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CNN RIGHT NOW

U.S. And Iran Exchange Warnings Over Iraq Protests; Julian Castro Ends Presidential Campaign; Impeachment Looms Over First Senate Session Of 2020. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2020 - 13:00   ET

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


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[13:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, we're getting a look at the extensive damage left behind after protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, smashing windows and setting fire to the building. What this means for U.S.- Iraqi relations moving forward.

Julian Castro calls it quits. The 2020 candidate bows out of the race, thanking his supporters and telling them it simply isn't our time, as other Democratic candidates report huge fundraising hauls.

A new document show just how concerned Pentagon officials were about the president's decision to put a hold on military aid to Ukraine that they were supposed to deliver.

Stop this hatred, a tearful plea coming from the family of one of the victims in the Hanukkah stabbing attack. That victim still unconscious, fighting for his life and expected to have lasting brain damage.

Words of warning, U.S. and Iranian officials are exchanging not so subtle threats following two days of attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. These new pictures show the extent of the destruction by protesters, many of them members of Iran-backed militias. Defense Secretary Mark Esper cautioning Iran from letting it happen again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Clearly, we have always had the right of self-defense and we have more than sufficient capability on the ground at the embassy and poised nearby to respond to anything. But it's important to back up and understand a few things.

First of all, the embassy is situated in a compound that is over 100 acres large. The embassy itself was built in the wake of 9/11 and other things, so it's a very strong, capable facility that would be very, very hard to breach, and it would be a bad day for anybody that tried to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: But Iran's top commander also has a message for the U.S., and it's basically this. We are not heading to war but we are not afraid of one.

Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon is live for us in Baghdad. Tell us where things stand, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you finally have things, relatively speaking, back to normal in the sense the Iraqi Security Forces have positioned themselves outside of the U.S. embassy. They are manning the checkpoints, and once again you still need right now to have either proper identification, the proper badge to be able to go through these checkpoints or some sort of an escort.

But what we saw transpiring, Brianna, really goes to the very core of a series of very complex problems here. (INAUDIBLE), that group that was targeted in those U.S. airstrikes that makes up this Shia paramilitary force has told us that they only agreed to withdraw from in front of the U.S. embassy under the understanding that the Iraqi parliament within about a week would begin discussing and drafting a bill that addresses the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They still want the Americans out, and they're saying that if the Iraqi government can't make that happen within Iraq's legal framework, well, they have other options.

Now, this paramilitary force, the Kata'ib Hezbollah, is a part of. This is a force that is largely made up of former Shia militias. Their fighters cut teeth, most of them, battling against the Americans back during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. So that's really who was at America's gate.

And these groups are very tied to Iran. Within Iraq, they are very powerful militarily because this entity that they are a part of does ostensibly fall under the Iraqi Security Forces, but they're also very powerful politically. They all have corresponding political parties.

So Iran's tentacles are quite far-reaching, especially in Iraq. So despite the fact that the country does feel like it's stuck in this proxy war between Washington and Tehran, the reality also is that extracting itself from Iran's influence is going to be extraordinarily challenging.

And as we have seen evidenced over the last few days, those groups that are under Iran's influence can pose a fairly significant threat to U.S. interests here.

KEILAR: Yes, we saw that very clearly, and, Arwa, thank you so much for being there on the ground to cover this for us.

I want to discuss this now with Kimberly Dozier, our Global Affairs Analyst, and she's also a contributor to Time Magazine.

[13:05:04]

So these militias, they pulled back the protesters. The conditions, and Arwa was laying this out, is that they want this commitment. It's a condition on a commitment from the Iraqi prime minister to push forward a legislation that would withdraw U.S. troops.

So what does that mean moving forward here just really immediately and then just more long-term, what does that mean for U.S. footprint in Iraq?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Iraqi officials I'm speaking to, ones who would like to keep some U.S. presence inside Iraq, say, unfortunately, the U.S. is playing into Iran's hands and that it's giving Iraqi parliamentarians an excuse to kick U.S. troops out.

