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Donald Trump On Potential Conflict: Not "A Good Idea For Iran"; Militiamen Clear Out After Setting Fires Inside U.S. Embassy Compound In Baghdad; Donald Trump On Iraqi Protests: "This Will Not Be A Benghazi"; Senate Impeachment Trial Timing Still Up In The Air; Rudy Giuliani Says He Would Testify In A Senate Impeachment Trial. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 1, 2020 - 12:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --mild conditions its only temporary relief for those fighting the fires.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are assuming that on Saturday weather conditions will be at least as bad as what they were yesterday. And that is something that all of us have to brace as source.

SIMON CULLEN, JOURNALIST: For many though already too late. The New Year normally a time of celebrations has reinforced a devastating reality Australia's fire crisis is far from over. And it's this constant fire threat that means many communities are nervously watching and waiting to see what the coming days bring knowing that there is more hot dry weather on the way. Simon Cullen, CNN, Bowral, New South Wales.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN HOST, THE LEAD: All right thank you Simon and thank you for joining me. "Inside Politics" with Nia-Malika Henderson starts right now.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and Happy New Year to you. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. Welcome to this special holiday edition of "Inside Politics." Apache gun ships in the skies and tear gas in the streets as security forces fight back protesters attacking the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

And "D" is for dollar signs as the top Democratic Presidential contenders reveal who is feeling flush with cash after the fourth quarter. And reading between the lines Chief Justice John Roberts warns America not to take democracy for granted as he prepares to preside over the President's impeachment trial.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know its part of political play in January would be impeachment.

TRUMP: Well, the impeachment thing is a hoax it's a big fat hoax. Nancy Pelosi should be ashamed of herself. She's a highly overrated person.


HENDERSON: And we begin the hour with a foreign policy gut check for the President triggered by twin crises on the global stage. The North Koreans are again a front page problem. Kim Jong-Un says he's free to test nuclear weapons. The other crisis, a flash point with Iran, a temporary calm this hour, but overnight militia men at the door of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. U.S. marines again forced to fire tear gas after protesters set fires inside the compound. Choppers buzzed over head.

The Defense Secretary now says he will rush 750 more American troops to the region as a precaution. The President issuing what he called a warning on Twitter and then walking into a New Year's Eve party telling Iran any escalation would not end well for them.


TRUMP: I don't think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn't last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace. And Iran should want peace more than anybody. So I don't see that happening. No, I don't think Iran would want that to happen.


HENDERSON: CNN's Ryan Browne is in Washington but we're going to start with Arwa Damon who is in Baghdad. Arwa, take us to what's happening now? There's been a big cooling off of tensions this morning. What's happening and will this pause actually hold?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were just down outside of the Embassy. Nia I have to say I've been in Iraq for 15 years and this is the first time that I was able to literally waltz straight through the checkpoints and go up to the Embassy. This is an area where normally you go through multiple security checks you either need a special badge to gain access or you need to be escorted by someone who has that kind of a badge.

Just as we arrived a few hours ago was when these protesters were beginning to withdraw and the Iraqi security forces were finally, it seemed, on the scene in full force. Of course, begging the question of where were they this morning when protesters were again attempting to breach the Embassy wall, where were they last night?

We ran into Iraq's Minister of Interior while we were down there and asked him that question and he responded saying, well, it took us a long time to get forces together to come to this particular location and then brushed off questions as to what this meant for Iraq's international image, simply saying, look, we're just here to secure the Embassy now and make sure that the protesters leave.

But we did also speak to a member of the Iraqi security forces who was there over the last three days and said, look, what were we supposed to do? If we had actually taken on those protesters, given who they are, that potentially would have led to a much more severe blood bath, one that would have been a lot harder to regain control of because of exactly who these protesters were.

The vast majority of them are supporters of or members of this paramilitary force that is ostensibly under the control of Baghdad but has very, very close ties to Tehran.

HENDERSON: Arwa, thank you so much for that report a complex and involving situation there in Iraq. And we're going to go to Ryan. Does this temporary calm change the Pentagon's plans to send the 750 more American service members to the region?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, that's a good question, but those 750 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division are actually already on their way if not there in the region.


BROWNE: There have been several thousand additional American soldiers put on standby in case things got worse. It's very possible that those additional forces will not be sent to the region now, but of course no announcement at this time either way. That was just one of many steps the U.S. had been taking in the wake of this disturbance outside the Embassy this attempt to breach the Embassy.

