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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Iranian Ambassador Speaks Out On The Death Of General Soleimani; Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) Reacts To Iranian General's Death; U.S. Officials on Alert as Iran Vows Revenge for Airstrike; Washington Post: Some Dems Privately Worried About Sending Impeachment Articles to Senate Amid Iran Tensions. Aired on 7-8p ET

Aired January 3, 2020 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer, tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

[19:00:13]

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUTFRONT: OUFRONT, next. Breaking news, President Trump claiming he took out Iran's top military leader because he was planning a quote, "very major attack."

Tonight, Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations responds. He is my guest.

Plus Americans on high alert around the world. Just how serious is the threat to the United States tonight.

And new details about the President's impeachment trial. Has the Iran attack affected the entire timeline? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news.

Iran promises military revenge against America. The top Iranian official in the United States speaking to me tonight with that vow that it will be military. This threat coming as President Trump moments ago tell supporters about why he ordered the killing of Iran's top military General, General Soleimani, the second most powerful man in Iran, who ran deadly paramilitary forces and the all-powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night at my direction, the United States military executed a flawless strike that terminated the terrorist ringleader responsible for gravely wounding and murdering thousands and thousands of people, and hundreds and hundreds, at least of Americans.

He was planning a very major attack and we got him.

[CHEERING]

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Those words coming just after President Trump addressed the nation saying that he was not starting a war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Tonight, Iran responds saying Trump opened a war against Iran that that is exactly what he did and that military action will be met with military action.

On the streets of Tehran emotions running high. There were Iranians burning American flags, British flags, too, as you see, and Trump is gearing up deploying an additional 3,000 troops to the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Pam Brown is OUTFRONT and Pamela, is the White House worried at all about how Iran may respond to the strike?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the short answer, Erin, is yes. The administration officials I've spoken with have privately expressed concern about what Iran might do next, with one official telling me quote, "Everybody is concerned about the next steps."

I'm told that there was serious debate within the administration leading up to that strike with the overarching concern being that killing Iran's top military leader would lead to more problems, a dramatic and unpredictable escalation.

And sources say this administration expects that there will be some fallout, at the very least from the strike over the next couple of days. Officials are going to be keeping a close eye on how Iran might, you know, might respond to this, and that if things get too severe, there could be further escalation from the U.S. side.

But hope remains, Erin, within the administration that the situation will eventually calm down. As one official told me, the position remains the same that the U.S. does not want war with Iran. You heard the President say that today, as you pointed out that the U.S. strike was intended to stop a war.

But there is real doubt behind the scenes, Erin, that the strike will accomplish that.

Now, the President today also praising the Intelligence agencies that he has often doubted in the past for providing the Intelligence that led to the strike.

Administration officials won't specifically say what that is, and we do know that there have been discussions for months about such a strike, but National Security adviser, Robert O'Brien telling reporters today, Erin, that Soleimani had been traveling around the Middle East, most recently in Damascus to plan attacks against American troops and diplomats -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Pamela. And earlier tonight, I spoke with Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations, the top Iranian official in the United States. Majid Ravanchi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time tonight.

MAJID TAKHT-RAVANCHI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Pleasure.

BURNETT: With these sudden developments, obviously, the entire world is focused on this story. When you look at what happened here, was this a declaration of war?

RAVANCHI: In fact, it was an act of war on the part of the United States against the Iranian people. The U.S. has started an economic war against the Iranian people back in May 2018 when President Trump decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, and they started the maximum pressure policy against the Iranians, putting lots of economic pressure on Iran.

[19:05:10]

RAVANCHI: And they have continued until today. Last night, they opened a new chapter in their attack against the Iranians by assassinating one of our most beloved generals, who is popular not only in Iran, but also in the countries in the region.

So that was, as I said, a new chapter which is tantamount to opening a war against Iran.

BURNETT: So you say it is tantamount to opening a war against Iran. President Trump today said, his words, "We took action to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war." What do you say President Trump, Mr. Ambassador?

RAVANCHI: I do not believe that the U.S. took an action to stop a war, because the assassination of -- the plan for the assassination of General Soleimani was in the making for quite some time.

John Bolton, the former National Security adviser tweeted last night that it was in the making. So it is not acceptable to agree to what the administration is saying that they had enough evidence, as they put it, that General Soleimani was planning to attack U.S. citizens.

BURNETT: Because say this had been in the works for quite some time.

