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Iraq Holds Funeral Procession for those Killed by Drone Strike; Iran Vows "Harsh Revenge" after U.S. Kills Top General; Top Democratic Leaders Kept in Dark about Soleimani Attack; Iran's President: U.S. Committed "Grave Mistake" Killing General. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired January 4, 2020 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN HOST: Well, Iran is vowing harsh revenge against the United States for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Good morning to you. Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Christi Paul.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN HOST: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. Right now crowds of people are still taking to the streets of Baghdad for a funeral procession mourning the military leader killed in Friday's U.S. drone strike.

PAUL: Back here in the states, thousands of additional military troops now are being deployed to that region, adding to more than 700 that were sent there earlier this week.

SAVIDGE: Meanwhile, top leadership in Iran say that they have already named Soleimani's replacement as that country threatens the U.S. with forceful revenge.

PAUL: President Trump says he ordered the killing not to start a war, but to stop one after learning an Iranian general was plotting imminent and sinister attacks against the U.S. Now the president says he's not seeking a regime change in Iraq. We have our reporters and correspondents spread out across the globe right now covering all angles of this story. I want to start with CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Baghdad. Jomana, the people there are holding funerals this morning for military leaders that were killed in that air strike. What are you seeing today?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a short time ago, thousands took to the streets of Baghdad. There was a huge crowd of mourners out for this funeral procession for the ten individuals, Iraqis and Iranians who were killed in that U.S. strike. That includes, of course, Qasem Soleimani and also a very important figure here in Iraq. That is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of the top commanders of the Iranian-backed Shih militias. Amongst the crowds today were a number of senior Iraqi political figures and military officials too.

You had the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi also amongst the mourners. You know this funeral procession was something like a state funeral of sorts. They were being treated as heroes, as martyrs as they were being described. It was a very emotional scene as we've seen it play out on national television here, some young men crying, and others who were really angry. You could see the anger amongst the crowds there. They were really chanting the death to America, death to Israel chants that we've heard in the past here and also some who are vowing to retaliate, Christi.

SAVIDGE: Right now we wanted to find out about how the Iraqis are caught up in sort of the middle of this tension between these two countries, Iran and Iraq. How are the people in the streets feeling about it?

KARADSHEH: Martin, they're absolutely terrified. No matter how people felt about this, of course, some are happy to see the end of the era of Qasem Soleimani who they blame for so much of the bloodshed especially during the height of the sectarian war here. And then on the other hand you have others who are big supporters of Soleimani who is seen as a top commander of a lot of these popular mobilization units, these Shih militias that were fighting ISIS supported by Iran and Qasem Soleimani so there's a lot of anger amongst them.

The one thing everyone would tell you right now is they are very concerned about what happens next, what is going to happen. They feel that Iraq is once again turning into a battleground, an arena for the United States and Iran, regional powers, global powers, to settle scores here, and they're really concerned that they are the ones who are going to be paying the price for this. You know, a lot of people saw this U.S. strike also as extremely disrespectful of their ally Iraq in this case. They see it as a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

We even heard strong words coming from senior Iraqi officials including the Iraqi prime minister who called this an aggression and calling it a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and so pressure is mounting on the Iraqi political leadership right now to act, to stand up to the United States, to look at their relationship with the U.S. Where do they stand right now, to reassess the diplomatic relationship with the United States, to reassess the military ties, the presence of U.S. forces here in Iraq.

On Sunday we're expecting the Iraqi Parliament to meet in an extraordinary session and many are hoping they will be discussing this issue and possibly a bill - a draft bill that would discuss the issue of the presence of U.S. forces here in Iraq, Martin.


SAVIDGE: All right, Jomana. Thank you very much for that. Speaking of U.S. forces, we want to get to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, we understand that there are thousands of U.S. troops now preparing to move.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. That's right and the reason is, for the Pentagon one of the top priorities right now is being ready if Iran indeed stages some kind of retaliatory attack against U.S. interest, U.S. allies in the region in return for the killing of Soleimani. The Pentagon very much focused on mitigating the risk of that. So they have beefed up defenses in as many as 3,500 additional U.S. forces could wind up being sent to the region ust in -- over these coming days.

