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Crowds Call for Revenge & Retaliation as Iran Abandons Limits in Nuclear Deal; Trump Threatens to Attack Iran Cultural Sites, Contradicting Pompeo; Trump Threatens Iraq with Sanctions if U.S. Troops Expelled; Amb. Bill Burns Warns Colleterial Damage from Strike on Soleimani May be Greater than Trump Bargained For; GOP Senators Graham & Hawley Push Ideas for Ending Impeachment Stalemate. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

Here is what we know this morning in the escalating crisis between the United States and Iran. A staggering scene is playing out in Iran right now. Tens of thousands of people are marching through the streets, mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, and also chanting, "Death to America."

This, as Iran announces it will completely abandon any of the limits agreed to in the Iran nuclear deal and are also threatening revenge.

Here in the United States, President Trump is doubling down, and once again going against his top advisers, going against what they say hours before, saying if Iran hits back, he could authorize strikes on even Iran's historic cultural sites, which is considered a war crime.

Here's the president, his statement yesterday: "They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people," he writes. "And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites. It doesn't work that way."

That from the president of the United States.

That came just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The American people should know we will always defend them and we'll do so in a way that is consistent with international rule of law and the American Constitution. We have done it before. We will do it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: CNN is covering it like no one else can. We have reporters around the world, in Baghdad, in Tehran, in Abu Dhabi, and also in Riyadh. So let's get to it.

CNN international correspondent, senior correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is in Tehran and joining me now.

Fred, thank you so much.

You've been watching and monitoring the protests playing out throughout the day. What are you seeing in the streets of Iran, Tehran, right now and throughout the day?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I was right in middle of the mourning processions that were essentially protests as well. So this was the casket of Qasem Soleimani and the others killed in that airstrike. This morning, the supreme leader of Iran himself, Ayatollah Khomeini came and prayed at the coffins and then brought through the streets of Tehran, where hundreds of thousands of people line the streets.

You know, Kate, I've been at many protests and mourning ceremonies here in this country. I've never seen one with that many people and with the same kind of vibe. So the people there obviously if a lot of grief after Qasem Soleimani was killed.

Despite the fact that, internationally, he's extremely controversial. Here in Iran, he has an extreme amount of followers and a lot of people who revere Qasem Soleimani. A lot of people extremely angry at the United States and specifically extremely angry at the Trump administration.

A lot of people carrying placards that said two words, "harsh revenge." And many of them are saying they want that harsh revenge as fast as possible.

I did speak also to a senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader and he said there's no doubt that Iran will take military action against U.S. sites in the Middle East. However, the Iranians are saying they don't want a full-on war with the U.S. -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Let's head now to Abu Dhabi and our Sam Kiley is there.

Sam, the response from Iranian leaders so far, as you've seen, with threats and now a major announcement that they're no longer going to be abiding by any limits that were agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal. What are you hearing?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the interesting thing about this nuclear deal is that it was the United States, of course, under Donald Trump that tore the deal up, and the Iranians tried to stick to it whilst arguably trying to put pressure via attacking tankers in the gulf of Hormuz, support for the Houthis, blamed for rocket attacks against Saudi Arabia, to try to force the United States' hand. That didn't work out, not least for the killing of Mr. Soleimani.

Now we have -- or General Soleimani. Now we have the Hezbollah faction inside Iraq, which is strongly backed by Iran, openly threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz if there's any further military action by the United States.

This causing extreme anxiety, right across this region, with the Prince bin Salman, the deputy defense minister, former ambassador to Washington meeting with Mike Pompeo in Washington today with a message saying, please, de-escalate. That is echoed here in the Emirates. And also the United Kingdom, France and Germany also calling for a de- escalation.

Because what this also has done, Kate, is flipped things, at least domestically and politically, for the Iranian government, which, a week ago, was facing street protests against its corruption and incompetence. And now we see this mass movement of nationalism generated by the killing of Soleimani.


The problems Iran faces have not gone away, though. But in that context, that makes them more dangerous. The more they can externalize their internal problems, the better it is for the hard- liners within that regime -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, that is key context of all of this that we're seeing out when you see what is going on in the streets of Tehran now.

Sam, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Let's now head to Washington. CNN's Boris Sanchez is outside the White House with much more.

Boris, the reasons given for the strike against Soleimani is that he presented -- there was an imminent threat to the United States. And the administration is facing a lot of criticism and skepticism for not making that evidence public. Are you hearing anything more this morning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much in the way of details about this so-called imminent nefarious strike, Kate.

In fact, Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, this morning, scoffed at the idea that the White House would pass this evidence along to Congress. She argued that Democrats would still be unsatisfied.

She also laughed off this resolution from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to try to limit some of the president's war powers. She effectively argued that Democrats are trying to make the president weaker on foreign policy.

Now, President Trump himself late last night on Twitter sort of rebuking Congress' role in all of this as well. Take a look at this tweet he sent out. He writes, quote, "These media

posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress, that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike back and perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given, nevertheless."

On the question of attacking Iranian cultural sites, Kellyanne was also asked about that. She tried to recast them as legitimate targets, saying some Iranian cultural sites are also military sites.

And she emphasized what we heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States will abide by international law when encountering any Iranian aggression -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Boris, are we expected to see the president today at all?

SANCHEZ: No. There are no public events on the schedule. He has been active on Twitter this morning. He tweeted twice about impeachment, saying that neither he nor Congress should waste their time on a hoax. And also on Iran, tweeting that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.