RAVANCHI: This has been for quite some time in the plan.

BURNETT: So Secretary of State Pompeo on that front says General Soleimani was plotting an imminent attack on Americans. That was his word imminent. So can you categorically say that what he said is --

RAVANCHI: Definitely it is rejected. If they have evidence they should show it. They should provide the evidence. I'm sure that they do not have any evidence that can be proven in a court.

BURNETT: So President Trump says he is not looking for regime change in Iran. He also said that today, do you believe him on that? Obviously, John Bolton, the former National Security adviser, said the opposite, as he has said many times before, but when President Trump says this is not about regime change, is he telling the truth?

RAVANCHI: What matters is the U.S. deeds, not the words. What they are doing against the Iranians are exactly to put lots of pressure on the Iranian people to stand up, and that is contravention of U.S. obligations based on international law.

BURNETT: So when you say tantamount to war, an act of war, the words that you used, Ambassador Ravanchi, the Supreme Leader of Iran today said or vowed severe revenge, and his other words were a harsh retaliation to what he calls the criminals who perpetrated this attack, the Americans. So what does that mean? If you're going to have revenge, retaliation to an act of war? Is that a war?

RAVANCHI: As I said, the U.S. has already started the war against Iran, not only economic war, but something beyond that by assassinating one of our top generals, who is being mourned by the people in Iran and in the region.

So we cannot just close our eyes to what happened last night. Definitely, there will be revenge, there will be a harsh revenge. Iran will act based on its own choosing and that the time, the place will be decided by Iran.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you about that because when this happened last night, President Trump did not say that he was targeting someone else and General Soleimani happened to be there. He said, it was him and we targeted him and we killed him. There were no proxies. There was no excuse making. He owned it. Will Iran's response to be the same way? That Iran targets the United States?

RAVANCHI: I'm not in a position to go into the detail of what's going to happen when we are going to act in revenge. But what I can tell you is that by targeting one of our top generals in conservation of U.S. international obligations, using the airspace of an independent country, Iraq, a sovereign country, then the President -- I'm sorry, the Foreign Minister of that country has condemned this act of aggression by the U.S.

I mean, they should expect anything as a result of this this aggression.

BURNETT: So General Soleimani was one of the most powerful people in your country, as you have just referred to Mr. Ambassador, and it's hard to overstate his influence for people to understand.

Americans can understand though what the reaction would be, if someone that influential were killed here or killed in another country, but someone who was let's say, the Chief of the C.I.A., the Defense Secretary or even a Vice President. Does this death change the game completely between Iran and the United States?

[19:10:08]

RAVANCHI: It has -- I can say, it has given a blow to any attempt that might be considered as a possible dialogue between the two countries.

It seems to us, and it is our belief that this administration does not believe in dialogue. They want to put lots of pressure on Iran to agree to American dictate. So that is not acceptable to us.

The way that they acted last night, showed once more that this administration is eager to use whatever it takes to attack Iran, to put pressure on the Iranian people.

BURNETT: To the definition of the word war, when you said it's an act of war, you also said that the war has been going on for quite some time -- that it started with economic sanctions and the United States ending the Iranian nuclear deal. Is this going to become a different sort of war? A shooting war, for lack of a better word?

RAVANCHI: As I said, the U.S. has started an economic war in May 2018. Last night, they started a military war by assassinating, by an act of terror against one of our top generals. So what else can be expected of Iran to do? We cannot just remain silent. We have to act and be vigilant.

BURNETT: And you will have to act militarily?

RAVANCHI: I The response for a military action is a military action. I mean, by whom, you know when, where? That is for the future to witness.

BURNETT: All right, Ambassador Ravanchi, thank you very much for your time tonight.

RAVANCHI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And next, we have new surveillance video that we just literally got as you were listening to the Ambassador. Just in to CNN, what we believe this is actually the airstrike that took out General Soleimani.

Plus, the United States sending thousands of additional troops to the Middle East right now, what would war between the United States and Iran look like, as you just heard the Ambassador talking about there being such a war?

And McConnell's impeachment message to Pelosi, you're dreaming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:15:29]

BURNETT: Breaking news. The surveillance video we have here just in to CNN you, see it on the screen. This appears to show -- appears to show the moment of impact from a U.S. strike, the one last night that killed Iran's top military general, General Soleimani at the airport in Baghdad.

It's pretty incredible just to see that. We understand there were obviously 10 people in those two vehicles which were detonated there on impact.