They have tried this before. The last time, when President Trump made the comment last February, saying that he was keeping troops inside Iraq to watch Iran, that set off a movement in parliament to try to do this once before. This movement now has more momentum. Because we're all describing these groups as armed militia groups, Iranian-backed, et cetera.

Inside Iraq, they are considered Iraqi citizens. The majority of Iraqis consider them heroes who fought against ISIS. Do they like how close some of these groups are to Iran? No, but it's one of these things where, okay, he's somebody who is not on my side but he's Iraqi, and if you attack him, then I attack you. The U.S. risks pushing people to be more anti-U.S. than anti-Iranian.

KEILAR: So you're saying the U.S. is giving them an excuse by having attacked and having killed dozens of these Iran-backed militia, but also Iraqi citizens?

DOZIER: Yes.

KEILAR: And so, I mean, to that end, we saw anti-Iran protests, and then it morphed into anti-U.S. protests.

DOZIER: There are two different groups of protesters. The men on the street, they are the ones who have been part of the million man marches in the middle of Freedom Square in Baghdad. What you saw outside of the U.S. embassy, that was carefully controlled display of political power by militia groups that are armed groups that are part of political parties who have large blocks of power in the Iraqi parliament.

KEILAR: Do they know, though that -- I mean, especially over the holidays, and maybe people who aren't following closely, when something like this happens and they're lighting the main entrance to the embassy on fire, that gets American eyeballs.

DOZIER: And that's what they want.

KEILAR: That's what they want, because I don't know that the anti- Iranian protests garnered as much attention here domestically. And so they're sending a message to, really, the president, right, about what effect they're going to have. DOZIER: To the president but also to the local Iraqi population. Look, the Iraqi population has been very mad, they're furious towards many of these groups, feeling that they've engaged in predatory behavior, because the maximum pressure campaign has robbed them of a lot of funding, so they've had to engage in corrupt practices that have stolen money from the Iraqi people.

But in this case, by getting the U.S. to launch attacks against what are security forces that are technically part of the Iraqi government, while the U.S. tells us there have been 11 attacks over the last two months against their forces, but there is a video of that.

So from the Iraqi perspective, all they can see is the U.S. and invited guest without their government's permission attacking their own forces. That can set up a cascade of negative attention towards Washington and undermine what a very fragile Iraqi government can do to work with Washington against ISIS and also against Iran.

KEILAR: Kimberly, thank you so much for the perspective. We appreciate it.

DOZIER: Thank you.

KEILAR: And then there were only 14? Julian Castro, the former HUD secretary under President Obama, has officially ended his presidential campaign. He addressed his supporters in a video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm so proud of the campaign we've run together. We've shaped the conversation on so many important issues in this race, stood up for the most vulnerable people and given a voice to those who were often forgotten.

But with only a month until the Iowa caucuses and given the circumstances of this campaign season, I've determined that it simply isn't our time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, his decision also comes as his now former opponents announce huge fundraising hauls. Senator Bernie Sanders raised 34.5 million, and now former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 24.7 million, businessman Andrew Yang, 16.5 million, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, 3.4 million.

[13:10:03]

We are still waiting for numbers from the other ten candidates still in the race. So we'll bring you those as we get them.

President Trump, meantime, check this out, he raised a whopping $46 million in the same time period.

Let's discuss all of this with Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent from McClatchy D.C., and Toluse Olorunnipa, he is White House Reporter for The Washington Post.

So when you look at that number, Trump has been this fundraising juggernaut, right? He has been raising so much money. But when you look at the number, it's more than any single Democrat in this race. But when you combine for these 14 candidates, and this is only four of them, they brought in $79 million compared to Trump's 46 million.

I wonder if that matters or how you are analyzing these fundraising numbers, Francesca.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY D.C.: So I was actually just talking to a top a 2020 Democratic operative about this right before we got here, and they were saying that once you combine the Democratic numbers, they feel pretty confident that, regardless of who the nominee is going to be that you'll be able to get that money.

Now, obviously, the Democrats have different ways of fundraising and they're pitting the progressive movement against the moderate movement, so whether or not the progressives, right, who were giving to Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would be willing to give to a Joe Biden or someone else in this race, like a Pete Buttigieg, is something that we just simply don't know yet.