They're looking very strongly at that and expect that to happen. Expecting a retaliatory attack from Iran but still very much Pentagon leaders say the strike against Soleimani simply was necessary. They're very adamant they had strong intelligence, that Soleimani was planning multiple attacks against U.S. interests in the region. So right now the focus for those troops is protection of the U.S. embassies, protection of U.S. interests and troops, trying to make sure that all the defenses are up if Iran was to make its move next.

PAUL: All right, Barbara Starr, appreciate it so much; thank you. CNN's Kristen Holmes is traveling with the president. We know Kristen, the president was taking a bit of a victory lap last night but there are Democrats that are skeptical about the necessity of this strike as Barbara was referring to. What more can you tell us about what the president is saying in that regard?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christi. So essentially let's go back in time here just to talk about how the president came to this decision. We know from sources that this happened over a course of days at his Mar-A-Lago resort when he was surrounded by friends and allies. Now these officials tell us that he was briefed on a couple of things. One, what the potential consequences were of this as well as showing some imminent threats against Americans from Iranians.

So all of this taken into consideration, military leaders warning him that this could lead to a potential escalation, President Trump decides to launch these air strikes here. So last night, making a victory lap, while he's calling friends, allies, talking about this decision that he made, Democrats start questioning whether or not he had to do this. Was this necessary? Saying that one, why didn't he consult Congress? Not even a gang of eight was notified ahead of time and two, would this lead to a potential war? Take a listen to what President Trump said about that.


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. I have deep respect for the Iranian people. They are a remarkable people with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We did not seek regime change, however, the Iranian's regime's aggression in the region including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors must end and it must end now. The future belongs to the people of Iran, those who seek peaceful co-existence and cooperation, not the terrorists, warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad.


HOLMES: Now, despite these remarks as well as numerous briefings from military leaders, from officials, officials actually talking to reporters, which we know is not that common with this administration, Democrats were still not convinced. We heard last night from Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen who had aides that were briefed on Capitol Hill yesterday and here's what he said about that briefing.


SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: Yes, there was a briefing for staff members, and I had a representative there. And no, nothing that came out of the briefing changed my view that this was an unnecessary escalation of the situation in Iraq and Iran. While I can't tell you what was said, I can tell you I have no additional information to support the administration's claim that this was an imminent attack on Americans and obviously the issuance of intelligence is important especially given the fact that bad intelligence, false intelligence is what got us into the earlier war with Iraq.


HOLMES: So you hear there Van Hollen is not quite convinced there was a direct action but of course, we're going to hear more and more about this in the coming days. The Democrats are not giving up and we do know that there's another briefing for Senators on Monday.

SAVIDGE: All right Kristen, thank you very much. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has reported extensively on Iran. He joins us now from Tehran and Fred, Iran is vowing harsh revenge against the U.S. What more do we know?


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Martin, yes, they certainly are. What we have right now here on the ground in Tehran is that we have a lot of public mourning that's going on and an official mourning as well but we also have those calls to revenge that are becoming louder really as time goes on.

This morning the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, he visited Qasem Soleimani's family and while he was there he said, look, the U.S. does not understand how big a mistake that it has made. He also called Qasem Soleimani a strategist and someone who did very important things for the Iranian nation.

By the way Martin, the Iranians are also saying make no mistake, the revolutionary guard corps is not going to miss a beat. As you've already noted, they have already designated a successor to Qasem Soleimani and they say that organization is going to keep running the way that it has before. Here in Tehran alone, they set up about 1,500 billboards and signs with Qasem Soleimani on it so you can see that public mourning really going on. Then you have military commanders and senior politicians who are definitely vowing revenge.

The interesting thing they are saying is that look, the revenge is going to be tough and it's going to be on Iran's term and in Iran's time. The deputy head of the revolutionary guard corps said that the U.S. needs to watch out. The U.S. as he puts it is in a fragile position sitting in a glass house as he said and these spokesmen for the military came out and said Iran is in no rush right now to retaliate but they certainly are going to do so. Also talking to our own Erin Burnett, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations also came out and said that revenge is certainly going to happen. Let's listen in to what he had to say.


MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We cannot just close our eyes to what happened last night. Definitely there will be a revenge; there will be a harsh revenge. Last night they started a military war by assassinating by an act of terror against one of our top generals so what else can they expect that Iran will do. We cannot just remain silent. We have to act and will react.


PLEITGEN: And, Martin, as far as the reaction itself is concerned, when I speak to Iranian military experts also people inside the military, there's always two things that they tell me. On the one hand they say, look, the United States needs to understand, with their giant footprint here in the Middle East, next to every American military installation, next to every American military base, there's some sort of militia or group that is either loyal to Iran or run by Iran and so certainly U.S. forces, they keep saying in this region are very much in danger.

The line that we keep hearing from senior Iranian military leadership is they say they don't want a war, but they are prepared for a war. The other thing the Iranians also say is that if it does come to some sort of wider military conflict, they've also massively upgraded and extended their ballistic missile program which they say is something that the U.S. needs to watch out for as well so we are seeing some very tough talk from the Iranians. The Iranians do believe that their advantage is that they're obviously situated in this region and they believe that essentially time is also on their side, Martin.

SAVIDGE: All right, Fred Pleitgen reporting to us from Tehran. Thank you very much for that.

PAUL: We want to thank Fred, Jomana, Barbara, Kristen, all of you for your insight there this morning. We appreciate it.

SAVIDGE: Still to come, what are the implications of the death of the Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at home and abroad? Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks and the former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem join us next.

PAUL: Also, "The New York Times" says the Trump Administration is dismissing a court order and withholding 20 emails concerning the freezing of military aid from Ukraine. Coming up, the question, is this just stonewalling or is the White House hiding something significant?



SAVIDGE: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the United States committed a grave mistake in killing a commander that is Qasem Soleimani and that Americans will face the consequences of this criminal act not only today but also in the coming years.

PAUL: According to the defense official, the Trump Administration is deploying 3,000 troops to the Middle East now. That's, of course, in addition to the 750 already deployed to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Let's talk about this with CNN Military Analyst Major General James "Spider" Marks and CNN National Security Analyst and former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem. We thank you both so much for being here.


PAUL: Good morning. General Marks, I want to ask you, the U.S. is asserting that Soleimani was planning a campaign of violence against the U.S. but at the end of the day, another general has already filled that void of Soleimani. So the question, one of the first questions is, was there another option here? Why would you not go after the plan that is clearly already in place and could still be implemented as opposed to going after the leader?

MARKS: That's a great question. Look. Soleimani had his fingers in the Quds force and across the IRGC in a very deep, very compelling and very competent way. Let's stop for a second and let's recognize that Soleimani was an incredibly capable, very competent leader at what he was asked to do which was develop terrorist organizations and then export those regionally and then globally; he did that quite well, incredibly well. Taking him out was the right decision. That would have a cascading effect on the plan itself because there would be an immediate result and there would be a disruption in terms of how that plan might be executed.

Now you're absolutely correct, an organization like the IRGC and the Quds force will always have a succession plan. I mean we in the military, the United States Military absolutely honor and respect those that are in charge but when they have to go away for whatever reason, everyone steps up and you continue the pace - the formation as we say continues to move forward. So that's what we're seeing here that there was an objective, there was an opportunity so the president made a decision and I would say that the intelligence on the imminence of that next -- that subsequent attack we'll find out a little bit more about that going forward. Right now it's simply speculation on our part what that looked like.


SAVIDGE: Juliette, Joint Chief Chairman General Mark Milley said that officials were well aware of the prospect of retaliation but they believed the risk of inaction exceeded the risk of action. My question to you is that under the Bush Administration they also considered taking this general out, the same with the Obama Administration, they considered taking the general out. In both administrations they decided it was not worth the risk. Is it worth the risk now?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Getting back to what Spider was saying, I think the administration owes a better explanation at least to Congress, on what this eminency claim is, right, that is why now? Everyone knows that in a vacuum the world is a better place without Soleimani than it is with Soleimani. The problem is we don't live in a vacuum.

And so the decision to take him out was purely a tactical decision because it doesn't seem aligned with any strategy that seems - let's just say that seems transparent to us right now. In other words, if the idea as Secretary of State Pompeo was saying is that this would lead to de-escalation -you don't even have to think for a moment that that was not going to be Iran's reaction that they would have to react in some escalated form. And I think the question that remains for us - there's a couple of questions.