This comes as Iran's Ambassador to United Nations just told me that the strike opened a war with Iran and was the beginning of a military war, vowing that his country will retaliate militarily against the United States.

Senator Tom Udall is a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is going to respond in just a moment. But first, we have new details this hour on what led President Trump to order the strike on General Soleimani and how it all went down.

Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Trump's top military adviser, General Mark Milley, not ruling out a possible retaliatory attack from Iran when compelling intelligence in recent days showed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander planned to attack U.S. targets in the Middle East, the Trump administration made the decision to kill him according to Milley.

The U.S. decided to act because of the size scale and scope of the planning by Soleimani, Milley said. Is there a risk now to U.S. safety in the region? "Damn right there is risk," Milley told reporters, but to deal with that risk, the U.S. has stepped up its defenses and plans to send thousands of additional troops to the Middle East.

New video showing the bloody aftermath of the U.S. drone strike near Baghdad's airport. U.S. Intelligence learned that Soleimani was planning specific attacks on U.S. interest in multiple countries, including U.S. personnel, a congressional source briefed by the Trump administration tells CNN.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Mar-a-Lago on Sunday to brief President Trump on the Intelligence. When the U.S. learned Soleimani was in Baghdad, President Trump

decided to order the attack, despite concerns by some of the administration about potential Iranian escalation.

These images obtained by CNN showing the wreckage of Soleimani's vehicle after a U.S. drone targeted it as it left the airport.

Pompeo telling CNN, the strike saved American lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There was in fact, an imminent attack taking place. The American people should know that this was an Intelligence-based assessment that drove this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR (voice over): But that explanation differs from the Defense Department. The Pentagon saying in a statement, "This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans." The State Department urging any U.S. citizens in Iraq to depart immediately. U.S. Embassies in Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan, all issuing security alerts.

As Iran's Supreme Leader warns, "Harsh revenge awaits the criminals" involved in the targeted killing. Iran's Foreign Minister claiming Soleimani's death will have consequences.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (on camera): And tonight, there are reports in Iraqi-state TV that there has been another air strike against these Iranian-backed forces inside of Iraq.

So far, the Pentagon not commenting -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Barbara, thank you. And I want to go now to Democratic senator from New Mexico, Tom Udall. He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was one of the authors of a bipartisan amendment to prevent an unauthorized war with Iran. And I appreciate your time.

Senator, let me let me ask you here.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D-NM): Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: The President said moments ago that Soleimani was planning a very major attack on the United States. Pompeo classifies it as imminent.

Iran's top official in the United States rejected that and says that's absolutely untrue. He says the strike was planned for quite some time.

Do you know was there an imminent attack? Was it very major? Is all of that what you understand from briefings? UDALL: I don't believe there was an imminent attack based on what I'd

been briefed on today. My staff was briefed by a number of people representing a variety of the agencies in the United States government and they came away with no feeling that there was evidence of an imminent attack.

[19:20:12]

UDALL: If there is, we should disclose it, and the President should disclose it publicly, so that we know what's going on. I'm very suspicious here.

BURNETT: Wow. It's important that you say that because they've been obviously, you know, quite loud about that and quite categorical about it. The Iranian Ambassador --

UDALL: Well, they're going come to the Hill, I hope and let us know what the evidence is, if not disclose it.

BURNETT: So when the Iranian Ambassador Rivanchi tells me that he considers this strike an act of war. Do you consider the killing of Iran's top general, the second most powerful person in their entire country an act of war?

UDALL: Well, I think if you looked at it with the shoe on the other foot, let's say for example, we had our Secretary of Defense in the country in the Middle East, and the Iranians assassinated our Secretary of Defense, I think we would consider that an act of war. And I think we would declare it as a serious national security threat and we would take very, very strong action.

So I think we're in an area that the War Powers Act calls for hostilities, I believe we should bring a War Powers Resolution to the floor of the Senate. It's privileged and so we can get a vote.

As you know, Senator McConnell hasn't let us have very many votes, but I think that's what we ought to be doing, and I would urge all of our presidential candidates to speak up and say that the AUMFs that might be used here do not apply and that we need to have a vote on whether or not we should get into a war in this case --

BURNETT: You mean, the authorization for the President to use for by saying Soleimani was a terrorist, is that what you're referring to?

