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Iran Vows Revenge; Rallies in Tehran against U.S.; Drone Strike Kills Iran's Powerful Military Leader; Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) is Interviewed on Iranian General's Death; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is Interviewed about Iranian General's Death. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2020 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Imminent threat that Secretary Pompeo mentioned moments ago was the cause for the U.S. air strike that killed General Soleimani.

Our breaking news coverage continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

We do begin with breaking news.

The State Department is urging all Americans in Iraq to leave that country immediately. This is after President Trump ordered the assassination of Iran's top military and intelligence leader near the Baghdad Airport. This is some aftermath footage of that.

General Qasem Soleimani was the commander of the Quds force of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard. But that title does not really explain what a huge role he played in the region. He was one of the most powerful men in Iran. Maybe the second most powerful man in Iran and across the entire region. He was behind Iran's military and intelligence strategy for the last several decades. Imagine sort of the head of the CIA combined with the chair of the Joints Chief of Staff combined with a shadow secretary of state. He was that big. And according to the United States, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq over the last 15 years.

He was revered by Iranians inside Iran. This is what's happening on the streets of Iran. It's been going on all morning long. Tens thousands of people protesting against the United States. The supreme leader of Iran is vowing harsh revenge on the United States and its allies in the region.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Reaction to this in Washington has been swift. The responses pouring in from lawmakers overnight. Most Republicans backing the president on this, applauding him backing the air strike. But top Democrats are questioning the president's authority to conduct an assassination, a targeted killing like this without congressional approval. Overnight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called this a dangerous escalation. She demanded Congress be briefed immediately. That is expected to take place behind closed doors later today.

We have the global reach of CNN covering this huge story.

So let's begin with our Arwa Damon, who is live in Baghdad for us this morning.

Arwa, explain the man and the enormity of this moment.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just how monumental this moment is, is quite difficult to actually adequately articulate given who Qasem Soleimani was, not just within Iran, but how he truly represented Iran's tentacles, its military tentacles, reaching far outside of its own borders to Iraq, to Syria, to Lebanon.

Those who have been on the other side of his policies -- remember, the Quds force is the entity that is meant to be carrying out Iran's unconventional warfare. Those who were on the other side of this will view this as a success to a certain degree, but they will tell you that his tactics were very calculated, very brutal, and very merciless.

Alongside Qasem Soleimani, also killed was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. He is the leader of Kata'ib Hezbollah. That is the group that the Americans targeted on Sunday in those multiple strikes in Iraq and Syria. He is also a member of -- or his group is also a member of what's known as the Popular Mobilization Force, this predominantly Shia paramilitary unit that is mostly made up of these former militia groups.

This unit is under the umbrella of the Iraqi Security Forces. We heard from the prime minister here, Adil abdul-Mahdi, saying that this isn't just a violation of Iraq's sovereignty, that this is an act of aggression by the United States on Iraqi soil. That this is akin to a declaration of war or at least igniting a war, Poppy, in Iraq, a war that is actually between America and Iran, but right now playing out right here.

HARLOW: And we are so glad you are right there. Arwa, thank you to you and your team for bringing us that reporting. We'll get back to you very soon.

Again, just look at these live pictures. This is playing out in the streets of Tehran right now, tens of thousands of people rallying after these strikes.

Let's go back to our journalist who is in Tehran, Ramin Mostaghim, live there for us.

The reaction, I mean, these pictures really do speak a thousand words.

RAMIN MOSTAGHIM, CNN JOURNALIST: Yes. In fact, in more than 800 towns and cities in Iran, hundreds of thousands of people in post-Friday prayer ceremonies took to the streets to vent out their fury against America and to shout "death to America" and "revenge, revenge, revenge."

[07:05:11]

And they ask their officials to take advantage as soon as possible.

But, on the other hand, the officials are talking and musing what to do and pondering about what should come next. And they are showing some sort of -- self-restraint and, at the same time, deciding what to do. So any attack to the American interests should come inevitably, but it might catch American by surprise, not know there is the time would come for sure, but unexpectedly.

Poppy.

HARLOW: Ramin Mostaghim, thank you again for being there. Critical to have a presence in Tehran. We'll keep you posted on that.

We are waiting to hear from the president this morning after he ordered a drone to kill such a high-profile Iranian military and intelligence leader and why the order was executed now.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins. She is traveling with the president. She joins us from West Palm Beach.

