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INSIDE POLITICS

Iranian-Backed Militia Calls For Withdrawal Of U.S. Forces; Trump Enters Location Year Facing Crises In Iran and North Korea; Netanyahu Requests Immunity In Three Corruption Cases; Bill Taylor Departs Post As Top U.S. Diplomat In Ukraine; Biden Lands First Iowa Congressional Endorsement. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 2, 2020 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:18]

MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: We're getting a fresh look at the destruction inside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. You can see the burned-out buildings, smashed windows with rubble littering the ground after pro- Iranian protesters stormed heavily fortified compound. Security forces have since regained control the area, ending the immediate threat to the Americans there. But this morning the Iranian-backed militia behind the attack calling on Iraq's parliament to pass legislation removing U.S. forces from the country, adding that if the government does not act, they may take further action.

CNN's Arwa Damon is on the ground in Iraq. Arwa, the embassy appears to be safe, but clearly the situation is far from over.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is far from over and that is because this group's demand that the U.S. troops leave Iraq has yet to be fulfilled. And there is a clock on that demand that they're making of parliament to draft this legislation, saying that they're willing to give them about a week to at the very least prove that they have serious intentions.

We also heard from one of Iran's top commanders who was responding to additional threats being made by the White House, pretty much trying to give America a lesson and manners saying that Iran should be addressed with respect and warning that they still to paraphrase, still have other cards that they can potentially play. Now, in front of the embassy right now the situation is normal, so to speak, in the sense that the Iraqi security forces are manning their checkpoints once again, and you can only go through if you have a proper I.D. or an escort.

Big question, of course, is where were these security forces during this attack and attempt to breach the walls of the embassy. The answer to that, Manu, goes to the very core of who these demonstrators were. They were not your ordinary protesters. They were, by and large, members of or supporters of this paramilitary force known as the popular mobilization force that ostensibly is part of the Iraqi security force's apparatus. This force, however, is largely made up of former members of any number of Shia militia who actually cut their teeth fighting the Americans for years back during the U.S.-led occupation. They currently are very powerful, both militarily and politically. That is who managed to make it to the gate of the United States here in Baghdad.

RAJU: Couldn't clear a lot more that will transpire in the days ahead. We'll keep monitoring that. Arwa Damon, from Baghdad, thank you for that report.

Now the President here in -- over his holiday has been hailing what happened as a victory. He was tweeting about how this is not like what happened in Benghazi. This is a sampling of his tweets over the last couple of days.

But the reality is that this is a very dangerous situation and based on the reporting on the ground, it seems that the Iraqis essentially cut a deal with the Iranians including allowing the demonstrators to actually storm the green zone where the U.S. Embassy is located in Baghdad. And he's right that nobody lost their lives, thankfully, in the demonstration that occurred over the last couple of days, but this is a highly fluid and dangerous situation. Is he declaring victory pretty much earlier?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Yes, I mean, burning and breaking an American -- part of an American embassy is never a good news. I know I can't believe I have to say then on television.

The problem here is that the American sanctions on Iran are having -- are working in the sense that they're really damaging Iran's economy, but they have done nothing to Iran's political will except make things worse. And so we're now seeing sort of this careful escalation by the -- or maybe not careful but we're seeing those in this escalation by the Iranians.

You know, the administration has warned Iran against attacks on American personnel facilities since at least 9/11 of 2018. This has been going on for a really long time and this new pressure on Iran doesn't seem to be (INAUDIBLE) -- excuse me, to change their ways.

RAJU: Yes. And now the President is entering 2020 facing these dual foreign policy crises. He's got Iran, also North Korea he's staked so much of his own personal style in dealing with the North Korea and now North Korea is warning moving forward with its own weapons.

This is of David Sanger with the New York Times put it in the paper. He said, "The core problem may have been Mr. Trump's conviction that economic incentives alone, oil profits in Tehran and the prospect of investment and glorious beach-front hotels in North Korea would overcome all other national interests. He dismissed the depth of Iran's determination to reestablish itself as the most powerful force in the region. He also underestimated Mr. Kim's conviction that his nuclear arsenal is his only insurance policy to bouy one of the last family-controlled Stalinist regimes." [12:35:14]

Now Richard Haass is President of the Center -- Council Foreign Relations. He said, Trump rejected diplomacy with Iran and asked for too much diplomacy with Korea but neither worked. What do you take away from that?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think in both cases, President Trump tapped into a frustration inside American politics and with many American voters who disagreed with the approaches that President Obama took. Who thought President Obama's foreign policy was too multilateral or, you know, sort of gave these countries too much slack in the case of Iran. But I think President Trump seems to have fundamentally underestimated the will of some of these countries, Iran in particular, to kind of take the punishment and keep going.