UDALL: Yes. I think the war with Iran is a matter for Congress, not the President. So that's why he is pulling this imminent. He is trying to say imminent, because he is making it sound like it goes around what the law is where there's been no proof of that. There's been no evidence at this point.

If they want to get into war with Iran, they should disclose why to the American public.

BURNETT: So the Iranian Ambassador describes this as a military war that Trump is starting and then was very explicit that a military action would be met with a military action. He was not clear, though as to whether that would involve proxies or

where or anything like that. But what do you think that means? They are very clear that they are going to respond militarily.

UDALL: Well, I don't have any doubt that this is going to be an escalation. I think this has been going on for months. They do something, we do something. By now taking out this key general, we are escalating this to the very point of war and we should expect some very terrible consequences.

I don't want to see it happen, but I think that's the position that the President has gotten us into, very, very perilous ground that we're on.

BURNETT: I want to play something for you that Donald Trump said and he was then just Donald Trump, the business person about President Obama. This is in November of 2011.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our President will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. I believe that he will attack Iran sometime prior to the election because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected. Isn't it pathetic?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Some Democrats are now accusing President Trump of doing what he said Obama would do. But yet senator, every Democrat has begun their statement by saying Soleimani did a lot of terrible things, and they are glad that he is dead.

So is it fair to say -- even though it's unbelievable to have that soundbite -- is it fair to say that Trump is doing this just to distract from impeachment or to win an election?

UDALL: I think it's very hard to question the actual motivation, and that's why I believe the President of the United States should come forward, lay out the evidence and tell us specifically why he has done what he has done here.

And I think he has really pushed us to the point where the Iranians with this maximum pressure campaign with us violating the JCPOA and saying that we're going to force Iran into a corner.

We've given them no choice, but to carry out some very terrible things and I am very fearful that this is not going to have a good end.

BURNETT: Senator, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

UDALL: Thank you. Thank you very much, Erin. Appreciate your coverage.

BURNETT: Senator Tom Udall. And next, cities across the nation on high alert tonight. Are Americans in danger because of the President's strike? The former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper and the

former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe are both OUTFRONT.

And all eyes on Nancy Pelosi and whether she is about to hand those Impeachment Articles over on Mitch McConnell's terms. We have new details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:29:28]

BURNETT: Breaking news. U.S. officials across the country are on heightened alert as Iran warns of military retaliation for the killing of its powerful military commander.

Police across the U.S. stepping up patrols to defend against possible violence inspired by the killing. They're also watching for the possible activation of any underground terrorist networks that Iran may be able to activate in the United States and around the world.

And the Department of Homeland Security is also considering updating its terror threat advisory tonight. Law enforcement officials though say they are not aware of any active or imminent plot within the United States right now.

[19:30:05]

OUTFRONT now, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe.

Director Clapper, you just heard the Iranian ambassador the U.N., the highest ranking Iranian in the U.S., say that this is -- this is -- Trump started a military war and that Iran is going to respond militarily. It will take military action against the United States.

Can anyone do anything to stop that?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that will be very difficult. I don't know what anyone can do or say at this point given the iconic stature of General Soleimani in Iran -- in fact, in the region, at least among the Shia community. I think that would be very tough.

BURNETT: Deputy Director McCabe, has this increased the chances of an all-out war with Iran? Again, the context being that the ambassador is so careful to say that this was a military strike and it would be met with a military strike and it was an act of a military war?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question, Erin, that we've elevated the risk of some sort of an Iranian response. We know they will respond. We also know from past history that Iran very frequently uses proxies and they use terrorist organizations to execute their activities overseas. We have seen that around the globe numerous times.

We know for a fact that the Iranians have developed an extensive network of potential operatives all over the globe including here in the United States. Just in November of 2019, we saw Ali Kourani who was sentenced to 40 years in prison, sentenced in the Southern District of New York for essentially operating as a sleeper agent of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization controlled by Iran and operating on their behalf in this country for 15 years, gathering intelligence, sending that intelligence back to Iran and to his handlers at Hezbollah.

So that is the concern for folks who are really focused on protecting the homeland tonight.

BURNETT: So, Director Clapper, I'm wondering here. I don't know if -- you heard the Iranian ambassador say in response to Trump saying there was a very major strike that was being planned and it was about to happen and Secretary Pompeo saying that Soleimani was planning this imminent strike and they say that there was clear evidence, that it was coming and it was imminent and they said that the chairman of the joint chiefs said we would be culpably negligent if we didn't take action. The Iranians say this is untrue because they say this strike had been planned.