So, all we have heard from him is seeing that tweet of the American flag overnight. Secretary Pompeo, who will join us in a moment, said this is in response to an imminent threat from (ph) American lives.

Do you know what led to this and sort of how long the president had this in the works?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question for these officials is going to be just how imminent was that threat, what was their intelligence on it that led them to carry out this strike. And, of course, those are questions we do not have answers to yet.

You're right, we haven't heard from the president yet. So far it's just been that tweet. Pretty uncharacteristically silent from the president, though we did see him golfing yesterday. He was on his course for about five hours. He didn't make any public appearances.

Now, we do expect to see him later on this afternoon. Whether or not we'll hear from the president on what led him to carry out this decision is still on open question because so far we've just gotten that statement from the Pentagon, which the White House was referring us to late last night. At in that statement it says that this strike was carried out at the direction of the president and, you're right, they were citing that intelligence, saying that they were essentially worried about future attacks on Americans.

Now, part of that statement says this strike was aimed at deterring Iranian -- future Iranian attack plans. Says the U.S. will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.

But the bottom line is, wherever you fall down on whether this was the right decision or not, the question is going to be, what happens after this and is the White House prepared for the aftermath, how the Iranians respond. And that's going to be the question -- some questions for Secretary Pompeo, who's been on the phone with world leaders this morning talking about this decision, saying that the United States is committed to de-escalation. Though, of course, John, the question is going to be, this is a move that is not seen as de- escalation.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins, in Palm Beach. Please keep us posted there.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Max Rose. He served in the U.S. Army, just returned from a trip from the Middle East.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

REP. MAX ROSE, (D-NY): Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Your reaction to the news from overnight, the killing of this huge figure in the Middle East?.

ROSE: Yes, so, first of all, no one should mourn the loss of Qasem Soleimani. I think of the men and women I served with in Afghanistan, many of whom had deployed to Iraq, and some of whom were still dealing with injuries from Iranian-made IEDs that were put in Iraq under the direction of Qasem Soleimani.

With that being said, though, we cannot understate how dangerous of an escalation this could be, how significant this decision is. So my thoughts on the matter are contingent on really two points, two questions. One, what was the intelligence underlying, undergirding this decision? How significant was it? How imminent was this intelligence. And, secondly, what is the plan for tomorrow because an Iranian response in inevitable whether it was a cyberattack, further attacks in Iraq, an attack on a U.S. embassy, an attack on Jewish communities in Europe. Something is inevitable.

And if we are truly committed to de-escalation, then we have to have a plan. And, lastly, we have to make a point about separation of powers. The United States, plain and simple, cannot go to war with Iran without congressional authorization. It is not constitutional.

BERMAN: Does this -- is this tantamount to going to war with Iran?

ROSE: Well, again, the intelligence is of critical importance. You know, to say that Qasem Soleimani was just a national figure I don't think does his role justice. This was an organization that was a power military, non-state actor force. So there's some serious questions.

BERMAN: Secretary Pompeo just said it was in response to imminent threats to American lives.

ROSE: Well, that -- again, we have got to get an understanding of what exactly that means. That could mean many different things. Again, this happened less than 24 hours ago, but these are incredibly serious questions and briefings at the highest levels of Congress should be absolutely mandatory and, quite frankly, it should have happened before this attack was carried out.

[07:10:10]

BERMAN: President Trump, moments ago, retweeted the State Department directive for all American who is are in Iraq to get out of that country. How concerned should you be right now if you're an American in Iraq and, frankly, an American anywhere in the Middle East where Iran's tentacles might reach?

ROSE: You should be extraordinarily concerned. You know, less than a week ago I was in that part of the world visiting Kuwait and Bahrain and Qatar. Our soldiers that are stationed over there. All too often we think of when -- of that region just Iraq, right? Just Afghanistan as it pertains to central Asia. But now our soldiers in that area are moving into Iraq undoubtedly and are also in harm's way. These are the best and brightest soldiers that we have to offer, but our hearts and prayers and our thoughts need to be with them this evening because they -- this is a very serious matter.

BERMAN: Do you feel that the Trump administration had the legal authority to carry out this killing?

ROSE: Again, it depends on the intelligence. It depends on how imminent this threat was. And it also depends on how it related to the safety and security of our soldiers on the ground in Iraq. If it was imminent, if this was a matter of minutes, hours, even a day or two, then, yes, I mean, as a commander in chief he does. But as we think about tomorrow and the next day, what I am certain of is that the president does not have the constitutional authority, based off the '01 and '02 AUMF, to declare war against Iran. That requires congressional action.

