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Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) Discusses Iran, Consequences Following Death of Qassem Soleimani; Schumer Demands Witnesses, Documents Following Release of E-mails on Ukraine; World Reaction to Qassem Soleimani Death. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 3, 2020 - 11:30   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding answers right now following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Quds force commander, Qassem Soleimani.

The speaker issuing a statement calling on the Trump administration to immediately brief Congress on what prompted the attack and what the White House now plans to do.

She says, "The U.S. airstrike," in her words, "risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America and the world cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return," she writes.

Joining us now, Democratic Congress Andy Kim, of New Jersey. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, former director of Iraq policy and President Obama's national security -- on President Obama's National Security Council.

Thanks very much, Congressman, for joining us.

How concerns are you right now about the possible consequences of this attack, what happens next?

REP. ANDY KIM (D-NJ): Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

I'm very concerned about the consequences coming out. I've worked on Iraq policy for a number on of years. I've tracked Soleimani for a number of years. I'm very aware of the American blood on his hands.

But right now, I'm, first and foremost, concerned about the safety of Americans in Iraq, in the region, as well as what is it that we can do to prevent a major escalation going forward.

BLITZER: Maybe you can clarify this. You worked in the Obama administration on this policy. "Over the years, he was seen as being directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of American troops in Iraq and elsewhere. Clearly, during the eight years of the Obama administration, there were opportunities to kill him.

[11:35:15] Was that ever seriously considered?

KIM: Well, during my time there, that was not something that was seriously considered. I can't speak for other times at the White House in terms of their deliberations.

But certainly, from my own end, when I thought through all these different consequences, you have to think through what is actually going to make Americans safer.

Sure, there were a lot of threats that we faced from a number of different angles, whether it was the Shia militia groups, most recently the work that I did with the counter-ISIS fight.

But we have to think through what is actually going to make us more safe. And that is something that I think the calculus, given Qassem Soleimani and the retaliation that we know is coming under way, that is something that is very much in question.

BLITZER: Secretary Pompeo says dozens and maybe even possibly hundreds of American lives were at risk. What do you need to hear directly from the Trump administration in the coming days to justify this attack?

KIM: Well, we need to understand that this isn't going to be just this one incident here. We're going to have a retaliation against us.

So what I need to hear and understand is, what was the intelligence leading up to this decision, what factors did they consider, and to what other types of steps we could have taken, short of going after Qassem Soleimani, would have been able to deter these types of attacks they say were imminent.

And going forward, what is it we're doing to protect our personnel in Iraq, in Lebanon, throughout the region, as well as how are we going to be postured going forward?

I understand that they're saying their job was to stop this impending attack, but we also understand that this action they have taken is going to spur many more potential attacks against us.

So I really need to hear from them, why they thought this was a calculation that was going to make us safer, because, certainly, right now, I don't necessarily see it that way.

BLITZER: What does it tell you, Congressman, that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham -- he's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- says, in recent days, down in Mar-a-Lago, he was briefed on this attack by the president but senior Democrats, including the members of the so-called Gang of Eight, were not?

KIM: Well, I think that this is a really important sign of a breakdown there between the executive branch and the on legislature on an issue where it should not be about partisan politics at all.

Having worked in Afghanistan before, having worked in the Situation Room before, I always said the last place that partisan politics belong is in the Situation Room, is in national security.

Issue -- an event of this magnitude should have been something that we set aside these partisan differences, an approach with the sober and practical mind that is demanded upon us when we're dealing with people's lives.

BLITZER: Congressman Andy Kim, thank you so much for joining us.

KIM: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, moments from now, Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, they are expected to speak on the Senate floor. How will they react to this U.S. airstrike? And how will the president's actions impact the push for an impeachment trial in the Senate?



BLITZER: Moments from now, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will speak from the Senate floor for the first time this year. We expect him to talk about impeachment and the airstrike killing Iran's top general.

McConnell's appearance comes as new revelations regarding President Trump's role in withholding aide from Ukraine are coming to light. E- mails reviewed by the Web site, Just Security, shows that a top White House budget official made it clear that the order to halt the aid came directly from the president.

The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, using the e-mails to justify his demands for witnesses during the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Saying, and I'm quoting now, "The newly revealed unredacted e-mails are a devastating blow to Senator McConnell's push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we've requested. These e-mails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president's decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself."

Joining us now, our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what is the expectation of what McConnell will say about the impeachment and the U.S. airstrike?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I just asked Mitch McConnell whether he had been briefed about the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani and he said he would address, quote, "that issue on the floor," when he does open up the Senate chamber for the new session starting at noon Eastern time. So expecting him to address that.