You mentioned the flying of the Apache gunships we see images of those now. The U.S. also flew in 100 marines from a crisis response force in Kuwait into the Embassy compound on MV 22s as you're seeing the shots of those marines there. And again the U.S. really tried to up its posture in the region in response to this disturbance.

This top U.S. Representative for the Iranian issue Brian Hook on CNN earlier today kind of crediting these moves kind of crediting President Trump's ordering of military troops to the area as one of the reasons you're beginning to see a bit of a calm in the situation.

But again you will have to remember what sparked this whole crisis, there has been a series of rocket attacks the U.S. had blamed on this Iranian linked militia group in Iraq one of which had killed an American contractor. That threat hasn't gone away. So it's a very likely if the U.S. will maintain vigilance for the time being.

HENDERSON: Thanks so much for that report, Ryan and happy New Year to you. We're going to bring into the room today here with us to share their reporting and their insights we've got CNN's Lauren Fox Meridith McGraw with "POLITICO" Katie Rogers with "The New York Times" and Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post". Happy New Year to all of you and thanks very much for being here on this very busy New Year's Day of 2020.

Katie, I want to start with you on this. We have seen from this President a very unorthodox foreign policy doctrine.


HENDERSON: Especially in the Middle East, obviously in North Korea too, which we'll get to in a bit later. Do you think this doctrine is actually working? Is there a strategy here when you think about what's going on now with Iran?

ROGERS: I think at the root of it is a President who is at his heart not an interventionist sort of being forced to send more troops into a volatile situation that he has not wanted to make worse. I think that he has relied a lot on Twitter rhetoric with regard to Iran as we saw with the supreme leader of Iran on Twitter earlier saying you can't do anything. So--

HENDERSON: I can - I'll read that here this is what he said. You bring it up here; this is his reaction to the President. That guy has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad and we will respond to Iran first. You can't do anything.

ROGERS: Right.

HENDERSON: Second, if you were logical, which you're not, you'd see that your crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have made nations hit you.

ROGERS: And as you call it that's sort of a gut check for a President who's now having leaders of hostile governments to the United States saying try us, you can't do anything. It's sort of reflected in Kim Jong-Un's own rhetoric by saying, we're just going to go ahead and proceed. The President's charm offensive clearly is not getting much in return.

HENDERSON: And Meridith, should the U.S. actually have seen this coming? This comes after a month of this maximum pressure campaign and the maximum resistance reaction from folks on the ground there. Pompeo basically said in an interview recently that they've known for a long time that there was this risk, but what Americans are seeing on their screens I think comes as a surprise.

MERIDITH MCGRAW, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. Secretary Pompeo said that they've seen this coming for a while. But when I've spoken to administration officials, you know there have been and former administration officials have been concerns that the folks there are distracted.

The White House has been distracted, of course, by domestic political issues. But in terms of Iran, I think so much of this also calls into question this maximum pressure campaign that they've been waging against Iran. Are these sanctions working in the way that they want? Critics say that this is a result of this maximum pressure campaign and what they're seeing is Iran lashing out because of it. It does call into question, of course, the Trump Administration's policies.

HENDERSON: And the President vowing this will not be Benghazi. Here he was last night.


TRUMP: This will not be a Benghazi. Benghazi should never have happened. This will never, ever be a Benghazi. But we have some of our greatest warriors there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENDERSON: And Karoun, you see the President there very cognizant of not wanting to be compared to previous administrations, what happened with Secretary Clinton in Benghazi and obviously President Obama.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I mean, look there's an obvious political memory. Gut check here when you talk about an Embassy and protesters that the Benghazi and look the situation around Benghazi, there's been various security measures that have been put in place since then.

There's a difference between where the United States versus Europe was on that there was particulars are different. But yes, for the average person just watching this, it's important for the President to make that distinction.


DEMIRJIAN: Others around the President have been making the same distinction. What hasn't been happening is there hasn't been that self analysis about this maximum pressure campaign, also just about the shifts about how the President moved away from the diplomatic engagement with Iran.

HENDERSON: The Iran Nuclear Deal pulling out of that.

DEMIRJIAN: Pulling out of that. But also I think it's significant that there hasn't been a lot of attention paid in the interim to just the particulars of the Middle East right now. There's been various aggressiveness by Iran progressively over the last several months where we haven't actually punched back, right?