BERMAN: Do you feel that this administration, or have you been convinced in the last 24 hours that this administration has a plan for how to deal with the Iranian response in the next few days?

ROSE: Well, that is the most critical question right now. And, unfortunately, because of an absence of congressional partnerships and briefings, there's no telling. There is no telling. And I look forward to you asking the secretary of state that very question.

We need to have a plan. If we are committed to de-escalation, we have to have a plan because a cyberattack is inevitable, an attack on an embassy, virtually inevitable, and we need to have a plan for how we will respond.

BERMAN: There was a French official who put out a statement this morning who said, the world is less safe this morning after the killing of General Soleimani.

Do you agree with that?

ROSE: Well, so the world was incredibly unsafe with General Soleimani alive. We cannot forget that this man had the blood of hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers in his hands. BERMAN: Six hundred Americans, he was directly responsible, as you

said, for the deaths of some 600 Americans in Iraq. Those IED attacks, that was something he was very much involved with.

ROSE: Yes. Very much involved with and very much involved with these most recent attacks. The question is, going forward, though, and this is what I am certain of, is that if we want some type of pathway to peace in the region, we will not be able to achieve that solely via military means.

If you look at the history of Iraq in the 21st century, that has also been the case. We were only able to achieve some type of enduring peace via a deal with the Sons of Iraq, a Sunni militia. We're only able to fight ISIS by getting these Shia militias on our side. Politics is the pathway forward and the only way to achieve that is, yes, with American strength, but also with American leadership and a commitment to diplomacy going forward.

BERMAN: Congressman Max Rose from New York, we do appreciate you being with us this morning.

ROSE: Thank you so much again for having me.

BERMAN: Covering these developing stories that are happening right before our eyes.

ROSE: Absolutely. Thank you again.

HARLOW: All right, so stay right here because next Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be with us to answer all of those critical questions. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:17:45]

BERMAN: We're moments away from hearing from the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. We are also waiting to hear from President Trump this morning. This after the U.S. air strike in Baghdad that killed General Qasem Soleimani. He is the man responsible for Iranian actions all over the Middle East, one of the most powerful men in the region, one of the most important men in Iran.

What are the implications on all of this for U.S. troops stationed overseas, for Americans traveling overseas, for U.S. security and U.S. power around the world?

With us now, CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto and CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Jim, as you sit here this morning, there are big questions.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BERMAN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is talking about this attack being needed to thwart an imminent threat from General Soleimani and Iran.

SCIUTTO: I think here we should talk about -- before we talk about how Iran can respond, because they have enormous resources, let's talk about the U.S.

This was an enormous intelligence victory for the U.S., one, to know where Soleimani was at this time and to carry out this strike. And, in Iran, you can imagine there are concerns today about the extent of America's intelligence capabilities. We should keep that in mind.

Plus, the U.S. aware of him planning other attacks means as well that U.S. intelligence resources were gathering conversations, intersections, et cetera that indicated that he was going to attack somewhere. Again, that shows enormous capability on the part of the U.S.

The trouble is, of course, Iran has enormous capabilities. Not just regionally, but globally. And they run the full gamut, from hard military assets, but also to shadow war assets, hybrid war assets, whether it's cyberattacks, terrorist forces, kind of the ununiformed Iranian navy that is patrolling the Persian Gulf. Small, fast attack boats that can attack shipping, both Navy shipping, but also oil shipping.

And that is the concern today, how does Iran respond? How does it use those capabilities around the world? Worst in dangerous today? If you're a U.S. diplomats serving in that region, it's a genuine concern.

You know, our interests here today as we're talking about this is not to stoke the flames or anything, but it's to talk about the real risk.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And I'll tell you, the potential danger to diplomats is something someone inside the Pentagon mentioned to me last night as one thing that comes to mind. So you --

[07:20:00]

HARLOW: Right, and all of their families.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. And their families who have --

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) overseas.

SCIUTTO: Listen, there are thousands of Americans serving overseas and therefore thousands of Americans here at home who are concerned about those Americans.