And also expect him to address the standoff that's been looming between him and Democrats that were moving forward on this impeachment trial. Democrats have been demanding a deal up front to get witnesses to agree upon, to get those documents released.

But Mitch McConnell says those decisions should be punted until afterwards. There should be opening arguments first and, after that, the Senate can vote and make decisions on bringing decisions on bringing forward witnesses, on demanding documents. That's something Democrats are not agreeing to.


Mitch McConnell is expected to make clear that he is not going to go forward on moving with the Senate trial until the House sends over its articles of impeachment, those two articles that passed the House late last year.

McConnell, instead, plans to move forward on the agenda, President Trump confirming judicial nominees. I'm told he's open to moving the North American Trade Agreement, as well.

So all those issues will come up. And expect Chuck Schumer to address the floor afterward, making his demands clear, as well -- Wolf?

BLITZER: How significant, Manu, are these e-mails? Could they potentially move the needle as far as some of the centrist Republicans are concerned? They need several of them, a few of them, at least four, maybe five or six, in order to get witnesses to appear in a Senate trial.

RAJU: Yes, that's right, 47 Democrats unite. They need four Republicans to break ranks, to vote, to get those witnesses, to get those documents.

At the moment, we are not seeing any mass defections happening. Some centrist Republicans, like Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, Susan Collins, of Maine, who are up for re-election, have expressed concerns about Mitch McConnell coordinating with the White House. But, siding with the strategy so far.

And other Republicans, including one, Wolf, Joni Ernst, of Iowa, who is running for re-election, told me yesterday she's not there yet on demanding witnesses and certainly not calling for these documents to be released.

So McConnell has his conference in mind -- Wolf?

BLITZER: These coming days will be critical, indeed, on several fronts.

Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Coming up, reaction to the strike now pouring in from around the world. We're live from the Israel/Lebanon border. Also from Moscow. Much more right after this.



BLITZER: We continue to follow major breaking news out of the Middle East right now. Iran vowing harsh revenge for the U.S. after President Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Iran's top security and intelligence official.

General Qassem Soleimani was the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Special Operations Unit. He died as the convoy he was traveling in left Baghdad International Airport this morning.

International reaction is now pouring in.

CNN's Matthew Chance is standing by live in Moscow for us. Oren Liebermann is on the ground along the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Oren, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to cut short his visit to Greece to return to Israel early today. What more can you tell us about the concern in Israel about possible Iranian-backed retaliatory action against Israel?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it would be very easy to see a situation where Iran decides not to retaliate against the U.S. but, instead, points its anger, it's retaliation here in Israel, the U.S.'s major ally in the region. That's the reason Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his time in Greece.

It was also the reason for a security assessment from the defense minister and top security officials, including Israeli military chief of staff, as well as the head of Mossad.

It has to be noted, at this point, there are no civilian restrictions or limitations along the northern border.

Praise for President Donald Trump's decision to carry out the killing of Qassem Soleimani has been nearly unanimous across the Israeli political spectrum. In fact, a lot of the statements we have gotten have sounded like Netanyahu when he said this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right.

Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of many American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks.

President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully, decisively. "Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense.


LIEBERMANN: It is worth noting that the defense minister and the foreign minister have chosen to stay quiet. That, perhaps, because they see no reason to instigate or to poke at Iran or its proxies in the region.

Of course, the most powerful of those proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is situation very close to where we're standing right now. Israel knows well the force it has or it could come from Iranian proxies in Syria.

There are options here. Israel is well aware of them. And, Wolf, that's is why the security establishment is viewing this very carefully.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

Matthew Chance, you are in Moscow. You're watching Russia. They're weighing in on all of this, saying the strike will lead, and I'm quote now Russian officials, "to grave consequences." Tell us what you're hearing.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are weighing in because Russia has a unique relationship with Iran. It provides the country with some diplomatic support, venues like the U.S. Security Council. It's got a close economic relationship.

And of course, it provides weaponry and support to Iran as well, fighting side by side with Iran and its proxies on the ground in Syria where both Russia and Iran are backing the regime of Bashar al Assad with some success in that country's civil war.

Qassem Soleimani is somebody who is known to Russian officials. He's visited Russia on at least one occasion to coordinate delivery of surface-to-air missiles that Russia sold to Iranians. He's also basically the point person on the ground in that conflict in Syria that the Russians will have dealt with.

There's been a reaction from the Russian foreign ministry saying that Washington's move is, "fraught with grave consequences in terms of regional peace and stability."


And this has been the reaction of the Russian Defense Ministry, saying it's got serious negative consequences -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Matthew Chance, in Moscow, Oren Liebermann along the border between Israel and Lebanon, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, Iran promises revenge after the U.S. kills its top general. What does retaliation look like?