And yet now you have Democratic Senator Tom Udall, I don't know if you just heard him that this is suspicious of this being imminent or very major, he's seen no evidence of it in briefings today, and he's very suspicious of what Pompeo and Trump are saying. Do you believe the president that there was an imminent attack or not?

CLAPPER: I couldn't help but contemplate the assertion that we're to believe the intelligence as it has been reported to us, not by anybody in the intelligence community, but by officials in the administration, in the face of three years or so and this administration discrediting the intelligence community and law enforcement community for that matter when it was politically convenient.

So, now, we are supposed to believe these assertions of the intelligence and the imminence of the attack and all (ph). So, I don't know what to believe here. I hope, I put a lot of stock in General Milley. I hope that what the administration is asserting is actually the case.

BURNETT: So, Deputy Director McCabe, you know, you hear these -- that they're considering raising the threat level, but they don't have evidence of domestic threats yet but they're worried about sleeper cells. You referred to that. They're worried about what might happen.

I mean, how serious are the threats right now to the United States?

MCCABE: Well, that's the work being done by the FBI and the part the Joint Terrorism Task Force in some 90 locations around the country right now. So I can tell you it's an all hands on deck moment for those folks. They're looking back at all of the cases they're currently working and cases they've closed and haven't thought about for a while and re-evaluating any individual they think has any sort of ties whatsoever to Iran or Hezbollah. Those cases are being refreshed and reviewed and surveillance options

are being considered, coverage with confidential informants and people who can give you insight as to what folks are doing on the ground is being intensified because simply we don't know. I don't doubt the fact that they don't have specific intelligence about an ongoing threat.

[19:35:03]

But you are always concerned about the threat that you don't know. And right now, the priority is finding out what Iranian sympathetic actors might be thinking of doing.

BURNETT: So, Director Clapper, you know, a few minutes ago we played the video of what we believe to be the moment of the strike. I'm curious, from your point of view, when you see a strike like that and just sudden explosion and complete obliteration and there was nothing nearby close to being hit. It hit that was intended to hit.

Is that something to be done with no planning and there's an imminent attack and you just do it, or would that back up the belief that this is something that had been in the works?

CLAPPER: Well, it wouldn't take a lot of time if -- if the U.S. military and that's supposedly conduct -- reportedly who conducted this attack had insight and knew about Soleimani's travel itinerary and knew that, you know, there was a fairly narrow corridor there between the airport and downtown Baghdad which I've traveled and probably Andy has, too. And so, it's a fairly defined area to start with, so that's enough of a target window to put a reaper up and watch.

And so, I don't think -- again, the whole thing hinges on knowing about where he was going to be which apparently they knew his itinerary and it was traveling from Baghdad to -- intended from Baghdad to Syria. I think that was the itinerary. So if they had that information, it wouldn't take that much preparation.

BURNETT: So, Director McCabe, I want to play something that the president said today. This is the spin that he's putting on it. Let me just play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Tonight, though, we're learning deputy director, that the U.S. is deploying thousands of additional troops to the Middle East. Iran's military forces, they've got a total of nearly a million people at their disposal between active and reserve. The United States has 1.3 million active and 800 reserves. So, obviously, you get double when you combine the two and those are two massive militaries and I don't think people realize how massive the Iranian military is. What would a war between Iran and the U.S. look like?

MCCABE: Erin, I don't think anyone alive can tell you exactly what that would look like because we haven't had that experience in many, many, many decade, maybe not ever. I have no doubt that the president doesn't wish to enter or provoke a war with Iran, but the fact is we might have done exactly that last night. So they should be, and I'm sure they are assiduously preparing for this sort of worst-case scenario that you've described.

This will not be like our actions in Iraq, in Afghanistan or in Syria. This is a conflict on an entirely different scale with a highly sophisticated, well-trained and well-armed adversary. We've been going down this road through a series of more bellicose and confrontational issues with Iran for the last year and a half. It's fairly predictable that we got to this point and we started with maximum pressure and we have been, you know, receiving some very aggressive actions from them, the taking down of our drone a few months ago was certainly very provocative on their half, we have now stepped that up to a very intense level.

There is no doubt in my mind that Iran will respond. The question right now is how and when.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. A very sobering conversation, but I appreciate your input very much. Thank you.