One is will the reaction be imminent or will it be, you know, they're going to take the long view. The second question is what will be the Trump Administration's reaction to Iran's reaction. And then third is will it impact the region or the homeland? We've been talking for the last day and a half about whether there would be a more traditional response in Iraq or whether there would be cyberattacks by the Iranians against say critical infrastructure here in the United States, so still lots of questions that are not being answered by the White House except for through the deployment of additional troops.

PAUL: I want to ask you about that General, about the deployment of these 3,000 and some troops to the Mid East. What is the realistic effect of those troops?

MARKS: You know Christi, what that provides to the United States and our partners in the region is a force that's capable of deploying, in a very tactical sense, to any location in the region with what we call a very quick closure time. In other words, we repositioned these 3,000-plus soldiers. They can move where they need to move. They're not going to be locked into one specific mission set or to one specific piece of geography.

SAVIDGE: Juliette, I want to ask about the issue you just brought up, the cyberattacks. We may be looking for some sort of conventional military response on the part of Iran, but I'm wondering, what is their ability to carry out some kind of strike here at home at the United States against the American people?

KAYYEM: Well, they've tried, and their capability against some critical infrastructure here and we've been aware of it. The difference is they've done it covertly. In other words, they did not want it to be attributed to them. We're now in a stage where the Iranians may not care whether we attribute it to them, and they might be more aggressive.

I think the challenge on the homeland front is this. About 70% to 80% of our critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector. This is not something that the government can just simply say, okay, protect it. So we're dependent on the private sector to sort of get their act in order.

An attack on critical infrastructure, while it might be a private company will obviously have a public impact, whether it's an electrical grid, a dam or any other critical infrastructure. So we're in this weird sort of quasi-public private space which is one of the greatest challenges from the security perspective but it may be that we see multiple responses.

You see the traditional response that Spider was talking about in the region with sort of wreaking a little bit of havoc here in the United States at a later date, but I think we all agree that there will be some response, and then the question is does the Trump Administration know -- will they just continue to escalate, or is there some de- escalation plan on our part rather on just hoping that the Iranians de-escalate, which seems not likely, given both Soleimani's death but also what we're hearing in the last 36 hours.

PAUL: Yes, Juliette, you mentioned the time aspect of this, and Iran this morning is saying -- you heard Fred Pleitgen say they believe time is on their side. So in that case then General, if we're talking about a cyberattack, I think people are wondering. What would that look like and how confident are you that the U.S. can thwart a cyberattack from Iran?

MARKS: Yes, you know what Juliette just described is really the notion that Iran wants to achieve -- they're going to look for attribution. They want to make a splash some place and that will probably take the form of kinetic attack and I think as Juliette described, that's probably more likely short term to be regional. Someplace in the region we're going to see something break or blow up and Iran will raise its hand and say, yes, we did that and we're capable of that and we can act, you know, of our own choosing when we want, where we want.

The cyber issue is far more nefarious in my mind because it can have lasting effect and in many cases they may not want attribution in that case. The United States has an incredibly robust capability not only to detect intrusions as we call them and to conduct defensive operations online, but, again, as Juliette described, this was her bailiwick, this was in her ruck sack as we called it in her job in Homeland Security which is the public-private partnership that has to take place. Organizations have to be on the alert, which they are. I mean that's the number one thing that's going to take down an organization is some nefarious click on a keyboard and all of the sudden things collapse.


So there will be connections - there are connections that will allow us to have a sense of when intrusions and how we can - and nefarious scenarios that everybody has worked through in terms of what the (inaudible).

PAUL: Juliette Kayyem and Major General James "Spider" Marks, we so value your perspective. Thank you for taking the time to be with us this morning.

SAVIDGE: Thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you. SAVIDGE: "The New York Times" says the White House is withholding

over 20 emails despite a court order. Coming up, who the paper says sent those messages and why they may be significant.


SAVIDGE: The "New York Times" is reporting the Trump Administration is refusing a court order and withholding 20 emails discussing frozen military aid to Ukraine.