HARLOW: So, General Marks, officials in France say that today we may -- we wake up to a more dangerous world. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy asked the question, did America just assassinate without congressional authorization the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war. So, is America safer without Soleimani this morning or a more dangerous world because of his assassination in this way?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, let me -- let me congratulate Jim in terms of how he laid out very agnostically -- excuse me -- the concern that we should have vis-a-vis what just occurred. It really is about our capabilities and it's about Iran's capabilities.

What I would say to Senator Murphy is, why don't you just be quiet. Look, when has Iran ever demonstrated self-restraint? I mean that's the question I have.

So is the world more dangerous today? Maybe it's more dangerous, but when has it not been dangerous? When have we not been a target of a regime like exists in Tehran? I mean it happens as a matter of routine.

What I find amazingly brazen is the fact that Soleimani felt comfortable and he felt somewhat naive that he could simply show up in Baghdad and in his role as the leader of the IRGC and the Quds force, he shows up and he says, hey, guys, how's this going? How's this attack on the U.S. embassy going? Absolutely brazen.

And at that moment, in advance, we had built up intelligence, which was pattern of life, different forms of intelligence. And so we had this target folder on Soleimani and this opportunity presented itself. And I'm certain what happened was we decided -- the president made the determination, let's pull the trigger now. And I was, I would say, not causably (ph) linked to what occurred at the U.S. embassy a couple of days before, other than he happened to be there checking up on what was -- what was taking place.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: And, look, that's one of the questions we'll ask Secretary Pompeo, is this something that was months in the making, weeks in the making, days in the making, or was it --

MARKS: Well, the intelligence certainly was, John. I mean that's -- I mean that's how the -- that's how target folders -- and Jim has laid this out, that's how target folders are produced. Over the course of incredible amounts of diligence and time, intelligence experts and special ops guys, the intelligence community writ large, everybody contributes and you build up this evidence and you go, here it is, pattern of life, be prepared.

BERMAN: But when was the decision made, I suppose the question is. When was the decision made to kill General Soleimani if the opportunity presented itself? Take that in conjunction with the emphasis that we're now hearing today from senior U.S. officials that this was due to an imminent threat which has legal implications.

SCIUTTO: Here's the thing. We know that the president -- this president has had military options to attack Iran before. We remember in response to the shoot down of the U.S. drone just a number of weeks ago, the planes were already in the air when the president turned them around -- when -- he says when he learned of the possibility of Iranian casualties on the ground. The president has been presented options.

After the attack on the Saudi oil facility, he was presented military options again. He balked at those times. This time he did not. So what made the difference here? It may be that the president's red line is danger to or attacks on U.S. personnel, right?

HARLOW: Vibes (ph).

SCIUTTO: Because the strikes this weekend that sparked that assault on the embassy, that was in response to the killing of a U.S. contractor.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Is that the president's red line? It may be.

HARLOW: Yes, it appears to be. It's the clearest indication we have of one right now.

Jim, thank you so much and great reporting all night.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: You'll have it on the show right after this as well.

SCIUTTO: Of course (Ph).

HARLOW: We are waiting for the secretary of state.

Why did the president order Soleimani to be killed at this moment? That is the key question. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:28:14]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Overnight we learned that President Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Sort of the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Iran, compared -- or combined we the head of the CIA, combined with a shadow foreign mister, one of the most powerful men in the region has now been killed.

And joining me now to talk about the decision to carry out this action, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Mr. Secretary, good morning. Thank you very much for being with us.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning, John. Thank you for having me on the show this morning.

BERMAN: You put out a statement a short time ago that says the decision to eliminate General Soleimani was in response to imminent threats to American lives. What was the nature of those imminent threats? POMPEO: Well, John, I can't talk too much about the nature of the

threats, but the American people should know that President Trump's decision to remove Qasem Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives. There's no doubt about that.

He was actively plotting in the region to take actions, a big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it imminent. This was an intelligence based assessment that drove our decision making process.

The American people also know the history of Qasem Soleimani. Hundreds of American lives on his hands too. He was involved in the Beirut bombings. He'd orchestrated an attack right here in Washington, D.C. It ultimately failed. This is a man whose put American lives at risk for an awfully long time. And last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.

BERMAN: A specific target overseas?

POMPEO: I'm not going to say anything more about the nature of the attack, but know that this was not just in Iraq. It was throughout the region.

[07:30:00]

It was using these proxy forces that he has manipulated for so long to bring so much destruction to the Shias and Sunnis, the Muslims throughout the region. This is a man who inflicted --