And also vice-versa, right? Bernie Sanders campaign manager today saying that they're not going to take money from billionaires or millionaires ever at any time in this race, and so that money that's flowing right now sort of with some f the moderates would not necessarily be going to Bernie Sanders.

KEILAR: Yes. It's hard to imagine that you could just say, okay, $79 million, because I can't -- I think back to back to 2016, I can't imagine someone who donated or some people but not all of the Bernie Sanders supporters throwing some money Hillary Clinton's way. I just can't see that happening. But it's not a far cry from where President Trump is. So it's important to note that maybe -- I mean, do you see this as Democrats are in the money race? How do you see it?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they definitely are tapping into some of the enthusiasm on their side. This is a historically Democratic primary. There are a lot of candidates. There are a lot of voters that see something in various candidates that they like. Bernie Sanders being able to raise more than $34 million in a quarter is just a huge amount, especially since he's not doing this big, massive high dollar fundraisers, and said he's tapping into this huge enthusiasm that he has among small dollar donors.

So there is that enthusiasm that's going to be important for the general election, and it's important that Democrats can start raising that money from the stage. But it's also important to note that they're going to have to spend a lot of that money because they're competing in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and in more expensive states on Super Tuesday, whereas President Trump is going to be able to hold onto more of his money until the general election. That's going to be an important dynamic to watch.

CHAMBERS: And he really has $102.7 million to cash on hand sitting there right now that he won't have to spend.

KEILAR: That's right. It is important to note that he's bringing in that money without actually being in a race yet against a Democrat, maybe against the entire field of them, you could say.

Okay. So we don't know how much Joe Biden brought in. We don't know how much Senator Elizabeth Warren brought in. How important is it that they top or at least match Pete Buttigieg, maybe even Bernie Sanders? That's going to be a tough one. What do you think, Toluse?

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. I think it is important to note that they haven't put out their numbers yet and we did see sort of a fundraising plea from Senator Warren a few weeks ago where she said she was only at 17 million, She was trying to get it to 20 million. It seems like some of these candidates are raising more than they raised in the third quarter, whereas some seem to be retreating.

Joe Biden seems like he may be improving from his third quarter, but his third quarter was so weak compared to the other candidates that he only really has to grow. But it will important to see what those numbers actually are. And if they're raising significantly less than some of the fundraising frontrunners, it's going to be a sign the enthusiasm that may lead to some changes in the polling where voters think that they do not have the momentum that some of these other candidates have, and Bernie Sanders may get a closer look from voters who are looking for someone who can beat Trump in 2020.

KEILAR: Francesca, I want to ask you about something Julian Castro, who, as of today, is out of the race, something he said, because I think it reflects something within the Democratic Party. He has been critical of the fact that Iowa, which is overwhelmingly white, right, it's over 90 percent white, that they get to have the first say. They're so important when they have their caucuses as the first in the nation, really, deciders, these caucus-goers are.

I wonder though considering President Trump and where Democrats need to make up the losses that they had in 2016, do Democrats need to show that they can have strength in white voter strongholds?

CHAMBERS: Well, in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, those are the places that come to mind, but also -- I mean, there's obviously a large contingent in each of those states of minorities.

[13:15:06]

It's not just white working class voters that they would need to win in those states, or President Trump, in order to win those states, so that's maybe potentially an oversimplistic way of looking at it.

But when it does come to Iowa and it being first, that is currently just -- that is the way that things are. And if you're looking at someone like Amy Klobuchar, who we just mentioned, she had a very good debate, and she probably did raised a lot of money off of that, but that was toward the end of the quarter. So in order to be able to catch up with someone like a Bernie Sanders or a Pete Buttigieg, we haven't seen her numbers yet, but that would have been very, very hard to do.

And the problem for her then becomes, even if she is having this big fundraising surge now to be able to staff up at this point for beyond Iowa, for New Hampshire, for South Carolina, they're really running out of time to be able to do that.

KEILAR: I can't imagine it not being in Iowa. And I love Iowa because the people are so friendly. But if it were not to be Iowa first, I'm just saying some place sunny, perhaps, right? That would be lovely in the winter. That would be wonderful.