PAUL: Now, the "Times" says the messages were sent by an aide to President Trump's acting Chief of Staff and an official at the Office of Management and Budget. The paper says that official was in charge of handling the release of nearly $400 million of military aid.

SAVIDGE: Now the paper reports that a response to the court order that the administration swiftly process those pages. The White House continues to stonewall, refusing to turn over the messages, even with redactions.

PAUL: Now Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for those officials to appear at a Senate trial even as lawmakers fight over whether there will be any witnesses called. Here's CNN's Phil Mattingly.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've been waiting for more than two weeks for lawmakers to start to come back to Washington to at least get some sense of what a Senate trial would look like, maybe when a Senate trial would start, and while two of the most prominent lawmakers came back to town to start the first Senate session of 2020, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. We have answers to none of those questions, at least at this point in time. What we do have is a continued ratcheting up of the rhetoric between Schumer and McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi who to this point has still not sent the two Articles of Impeachment the House passed late last year over to the United States Senate for that Senate trial to actually begin.

Here's the baseline as it stands. Majority Leader McConnell has made clear. He believes the trial should start off not unlike the 1999 trial for President Bill Clinton, with presentations by the House managers, by the president's defense team, giving Senators an opportunity to ask questions about those presentations and then if Senators want witnesses or want to subpoena documents, they can vote on it then.

Schumer, on the other hand, has made clear he wants witnesses and documents subpoenaed as part of the start of the trial, basically laying that all out from the very beginning, something McConnell has said is an absolute non starter.


Looming over all of this, obviously the Speaker of the House. Not only has she not sent over the two Articles of Impeachment but she's very aligned with Senate Democrats who want those witnesses and documents saying that Leader McConnell is essentially in cahoots with the Trump Administration because he isn't willing to allow that at this point. So what does this all mean going forward?

Well, we don't have a lot of answers under the details of what a trial will look like but here's what you need to keep an eye on, the number 51, a simple majority in the United States Senate is enough to dictate how any trial will go, how the presentations will go, whether or not there will be witnesses, whether or not there will be subpoenas for documents. It takes a simple majority vote to make that happen and that's why you've seen Democrats trying to reach out, trying to set the tone, to bring maybe Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber over to their side in their effort to get witnesses and documents.

At this point, though, no Republicans have broken. So what does that all mean? Well, we're going to have to keep an eye on pretty much everything next week when the House and Senate return to town for 2020. Phil Mattingly, CNN, Washington.

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Phil, for that summation. Joining me now, the host of the podcast "You Decide" and CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis. Good morning to you Errol.


SAVIDGE: So let me start by asking, do you think that these emails are significant or is the White House just withholding them as part of a pattern of stonewalling?

LOUIS: Well I think both of those things are true, Martin, actually. The unusual situation here is that we know that the probable outcome of the Senate trial if it ever does get under way. We know pretty much the facts as laid out that people have simply disputed politically. What we don't know though is the maneuvering that will take place as we get to whatever end stage we end up at, and I think that's really where these emails fall in.

I don't think anybody's going to be surprised by what's in those emails. I think the House that impeached the president made clear that there's a ton of evidence, there's a ton of documentary evidence. There's been witness testimony and so forth about what went on in O & B and the actual mechanics of how the aid to Ukraine was being withheld at the behest of the president. If these emails make that even more clear, does it really advance the story? Kind of yes, kind no but the White House clearly is stonewalling and playing for time but I don't think it's going to be any mystery what comes out when we do find out what's in those emails.

SAVIDGE: You know, I will grant that there are legitimate reasons of why the executive branch could refuse or want to refuse to release its communications, but wouldn't impeachment proceedings be a fundamental reason to override that?

LOUIS: Well, I mean look, the -- the confidentiality of the communications between the president and his top staff, that's a legal position that the White House can, in fact, fight on, and they seem to be choosing to fight it in court. But, you know, this kind of blanket stonewalling where you don't even really assert the privilege but you simply just say we're not going to give you any of it, we're not going to give you any redacted form of it, we're not going to give you any dates, we're not going to give you any surrounding information about it, that's something quite different and I think that's going to really come out, again, if the trial gets under way.

