impeachment proceedings are coming up.

But at the same time, this report is clearly aimed at the president and the role of judges. He starts with civics. He laments the fact that civics are no longer taught in school. But he says in this age of social media where messages fly and sometimes they're filled with false information, it's the duty of the public to understand how government works.

And he also has a message for judges.

[11:20:01]

He says at one point: We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch. As the New Year begins, and we should turn to the tasks before us, we should resolve to do our best to maintain the public's trust that we are faithfully discharging our solemn obligation to equal justice under the law.

That is a message to the judges. He says two things. He says, stay above the political fray, and also stay in your lane. Do what you're supposed to do and gain the public's trust in these fractious times.

NOBLES: So, Ariane, it certainly seems as though this is a rebuke of President Trump. I mean, should we read it as such? And is that out of the ordinary for a chief justice to send a veiled threat in the direction of the White House?

DE VOGUE: Well, there's no question that this is veiled. And you have to look at the relationship between those two men. Keep in mind, the president has taken to Twitter before, and he's criticized judges.

And last year, the chief justice, he came back and protected judges a little bit. He said, we are not Obama judges, we are not Bush judges.

So, clearly, this report is not going directly at the president. But the chief justice during this difficult time, he's sending a message.

NOBLES: Uh-huh. All right. Ariane de Vogue, as the Supreme Court gets set to start its newest session, we appreciate that report. Thank you.

Turning now to the campaign trail. Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg kicking off 2020 with a big money announcement. His campaign says that he's raised more than $24.7 million in the last quarter of 2019, certainly solidifies his standing as one of the top fundraisers as the primary voting approaches.

Let's bring in CNN political reporter Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, breaking down these numbers for us.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Ariane. This is certainly a sign of strength for Pete Buttigieg heading into the Iowa caucuses just 33 days away, as the campaign announcing that he has raised $24.7 million last quarter. That's going to give him the money to run the operation and the Iowa caucuses, it also potentially prepares for a long primary fight ahead.

And if you take a look at his numbers over the course of his campaign, this is about $5 million more than he raised the previous quarter. But it's about on par with what he raised during the second fund- raising quarter during the cycle.

Now, one thing to note about Pete Buttigieg is that he entered this race as a relative unknown. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He didn't have a huge online fund-raising list, didn't have an expansive list of -- of national donor networks.

But he's been doing a lot of private fund raisers. He's come under criticism from Elizabeth Warren. You'll remember at the last debate when he took him over that fundraiser in a wine cave. But he has also been drilling on that online fundraising, trying to show that sign of strength as he gets closer to the caucuses.

NOBLES: So, Arlette, some of the candidates have hinted as to what their incomes are going to look like. So far, I believe Buttigieg is the only one who released a comprehensive report. I mean, how should we expect his numbers to stack up against some of the other candidates, including the former Vice President Joe Biden?

SAENZ: Well, you're right. We're still waiting for numbers from the rest of the Democratic presidential field. But if you take a look at what was raised last quarter from these candidates, Mayor Pete -- Pete Buttigieg came in third behind Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He raised a little bit more than Joe Biden did.

But we have gotten some clues about what this fund-raising quarter might look like. Elizabeth warren on Friday announced that she had raised more than $17 million so far. She was trying to get to a $20 million goal by the end of the month. Joe Biden's campaign has also hinted that they might have a higher fund-raising quarter as they've seen an uptick in online donations.

All of these candidates want to post big numbers heading into the Iowa caucuses to show that they're viable to take this fight into the long haul -- Ryan.

NOBLES: All right. And maybe it could be one of these fights where you're going to need a lot of money in the bank because it won't be wrapped up any time soon.

All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much for that. We appreciate it.

SAENZ: Thanks.

NOBLES: Coming up, new threats from North Korea, including the promise of a new strategic weapon. What will it mean for President Trump's relationship with Kim Jong-un? And how will the U.S. respond? Stay here.

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[11:28:58]

NOBLES: So, it turns out North Korea did not follow through on its promised Christmas gift to the United States, but Kim Jong-un is ringing in the New Year with new threats. Kim said Tuesday he no longer feels bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long- range missile testing and that he would witness a new strategic weapon in the, quote, near future. President Trump continues to emphasize his personal relationship with Kim, despite the threats.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Hong Kong with the latest -- Will.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you think about where we were at this time last year when there was so much optimism, so much hope about the prospect of diplomacy and then the Hanoi summit fell apart and, well, we know what's happened since. There has been escalating rhetoric for months between the U.S. and North Korea. North Korea has been testing short-range weapons.

So, this announcement doesn't really come as a big surprise. We've known that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been likely preparing for a major shift in policy. And that's what North Korean state media announced. They said because the United States hasn't moved on the issue that's most important to them, sanctions, they no longer feel obligated to abide by the issue most important to the United States which is North Korea's self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long- range missile tests.

In fact, North Korea saying they're going to bolster their nuclear defense, basically reversing course entirely because, remember, the whole reason why the United States and North Korea decided to sit down, why President Trump --