All right, Francesca, Toluse, thank you so much.

New documents showing just how concerned Pentagon officials were about the president's order to hold military aid up to the Ukraine.

Plus, the Senate returns tomorrow but still no word on when or even how the president's impeachment trial will move forward.

And an emotional plea to, quote, stop the hatred, from the family of one of the victims in that Hanukkah stabbing attack. That family is saying that their loved one may never wake up.

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[13:20:00]

KEILAR: There's new information coming out this hour that could impact the impeachment investigation into President Trump, Just Security reporting that unredacted versions of administration emails concerning the hold on Ukraine military aid showed Pentagon officials were concerned about the legality of this freeze. This is the aid that witnesses have testified was being held, until Ukraine announced an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here's what Just Security says these emails revealed. Quote, what is clear is that it all came down to the president and what he wanted. No one else appears to have supported his position. Although the pretext for the hold was that some sort of policy review was taking place, the emails make no mention of that actually happening.

Sara Murray has these emails that were published by Just Security. Tell us what they say.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they do get into how this was really just all at the feet of President Trump and what he wanted to do or on any given day. There's all this back and forth where the Pentagon is raising concerns with the Budget Office about whether they could violate the law if they don't lift the hold, about their ability to get the money out the door. And even in the face of these concerns on August 30th, Michael Duffey, the top OMB official, emails the comptroller at the Defense Department and says, clear direction from POTUS continue to hold.

So even though there are all these concerns, it was coming from the top. The president does not want to lift the hold on this money. And some of the back and forth before that really shows the divide between what was going on at the Office of Management and Budget and what was going on at the Pentagon. Pentagon's officials really did not feel like Budget officials were taking their concerns seriously, about legal issues involving this money, about their ability to get the money out the door before the end of the fiscal year when it wouldn't have expired.

So in one of these emails, the Elaine McCusker, who's that comptroller at the Defense Department, is writing to Mark Esper's chief of staff and says, recognizing the importance of decision space, but this situation is really unworkable made particularly difficult because OMB lawyers continue to consistently mischaracterize the process and the information we have provided. They keep repeating that this pause will not impact DOD's ability to execute on time.

And that's the Pentagon's concern that they don't believe that OMB is being honest, that by continuing to sit down this money, they risk it evaporating altogether. They're basically saying, look, the Office of Management and Budget is not taking this seriously and they're not representing it correctly when they're placing holds on this money and when they're circulating talking point on how to discuss it.

KEILAR: So when they're talking about continuing the hold, it almost seems as if this concern is going back to the White House, and the answer coming back from the president and the White House is, no, keep doing this.

MURRAY: Exactly, keep holding it. And the interesting thing is this divide is continuing today even at the Office of Management and Budget. They are insisting today that everyone was all on the same page about holding this money, and Defense Department officials are saying, no, no, we were concerned about this money and we were concerned that OMB was not taking this concern seriously.

KEILAR: Well, the proof is in the email. Sara Murray, thank you for walking us through them.

So when will the House send the impeachment articles to the Senate? I'll be asking a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

And why Australia's prime minister was heckled while visiting victims of the deadly bushfires there?

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[13:25:00]

KEILAR: The holiday break is coming to an end for the U.S. Senate, and first on the agenda, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will make a statement on the floor tomorrow as details are still unsettled around the likely impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. And I say likely because the articles of impeachment still have not been handed over to the Senate by the House. So if and when that trial starts and what it will look like, we are in suspense, until senators swarm the Capitol again on Monday and members of the House show up on Tuesday.

Let's bring in Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted the pre-impeachment investigation. Sir, thanks for joining us.

REP. RAJAY KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Thank you.

KEILAR: All right. Let's cut to the chase here because your name is showing up on these short lists of possible floor managers that House Democrats would send over for the impeachment trial. Would you do it if asked? Have you been asked?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't really comment or speculate on this process. I think that Nancy Pelosi is going to select an excellent group of people who know the facts and can present the case fully and bring credit to the House.

[13:30:04]

KEILAR: Would you consider yourself an excellent person who knows --