And next, new reporting that the Democrats may be having second thoughts of holding those articles of impeachment as this crisis is now going with Iran. The reporter who broke that story is my guest tonight.

And the attack on Iran reverberating on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tragically, his actions now put us on the path to another war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:42:53]

BURNETT: New tonight, a fantasy, that's how Mitch McConnell describes Nancy Pelosi's attempt to influence how an impeachment trial will be conducted in a defiant speech from the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): About this fantasy that the speaker of the House will get to hand-design the trial proceedings in the Senate, that's obviously a non-starter.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Pelosi responded to McConnell in a statement which reads in part, quote: Today, Leader McConnell made clear he will feebly comply with President Trump's cover-up of his abuses of power.

Manu Raju is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.

Manu, so you're at a point right now where, you know, there's a lot of bluster on both sides. What happens now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ball's essentially in Nancy Pelosi's court because she has said that she will not send over those articles of impeachment to the Senate until she understands what the Senate process is and the process in the Senate is essentially stalled and Mitch McConnell made clear that he will move forward with a trial until those articles of impeachment are sent over. So, the question is, how does this get resolved?

Now, the dispute is about this, both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, but Schumer is leading the charge on the Senate side and the Democratic leader demanding that the documents and witnesses be agreed to out front and four witnesses should come and testify, including Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton, the former national security, and the acting White House chief of staff. Also, he wants an agreement to get documents that have not been produced as part of the House impeachment inquiry because the White House stepped in front of it and blocked it from coming forward and House Democrats chose not to pursue that route.

Mitch McConnell says let's punt on those decisions about witnesses and documents until after the opening arguments of the trial actually take place. Now, as a result, the Senate's process is essentially stalled. Mitch McConnell said, today, if we don't get the articles of impeachment, we're simply going to move forward with a regular legislative business in the Senate, including confirming the president's nominees and we'll wait until Nancy Pelosi makes that decision to send over the articles.

But Nancy Pelosi in her statement today, a scathing statement attacking McConnell saying that he's essentially violating his oath to the Constitution to produce a fair trial.

[19:45:02]

And she made it very clear in her statement saying that the senators themselves in her view, need to honor the constitution, but it is not clear exactly what she means.

So, a lot of questions next week, Erin, when the members get back into town, House and Senate, whether Pelosi budges, whether she faces even more pressure to provide those articles and what she ultimately decides to do and whether the senators make any headway in cutting a deal on how the impeachment looks. But, right now, Erin, that trial in limbo can be held up for days and maybe even weeks.

BURNETT: Wow. All right. Manu, thank you very much. And I want to go now to Tim Naftali, a CNN presidential historian,

former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, and Rachael Bade who is the congressional reporter for "the Washington Post."

Rachel, I want to start with some new reporting tonight from you. Democrats, you're reporting, are expected to move impeachment articles to the Senate in the coming days.

So what does that mean from what you're hearing? Does that mean without McConnell budging so that she's going to be forced to move those articles and give them to the Senate on his terms?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Speaker Pelosi has been keeping her cards very close, but we're hearing from some senior Democrats on both sides of the Capitol that they expect they could move as soon as next week. Obviously, Pelosi, the initial strategy of holding the articles was to try to help Senator Chuck Schumer in terms of negotiating with McConnell to get key witnesses on the Senate trial.

But all you have to do is look at the Senate floor to see McConnell and Schumer bickering back-and-forth about the process to know they are nowhere close to an agreement. And at the same time, there are House Democrats who are concerned that if they hold on to the articles for much longer, that they lose this sort of argument that they had to move quickly on impeachment because there is a sense of urgency that the president was a national security threat. And if they hold them much longer, that really undermines the talking point.

And so, there is thought that she's going to be moving on this sooner rather than later. This notion that she would ever hold them until there is a promise by McConnell to allow certain witnesses to appear was never really possible.

BURNETT: So, Tim, to Rachael's reporting, I mean, this is fascinating because, you know, as she's alluding, right? Democrats said they would not move articles until there is a full and fair trial, so that McConnell promised, right, this whole leverage, as she's talking about, right? Nancy Pelosi is going to hold the article so that Schumer can say, well, you're not going to get them until we get the witnesses, right? And they were clear.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Right.

BURNETT: That meant witnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney.