There will be a lot of rhetoric around the fact that this information wasn't turned over, perhaps suggesting some evidence of guilt. Now, you know, again, the facts in all of this, Martin, it's not something that's going to come as a big surprise to anybody in Washington or anybody who's been watching this that, you know, the House made this case, that the aid was being withheld for a specific reason. The dates all match up with that. There's been evidence that was given in open testimony. So, again, a couple of emails suggesting that, yes, we're not going to give the aid. I'm not sure how much that's going to add to the whole case.

SAVIDE: Right. I understand. I want to ask you about this. This week the security website, "Just Security," it focuses on reporting and analysis of national security law released details, and what it says are unredacted documents from the administration. And some of the information is concerning. Do you think that the Senate will just ignore any new information that comes from this release of new documents or from the courts?

LOUIS: Well, no and that's a really interesting part of all this, Martin. I'm glad you brought this up because there are smaller organizations as well as large ones like "The New York Times" that have continued to do their work, and going back to the Watergate example, it's not simply the legislature. It's not simply Congress, the House, and the Senate digging.

It's not simply the special prosecutors digging that gives you information that leads to the questions about whether or not there's been obstruction of justice or abuse of power. It's also the media. It's also outside organizations, big ones like "The New York Times," small ones like "Just Security." You know, when you get this kind of information and you get these diligent competent journalists who are using every tool at their disposal including the Freedom of Information Act, we're going to get a lot of information.


And how that sort of affects the trial, whether it's formally admitted or not, if it's being talked about in the newspaper on the day that the trial is taking place, it becomes part of the discussion. It becomes part of the narrative. Frankly, it becomes part of the trial.

SAVIDGE: Absolutely. Errol Louis, thanks very much. You're going to stay with us because we're going to talk with you further later.

PAUL: Yes, we are. We want to talk to him about what's on a lot of people's minds? Is this going to start a war, what's happened in the last 24 hours? Foreign policy is in focus on the 2020 campaign trail. Tensions with Iran escalating. How the Democrats fighting to be the next commander in chief are reacting to all of this and how people are reacting to their reaction, what voters have to say when we're just 30 days ahead of the Iowa caucus.

SAVIDGE: Plus, three fires in Australia have now combined to form a blaze bigger than the island of Manhattan. Next, why that's only part of the problem.



JOE BIDEN, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know there's going to be retaliation, it's certain I promise you. And the question is, have we prepared for it? What are we doing? There's an awful lot of people exposed and so I worry this president

does not have a plan. I hope I'm wrong.


SAVIDGE: That's former Vice President Joe Biden there echoing concern from other Democrats fighting to replace President Trump as Commander in Chief about the decision to kill Iran's top general and what the strategy is going forward.

PAUL: Yes, the Iran crisis, it's quickly becoming a big topic on the campaign trail. Today, that trail runs through Iowa where some of the top candidates are bouncing between several events just 30 days out from the Iowa caucuses, of course. Errol Louis back with us here. Errol, let's listen together to some sound from former Vice President Biden when he was asked about all of this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, thanks guys, we got to get this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So tell me you (inaudible) want to use this moment to question your judgment about Iraq. Bernie Sanders among them today talking about how he was right and you were wrong. What's your response to that?

JOE BIDEN, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't respond to Bernie's ridiculous comments.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any questions about Bernie Sanders' judgment on foreign policies?

BIDEN: You're not going to get me in a fight with Bernie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. And you're...

BIDEN: Bernie's got enough baggage.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: All right, so the president was asked about his experience and if his actions regarding Iraq in the past are going to have anything to do with how people vote.


How do you think what we're seeing now in the last 24 hours may affect how people evaluate who they're going to vote for?

LOUIS: Oh well sure. Look, it's going to put front and center the question that has come up from time to time and that's what that spat between Biden and Bernie Sanders is about. Who voted for the war in Iraq? And it's a half a generation ago and a lot of people may not remember it but there are a lot of Democratic voters who do remember it. There are a lot of candidates, Bernie Sanders chief among them, who are going to try and make that particular vote stick and try and make it an important issue going into the Iowa caucuses.