There also have been growing in Syria and Iraq a more variegated, more confusing, more complex system of groups basically. They're sometimes aligned, sometimes not aligned it's not a clean us versus them United States versus Iran. Frankly the President's rhetoric at least even if on the ground sometimes it has been a little bit different has been to say we're pulling back, we're pulling out.

You don't hear a lot of discussion about trying to shore up the stability potentially in these areas because the President has been more focused on pulling troops out and pulling away.

HENDERSON: In his wars, this is part of what he wants to do and turn away from other policies that he's seen as failing.

DEMIRJIAN: Exactly. But that does leave a void when you're talking about countries where Iran has always had some influence for these militia groups that could be easily swayed and helped and supported by Iran to end up in this sort of a situation.

HENDERSON: And he certainly has tried a different course the other crisis obviously going on is North Korea. He had some, I guess, kind words to say about the murderous dictator Kim Jong-Un.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I know he's sending out certain messages about Christmas presents. I hope his Christmas present is a beautiful vase. That's what I'd like, a vase as opposed to something else. Denuclearization that was done in Singapore I think he's a man of his word, so we're going to find out, but I think he's a man of his word.


HENDERSON: And you know the President has at times talked about the relationship with Kim Jong-Un as sort of a love affair, love letters back and forth. He has often said what kind of leverage going into 2020 does the President have? What sort of position is he in now given that we know that the Christmas present is not going to be a vase?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, there's always been a concern about the President's relationship and trying to ease tensions with North Korea. I will tell you that on Capitol Hill this has been a concern for not just Democrats but from Republicans as well. You can imagine what would happen if President Obama had sat down with Kim Jong-Un in the same way that President Trump have?

I mean, there's been concerns about what are they discussing? Have they done anything to really stabilize the region? That's been really unclear. And I think that going into 2020 he really has twin conflicts on his hand here. That could really have an impact on voter who feel like the economy is going well things have seemed to be easing and yet here we are on the eve of an election coming up in November.

HENDERSON: And John Bolton, of course, the Former Trump National Security Advisor, here is what he had to say on Twitter, how to respond to Kim Jong-Un's threatening New Year's remarks? The U.S. should fully resume all cancelled or downsized military exercises in South Korea, hold congressional hearings on whether troops are truly ready to fight tonight. Those are obviously sort of fighting words from the Ex-NSA Advisor there John Bolton. And we'll see what happens with this twin crisis that you talk about.

Up next, one Republican Senator says impeachment could be over just in time for the State of the Union Address.



HENDERSON: Welcome back. The calendar now officially reads 2020. That means a renewed sense of urgency about nailing down a timeline for the Senate impeachment trial. Of course, nobody really knows how this is going to play out, but that won't stop lawmakers from making a few predictions. Here's Republican Senator Roy Blunt on a radio show in Colombia, Missouri.


SEN. ROY BLUNT, (R-MO): I think it will still happen quickly. The President's been invited by the Speaker to come and give the State of the Union speech on February the 4th. My guess is we'll be done with this by the time the President comes. But he's going to be up there February 4th talking about what he wants to talk about, which I assume should be the economy.


HENDERSON: What do you make of those comments there? Is this optimistic? This seems to be the burning question in Washington, when this thing is actually going to start?

DEMIRJIAN: When it starts, how long it takes, do they have any witnesses? All of that dictates whether it's going to be two weeks or potentially more. I think that every Republican is probably eyeing that February 4th date on the calendar right now and thinking that could be Trump's victory lap because I think we assume that he's going to be eventually acquitted by the Senate regard less of how the form that this takes.

But do Democrats want to give him that opportunity is kind of the big question? And right now Pelosi holds the articles in her hand and Schumer may have some leverage with a few of the Republicans. Mitch McConnell needs to get to 51 of those Republicans backing the idea of no witnesses.

Schumer has basically already promised to force some votes on pulling some of these individuals who are not part of the House's impeachment inquiry in the President's inner circle into this process. Some members of the GOP that have said the President should be able to call witnesses too, which potentially opens the Pandora's box of the Bidens and whistleblower and everything else that turns it into a bit of a very extended circus atmosphere potentially that would take us way--

HENDERSON: All right, which in some ways the President seemed to suggest weeks ago that he wanted some sort of big, showy circus like trial.


HENDERSON: But here he is saying something quite different last night.


TRUMP: I think the impeachment thing, I call it impeachment lie. It's a disgrace. Nancy Pelosi should be ashamed of herself. She's a highly overrated person. I know her well. She's highly overrated.