I mean, just listen to Adam Schiff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president of the United States should be tried and the question is now whether Senator McConnell will allow a fair trial in the Senate, whether the majority leader will allow a trial that involves witnesses and testimony and documents. The American people want to hear from people like John Bolton. The American people want to hear from people like Mick Mulvaney. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, Tim, if Nancy Pelosi hands the articles over without getting a fair trial, with getting Mulvaney or Bolton, I mean, have Democrats really lost?

NAFTALI: Well, I don't want to think about it in those terms because what Speaker Pelosi was trying to do is something they've never attempted before because we've never had a divided Congress in an impeachment crisis before.

She was clearly testing whether she had any leverage at all, and this, I always fell was a very low percentages gambit. The only way this was going to work was if the president of the United States who has way more interest in a big, long trial than Mitch McConnell would somehow put pressure Mitch McConnell to give in a little. Well, it's clear -- at least clear to me and most of us by now that for one reason or another, Mitch McConnell has convinced president Trump to be disciplined and to wait.

So then it's a game of chicken and frankly, who loses more from an extended delay? Democrats do, because then it starts to come closer and closer to Iowa.

So I think that the Democrats have decided this gambit, well, it didn't work. It was the first time it's ever tried and Mitch McConnell has forced them to blink first.

BURNETT: All right. Well, both of you stay with me and some new reporting on what the Iran strike means for impeachment and some critics accusing Trump of doing, well, this, winning -- attacking Iran in order to win an election.

And the 2020 candidates slamming Trump's decision to take out Iran's top general.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:52:37]

BURNETT: Breaking news, "The Washington Post" reporting this hour that escalating tensions with Iran have scrambled the politics of Trump's impeachment, throwing the Democrats' plans off course.

Tim and Rachael are back with me.

And, Rachael, this is your reporting in "The Washington Post" tonight. What are you hearing?

BADE: So, I'm hearing concerns from House Democrats sort of wondering why they held the articles of impeachment over the holiday recess and saying now they're going to basically have to transmit them to the Senate at a time when we're potentially escalating into war.

Now, these Democrats are not willing to go on record saying this. They want to give Nancy Pelosi and Schumer the sort of leverage to do what they need to do in terms of communicating and strategizing. But there's sort of this fear that Republicans are going to be using this -- pointing to the optics of Democrats pushing on impeachment while Trump is going after terrorists who have killed Americans.

And we're already sort of hearing that. I talked today with Mark Meadows, who's a top ally of Trump's in the House, also Steve Scalise, the majority -- minority whip of the Republicans in the lower chamber. Both sort of touting this as well saying, look, Trump is trying to defend the country while Democrats play politics with impeachment.

It is a talking point Democrats don't like and are uncomfortable with it.

BURNETT: So, Tim, you know, it comes as you talk about the optics that Rachael is referring to.

NAFTALI: Yes.

BURNETT: President Trump back when he was Donald Trump said that Obama was going to strike Iran and start a war for political purposes to win an election. I just want to play part of that here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-BUSINESSMAN: I believe that he will attack Iran sometime prior to the election because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: You know, you heard Senator Udall who didn't want to go there yet, but do you think that is possibly what's happening here or not?

NAFTALI: I don't want to go there yet either. One of the things I do is I teach my students about the Clinton impeachment and how Saddam Hussein took advantage of a weakened president to test us, and there was a lot of very irresponsible commentary about why Bill Clinton was doing what he was doing in the Middle East.

I want us to stay clear of that until we have evidence that the president has really provoked Iran. We need the president to have all the tools necessary to defend our country.

BURNETT: All right. And it certainly seems what we need, Senator Udall said, a briefing of Congress to understand what that imminent and major attack was that the president said he was striking with regard to.

[19:50:01]

Thank you both very much.

And next, the 2020 candidates speaking out about the strike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did he think about the repercussions of what this is going to mean?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: President Trump just, quote, tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox. Those were the words of presidential candidate Joe Biden who spoke out all along with other Democratic candidates about Trump's decision to strike and kill General Soleimani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are we prepared to counter the possibility of multiple Iranian attacks? Have they thought it through?

KLOBUCHAR: Did he think about the repercussions of what this is going to mean?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you are ready for what comes next.

SANDERS: Trump promised to end endless wars. Tragically, his actions now put us on the path to another war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Strong words from candidates who are trying to make the case that they would be better commanders in chief than Donald Trump.

Of course, our coverage of this breaking news continues on this important evening. Thank you for joining us.

Our coverage is continuing now with "AC360."

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