Joe Biden can dodge a couple of reporters as he's coming in our out of an event but at the end he's going to have to sort of really answer for that. In both cases though, I think the candidates are going to have lay out a vision of how to get through a very difficult situation that has been created, perhaps exacerbated by this White House. We've got a situation now where the candidates, much to their disgust I think, they didn't want to have to do this quite this early. They're going to have to lay out a full comprehensive foreign policy vision for one of the most difficult areas of the world; one of the most difficult set of positions that they could possibly try to figure out and they're going to have to do it really, really quickly.

PAUL: Well, and what's interesting here is going into the caucuses up to this point, a lot of people have been focused on the economy, on immigration, on health care. Does this shift where foreign policy stands in terms of its importance with voters and how does that shift who they look at and how they look at them, for instance, Buttigieg who is a veteran.

LOUIS: Yes, well look - look it's - for the Democratic primary process, the issues are not going to change. It's going to be about health care first and foremost. It's going to be about income inequality and everything else is going to be secondary including foreign policy. However, there's a big debate that's coming up that's going to happen on CNN. There's going to be a lot of different exchanges. There's going to be a lot of mail that goes out.

There are going to be a lot of opportunities for the candidates to sort of antagonize one another and that is something that voters do respond to - who's getting yelled at, who's getting the best of the other candidate on stage and so forth. Who seems to have a vision that makes some sense and then of course there are lots and lots of veterans. Pete Buttigieg talks about it often, those who were sort of plunged into the different foreign policy problems and mistakes of the past. So it will come up in a way. And again I say disgust because the candidates don't want to be talking about this. They want to talk about the issues that they know the Democratic base cares about most. This is going to be a very unwelcomed interjection into the plans that they made. None of these candidates planned to be talking about Middle East policy going into the Iowa caucuses, but I don't think they have a choice on that any more.

PAUL: Errol, I only have a couple seconds. I want to ask you about Marianne Williamson. She laid off campaign staff nationally but she resonates with a lot of people. What do you say about her campaign?

LOUIS: You know it's kind of curious but look, it's clear that that campaign is over. You can't run a national campaign without staff. She's laid off the staff but she hasn't sort of thrown in the towel yet. I think it's just a matter of days before she finally and formally does it.

PAUL: She said something really interesting last time she was here. She said we're governing without a conscience. I think that really struck a lot of people. We're going to ask her that at 10:00 when she joins us live here. Errol, we appreciate you so much. It's always good to have you, thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: And again, Marianne Williamson joining us live later this morning on "CNN Newsroom" in the 10:00 a.m. hour.

SAVIDGE: Well the first weekend of 2020 shaping up to be a real wet one for millions of Americans. Rain is expected from Florida to Maine with pockets of snow along the Great Lakes.

PAUL: Allison Chinchar is with us from the CNN Weather Center. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you. Yes, pretty much the eastern half of the country is going to be dealing with rain and even snow later on today. This forecast brought to you by Celebrity Cruises. You can visit to book your award- winning vacation today and I imagine some folks waking up in the Midwest today, it's snowing outside. It might sound a little good to take a warmer maybe perhaps trip down to Caribbean.

You have snow right now in St. Louis. It's reporting snow at both Chicago airports as we speak. More snow is expected for cities like Cleveland, Buffalo even Albany, New York. But it's all going to be rain all the way up and down from Maine down through Florida. The good news is you're not expecting a ton of rain. Most areas Martin and Christi, likely to pick up an a additional one inch on top of what they already had.

SAVIDGE: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you very much.

PAUL: Now thousands of people are running and conditions are deteriorating still rapidly. What's expected to be Australia's worst day yet in this fire season? We've got incredible pictures to share with you including these. Stay close.



SAVIDGE: A haunting sky over eastern Australia right now in what has been yet another incredibly hot and windy day since the start of the brushfire season.

PAUL: I mean some of these pictures are just remarkable, aren't they? Fire officials in Victoria say three fires combined overnight to obviously form a fire they say is so huge it's the size of Manhattan. Meanwhile the prime minister announced the deployment of the country's largest Navy ship to help evacuees along the coast.

SAVIDGE: The U.S. has three dozen firefighters there on the ground to assist and federal officials say deployments are likely to continue.