TRUMP: I don't really care. It doesn't matter. As far as I'm concerned, I'd be very happy with a trial. We did that thing wrong. We didn't even have a witness and we won 196-0.


HENDERSON: They didn't win 196-0, but details. Talk to me about Pelosi. There was some surprise after they voted on the articles of impeachment that she was holding them. Is this something that you see lasting? Is she going to hold onto them permanently? What's your sense of what you are hearing from her?

FOX: There was a lot of surprise that she held onto them. Of course, there was a question of whether or not Schumer and McConnell could come to some kind of an agreement. Once you send the articles over, technically the impeachment trial would start the next day at 1:00. Perhaps she was holding them back because she didn't want to fall backwards into this impeachment trial.

But I will tell you, that there is an expectation that everyone hopes this gets worked out the very first week that they get back from the Christmas holiday. The reason for that is because you see Republicans not wanting this to stretch far beyond early February. Also there might be some Democrats who want to get back out on the campaign trail. They don't want to be stuck on the Senate floor the whole time either.

Although their leadership is telling them this is your first responsibility. So that's where things stand at this point. But I'll tell you McConnell's made it very clear he is not going to start the trial until he gets those articles of impeachment from Nancy Pelosi, despite the fact that I'm sure there are some in the White House, perhaps even the President himself, who wish that McConnell would do this without her sending them over. There's just really a very difficult process ahead if that's the route he's going to take.

DEMIRJIAN: That said though there's something to the February 4th date. If that trial is still going on, and the President has to speak to the nation while he is still under scrutiny even if we think it's going to end with his acquittal that it would put him in a very strange position, put the GOP in a very strange position too.

HENDERSON: It's a good point. Trump tweeting again I mean, as much as he says he doesn't really care about a trial, he says read the transcripts. This is from yesterday Twitter. Remember when Pelosi was screaming that President Trump is a danger to our nation and we must move quickly. They didn't get one Republican House vote and lost to the Democrats. They produce no case so now she doesn't want to go to the Senate. She's all lies. Most overrated person I know. Meredith, what does this tell us about the President's mindset?

MCGRAW: Well, the President is concerned about how this looks for him for his legacy, but it's also a major talking point for him on the campaign trail. Some of his advisors, you know, see this as a way for him to say this is what happens when you come into Washington and try to drain the swamp. You get backlash from Democrats.

So you'll see, of course, more of him talking about this out on the campaign trail. Even when he was down in Mar-a-Lago, I talked to a few folks who saw him when he was there and they said that he was talking about how he's actually gone up in polling since all of this began. Obviously his poll numbers are still quite low, but he thinks that this is somehow working.

ROGERS: Just to jump in, it's interesting if you look at who's been down at Mar-a-Lago with him.

HENDERSON: Rudy Giuliani being one. And I'm going to introduce - here's what he had to say about possibly being a witness.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I would testify. I would do demonstrations. I'd give lectures, I'd give summations. Or I'd do what I do best, I'd try the case. I'd love to try the case.


HENDERSON: And I imagine Democrats might love to see him give demonstrations, lectures and summations. Just not so sure that Republicans would.

ROGERS: Yes. So I mean, all of this amounts to a President who actually really does seem to care, by the way. He said he didn't care last night. We should just put it aside and just say that--

HENDERSON: He does care really, really.

ROGERS: And so the people he has around with him and who have been with him in this - if you've never been down there, it's important to understand what Mar-a-Lago is to the President. It's a safe space for him, it's a happy place. He can bring the party to him. He has Alan Dershowitz down there with him. He has Rudy Giuliani down there with him.

Internally he wants legal experts near him at every point during this process. So he's been around people who are saying let's do it, let's bring it all out. That is sort of the bet Nancy Pelosi was making withholding that. That's the risk and the bet she's taking that he is a wildcard who's just going to come out and say whatever let's do a trial, let's do a huge circus like you're saying. And that's sort of the gamble she is taking and he's down there hearing all of this assorted input, let's try the case.

HENDERSON: And there's a bit of a vacuum now because people are at home in their own districts.


HENDERSON: They think about folks on Congress so you know in the meantime he's filling it with whatever tweets and input he's getting from folks there in Mar-a-Lago. We'll see what happens with this? Up next, Pete Buttigieg is starting the New Year off on a very high note.


HENDERSON: Pete Buttigieg is kicking off the election year with a bang.