And President Trump's political experience is not that long-ranging, and since he became president he's mostly existed in terms of negotiating with businesses to keep a carrier plant open longer, or negotiating with his own party to come around to his way of viewing Republicanism. Like calculating how much punishment Iran is willing to endure or North Korea, you know, what the diplomatic overtures of Korea looked like, or even a more complicated someone like China that's -- it's not really in Iran or North Korea, you want to work with them but sometimes you're working against them like he -- the way he plays these games, they work out differently than they do when you're playing politics inside American politics.

RAJU: Yes.

TALEV: And that's because these were like world leaders, regimes, you know, they have their own internal politics and much longer histories. They take a longer view.

RAJU: And you mentioned about the tension within Trump's own approach. What is the Trump foreign policy doctrine as he heads into 2020? And, you know, he campaigned about shrinking the U.S. presidents around the world not being the policemen of the world, but then he says that he want to -- he talks tough, he saber-rattles. They say, now that there's going to be, quote, severe response by the United States if Iran takes any other action. But when asked about what that severe response is, the Defense Secretary said this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: He's absolutely correct that if anybody challenges us, they will be met with a severe response, a strong response by U.S. forces.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that severe, strong response look like?

ESPER: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to telegraph what we're going to do, but people know that we have vast capability to do any number of things. We will act in response to actions by Iran or its proxies and we will act to preempt any attacks on our forces, our personnel by Iran or its proxy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, I know that we don't have answer there. Of course, you're not going to telegraph exactly what you're going to do.

KNOX: And really knows like if your defense has ever held up a sheet of paper on TV and said, well if they do this, we'll do this. But on the other hand, if they do this, we'll do that.

RAJU: Right, but --

TALEV: But the President wants to get out of the business of war. He says, again and again and wants to reduce the U. S. military footprint in the sort of engagements. And so, you know, these countries are going to be asking, what are you going to do about it?

SAHIL KAPUR, POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Yes, it's like complication in the President's pledge to end endless wars that polls very well with the public. He figured out that there was an appetite to do that, but what is that mean in this situation, do not respond when the United States is attacking this way?

And let's also remember, this is one of the legacies of the Iraq war. There were people at the time who predicted correctly that it would create a void in the region, and Iran seems to have filled that void. A massive U. S. army study found out. I'm just going to quote this. An emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor, unquote. We've seen many examples of that in recent years. This is just another example --

RAJU: Yes.

KAPUR: -- of how that's the case. The other legacy of course of the Iraq war was to elect Barrack Obama President because the impressions would have to speak out against it at the time.

RAJU: And there are still 5,000 troops in Iraq to Pentagon sending 750 more. There are troops still stationed in Afghanistan. The question is how the President will square that for his own campaign rhetoric. We'll see what he says. We talk to voters in the months ahead, but up next, a star witness for the impeachment proceeding says goodbye to Ukraine.

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[12:43:48]

RAJU: Welcome back. Topping our political radar today, is really Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requesting immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases. Netanyahu currently facing indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He maintains his innocence and he calls the proceedings, quote, attempted coup by his political opponents and the media. His immunity request essentially stalls the legal proceedings against him at least until upcoming elections in March. Hillary Clinton updates her resume today in Northern Ireland. She became the first woman to be appointed as chancellor of Queen's University Belfast. Clinton received an honorary doctorate from Queen's. Two years ago she calls it a, quote, great privilege to serve as chancellor. A mostly ceremonial position she'll hold for the next five years.

The White House announcing President Trump plans to attend an annual gathering of the uber-rich and uber-powerful later this month in Switzerland. The President will headline a big American delegation to the world economic forum in Davos. Also going, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and presidential advisors and family members, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Trump canceled his Davos trip last year to negotiate an end to the government shutdown.

In the State Department, official and the Democrats star impeachment witness leaving his post today. The top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, turning over his official duties, and unsurprisingly, perhaps he made no mention of the impeachment inquiry that made him a household name in this farewell video.

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[12:45:14]

BILL TAYLOR, TOP DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: Think of the things that have happened since last June. A new RADA was elected, a new opportunity to move forward on reform, High Anti-Corruption Court was established. There have been opportunities for many of the reforms that have been pending for years and years, to be enacted by a very active RADA. Progress toward peace in Donbass, phone calls between President Zelensky and President Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, Rachael, you covered every second of the impeachment proceedings.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

RAJU: And he was -- the President attacked his character, went after him and said he was a never-Trumper with no evidence to support that, even though Bill Taylor served in multiple administrations, has been a career diplomat. When you look back at it, though, do you think he acquitted himself as a person just simply raising concerns about what he saw that -- about the way that the President was carrying out foreign policy through Rudy Giuliani as it comes toward Ukraine? Or do you think that the President's and his allies have some ammunition to go after Bill Taylor over?