PAUL: Anna Coren is with us now in Burleigh Australia. Anna, really interested to know what you're seeing. I feel like we see some embers flying where you are.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's been a lot of smoke where we are, Christi and it has been throughout the day. It's obviously late at night, and we've had a southerly change come though so the temperature has dropped dramatically. We got a few spots of rain a short time ago, but it really hasn't amounted to anything. Look, the catastrophic conditions we were expecting here on the south coast of New South Wales didn't eventuate. The firefighters feel that they have dodged a bullet as have the residents of this area very much surrounded by huge bush fires but certainly down in Victoria, we've seen fires link up to form a huge front, about the size of Manhattan as you mentioned, and then down on Kangaroo Island just off south Australia, there were huge bush fires down there where there were fatalities. Two men died and numerous homes were just wiped out.

These bush fires here in Australia have been raging now for months, but obviously what we witnessed on New Year's Eve was absolutely horrific.


The death toll as it stands is at about 28 -- 23, I beg your pardon. There are six people still missing and thousands of homes have been destroyed. So even though temperatures have dropped and people feel that things didn't eventuate to what they thought they would, the carnage and horror that was expected, we're not out of this, not by a long shot. Conditions can certainly worsen in the coming days.

SAVIDGE: Anna, what are the people there saying especially since I believe that fire season still has a long way to go.

COREN: Yes, that's right. We are only in January. We're in the middle of some of this - this fire season could go on for the next three months. I was speaking to one firefighter today who believes that we're not going to get any substantial rain until April. Australia is also in the middle of a record drought so the people in the areas, in the fire zones that have been affected, have been told to evacuate. Obviously some residents have decided to stay and fight the fires.

We've been with them throughout the day, and they feel they that have taken the necessary precautions and preparations for the fires, you know, if they were to come up. It's scary. It's part of Australian life, but we have never, ever seen it quite like this.

PAUL: Yes, the pictures are just astounding. Anna Coren, we so appreciate the - we so appreciate the report. Do take care of yourself and the crew there. Thank you.

SAVIDGE: If you want more information on how you can help the victims of Australia's devastating brushfires, you can go to We'll be right back.


SAVIDGE: It's opening day of the NFL playoffs, the league's best beginning their quest for a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

PAUL: Coy Wire watching it closely. It's strange to see the Patriots...


PAUL: ... having to play on opening day.


WIRE: Yes, it has been a decade since Bill Belichick's Patriots...

PAUL: A decade.

WIRE: ... have had to play on opening day. Every year they've had that extra week of rest, of preparation. A big part of their success perhaps but that huge upset loss to Miami last week meant that they have to face the Tennessee Titans today. Their head coach is Mike Vrabel. It is his first playoff game as head coach but he's been there many times before as a player with the Patriots. He helped them win three Super Bowls. I had to play against him several times. He's a tough no-nonsense leader. He knows the Patriots' schemes inside and out. The last time his Titans played the Pats last season, he led them to a blowout win. So this game has upset written all over it but Vrabel says the past is the past.


MIKE VRABEL, COACH OF TENNESSEE TITANS: This isn't about my career, my eight years in New England. This is about the Titans and our preparation to go up there and face a team that's won three Super Bowls in the last five years. They've got the best coach, got the best quarterback so it's quite a challenge.


WIRE: All right but in the opening game of the day, it will be Houston Texans taking on the Buffalo Bills, and the Texans are hoping to get a big boost from the return of their man monster, three time Defensive Play of the Year, J.J. Watt. Two months after surgery for a torn pec muscle, he is back. The Texans, they've only had one playoff win since 2012. Now my former team, the Bills, they're looking for their first plyoff win since 1995. Fans are down there by the dozens and I found this interesting fact on Twitter. The city of Houston was founded by the Allen brothers. Josh Allen is the Bill's quarterback on land near the Buffalo Bayou in 1836. So I'm calling Bills by a million points in this one, not because I'm biased, just because of (inaudible) and the history.

SAVIDGE: Coy Wire, thanks very much. That's it for this hour of "New Day." More on the situation with Iran right after this.

PAUL: But first, want to remind you to tune into the State of the Union tomorrow. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff all joining Jake Tapper. That is tomorrow morning 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.