BADE: You know, this is a decades-long career servant. He came in and -- I mean, the reviews of his sort of performance in that hearing were tremendous. I mean, this is a guy who has been serving the State Department for a long time, and clearly he saw something that really worried him and he felt that he needed to speak out and say what the President was doing was wrong. And keep in mind, this is a guy who -- he was the first person to connect the military aid to the investigations in Ukraine. We had sort of been hearing people suggest that perhaps there was a link, but he was the first person that came in and told impeachment investigators, I was told by multiple people that these two things are specifically linked. Now Republicans will say, he never heard it from Trump's lips, so therefore, he's not, you know, a firsthand witness. But, I mean, you could see his sincerity really shine through in that big moment when that he had that hearing.

And so, obviously, the Trump administration wasn't going to keep him along --

RAJU: Yes.

BADE: -- or appoint him permanently but --

RAJU: But you make a great point, it's a ravel (ph) training moment, he said that he was told that Gordon Sondland and President Trump had a conversation which Trump made that direct link toward Sondland and said he made that link by saying -- essentially saying two plus two equals four. He said, he presumed that's what the President meant, but of course those are -- this is the debate that will still come as a Senate trial eventually happens.

Now up next, everyone's pulling out their calendars this New Year. And suffice it to say, if you're a 2020 candidate, it's about to get really busy.

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[12:52:08]

RAJU: As the New Year kicks off, it's almost like a new stopwatch has been triggered on the 2020 elections. Candidates are busy out on the campaign trail today in Iowa, Joe Biden, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer. And in New Hampshire, Senator Elizabeth Warren is set to hold an event this hour. She's joined by in the state by Senator Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang.

It's clear when you look at the calendar that this is the month that is going to be the primetime on the trail before any Democrats have had their first caucus or vote. In just 32 days, Iowa decides that when that happens, it's a bit of early state campaigning chaos. And a lot of these voters are just now starting to tune in. A lot of the voters, they're undecided in these early states despite all the campaigning that has happened so far.

You look at the Des Moines Register showing these undecided voters quoting number of people who have not made a decision yet. And then in the same Des Moines Register on Wednesday, a story came out, quote, saying this. "After hearing former Vice President Joe Biden speak in Tipton on Saturday, West Liberty resident Faye Petersen said she is beginning to think that perhaps he's the one. Even so, Petersen added, she is still undecided. She also likes Klobuchar, Booker and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. And she fully expects to change her mind at least a few more times before she attends her caucus."

That's pretty common though in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond.

KAPUR: It absolutely is. So in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and many other states, it's a small number of voters who say they're undecided. But then you ask them, have you made up your mind or could you change your vote by the times it's time to vote, and majorities of them in most states say, yes, I could potentially change.

Now the other factor about this race is how remarkably durable, how steady it's been. I went back and looked at the averages at the beginning of May. Biden was 29 percent, he's now 28 percent. Sanders was 16 percent, he's now 18 percent. Warren has doubled her support. But other than that, everyone has been remarkably constant.

So will it change? It remains to be seen. This is the time when people are going to be synthesizing everything they've seen and heard and decide what matters, ideology, is it electability? Is it someone who inspires me? We'll find out.

RAJU: Yes, and candidates are rolling out their endorsements, including one today, Joe Biden, Councilman Abby Finkenauer, she won a swing district in Iowa in 2018. She's the top Republican target in 2020. Now, she is in the -- supported Biden in the past, she actually volunteered to work on his campaign, let's just say, in 2008. But is it an indication at all that some of these more vulnerable Democrats may be more comfortable with Biden at the top of the ticket, because given that she is precarious in her reelection standing as well?

BADE: Yes, I mean, you got to keep in mind that there are about two dozen House Democratic freshmen who are in these sort of vulnerable districts where Trump won in 2016. And they -- if they have someone at the top of the ticket that they very much disagree with on policy, they're going to be spending all their time on the trail trying to distinguish themselves from that candidate and sort of dividing the party instead of sort of running with the leader of their party.

[12:55:04]

And I think that that's why you see Speaker Nancy Pelosi, notice she hasn't touched Medicare for All, it hasn't gotten a vote on the floor. But if they have someone like Sanders at the top of the ticket, that's going to be a huge problem for these kinds of members. And that's why they want someone like Joe Biden, whose interests that they agree with.

RAJU: That's going to be the big -- that's going to be the challenge, right? I mean, being able to balance the ideology of the top of the ticket.

TALEV: It is, but the impeachment and the economy are going to be major factors. And we probably need to wait for another year to talk about whether electability is just a code word for Iowa and New Hampshire being predominantly white states where people vote first. But for now, these are the first two contests --

RAJU: Yes. And --

TALEV: -- now with somewhat -- someone important.

RAJU: A lot of these things for these candidates to balance, a lot to go. Thanks for joining us on "INSIDE POLITICS". Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break.

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