There's one event later on, on the schedule. It may go public, it may not. At this point, the White House is not letting cameras in -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Is there anything -- is the White House offering any response to, I mean, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that any response from the administration would be within the law, and the president saying he would very clearly say they would target cultural sites in Tehran if Iran hits back. Are you hearing anything more to this?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Well, Pompeo actually said that hitting cultural sites is not something that President Trump was considering. And then, just a few hours later, President Trump, speaking to reporters on Air Force One, made clear that he believes that Iran commits war crimes, and that the United States should not be strong up with, you know, international law in trying to be courteous to the Iranians and that the cultural sites are targets.

We have heard some reporting from behind the scenes from our colleague, Jim Sciutto, indicating there are officials within the administration that are opposed to that. So the president will face opposition to any question about attacking these cultural sites.

Ultimately, though, we should remember that the president faced some pushback from officials when it came to the strike against Soleimani to begin with, and he went ahead and did it anyway. Obviously, the question is still open -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

Boris, thanks so much. We'll see what happens. Busy day. Like it always is unfortunately. President Trump is also threatening Iraq after a dramatic move by

lawmakers there. The Iraqi parliament voting yesterday to start the process of expelling all U.S. troops from the country.

The response from President Trump was swift. Telling our reporters this, quote, "We will charge them sanctions like they have never seen before, ever. It will make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

That coming from the president.

CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, on the ground in Baghdad.

Arwa, what are you hearing in response to this threat that President Trump just leveled against Iraq?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of anger, Kate. This is a country that knows the effect of U.S. sanctions only too well, if we look at what happened in the aftermath of the gulf war here.

And in direct response to that, Kataib Hezbollah put out a statement saying. should the U.S. decide to take that step, that they would threaten America's oil supply from the Persian Gulf and they would look to their, quote, "friend" to help them out with that. Obviously meaning Iran.

This group that issued this threat, that is the same group whose leader was killed alongside Qasem Soleimani. It's the same group that was targeted in the U.S. airstrikes last Sunday that really led to this severe escalation that we have been seeing unfolding right now.


And, of course, all of this back-and-forth rhetoric comes the day after the Iraqi parliament voted to push foreign troops out of Iraq.

And it was the caretaker prime minister himself who was making the case to parliament, basically saying, we've reached such a point, there has been such a destruction of trust between Baghdad and Washington, we cannot guarantee the security of foreign forces in Iraq from an external or internal threat. That it is, he was arguing, in Iraq and foreign countries' best interest, to have those foreign forces leave.

It is worth noting, though, that president and parliament, although they were able to achieve quorum, were really only mostly the country's Shia lawmakers. The vast majority of the Sunnis and the Kurds deciding to sit this one out, which shows you how divisive the troop presence issue already is.

And then, of course, there's the issue of the legality of all of this. The current government is a caretaker government. But we are hearing that they have begun to reach out to countries, who do have troops based here, that they say and it seems all indications are they are going to be moving forward with this. BOLDUAN: Arwa, thank you so much. Always so important to have you

there. Really appreciate it. Thank you.

Still ahead for us, President Trump says Soleimani was killed to stop a war. But a former top diplomat says the strike has sparked consequences that the president did not bargain for.

And later, Congress is back at work this week. Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they remain in a standoff over the impeachment trial. And now two Senate Republicans, they each say they have a plan to break the impasse. I'll show you what it is, next.



BOLDUAN: The United States is now bracing for possible retaliation from Iran. This, after the United States, of course, the U.S. strike that killed Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani. He was one of Iran's most powerful men, widely seen as second only to the country's supreme leader. He was also responsible for the deaths of at least hundreds of American troops serving overseas.

Our next guest is one of America's most experienced diplomats. And today, he's warning that the collateral damage that strike could -- collateral damage from that strike could be greater than the president bargained for.

Joining me right now is Ambassador Bill Burns, who retired as the State Department's number-two official after serving five U.S. presidents. He also conducted the back-channel talks with Iran that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

Ambassador, you have a piece in "The Atlantic" this morning with Jake Sullivan and it is striking.

I want to read one part for the viewers. You write this: "No one really knows what comes next, not even the protagonists themselves. But as the dust settles, the collateral damage from the strike on Qasem Soleimani will likely be greater than the Trump administration bargained for. In his death, Soleimani may exact his own final act of revenge against the United States."

How so? What is your biggest fear now?


I think that killing of Qasem Soleimani is clearly a significant tactical blow to the Iranian regime. But it could become a serious strategic setback for the United States.

Remember, three years ago. the president said that, you know, what he was intent on doing is weakening Iranian influence in the region and pressuring it, and then abandoning the nuclear agreement with Iran, pressuring Iran to produce a better nuclear deal.

If you look at the strategic results that are unfolding so far, they're pretty sobering. In the region, it is our position that it looks more precarious today, especially in Iraq, where you have an Iraqi government that is beginning to move toward demanding withdrawal of U.S. military forces at a moment when those forces are still crucial to a fight against ISIS, which is not yet over.

And instead of better nuclear deal, there's no nuclear deal. And in Iran, that is methodically beginning to lift the constraints on its nuclear program, heading in a direction that we knew all too well before the nuclear agreement. An unconstrained Iranian nuclear program and then all the dilemmas that that poses in a region which has no shortage of insecurities already.

BOLDUAN: And let's talk about the nuclear deal and the role of it here. Because you -- you write that this all goes back to the president's decision to pull out of the Iran deal. The kernels of this crisis begin there.

Let me play for you what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this weekend because he argues the exact opposite.


POMPEO: This war kicked off -- people talk about the war. This war kicked off when the JCPOA was entered into.


BOLDUAN: What do you say to that?

BURNS: Well, I would say is that when the Iranian nuclear deal, the comprehensive nuclear agreement, was in place, Iran was still an adversary. It still posed threats to American interests, the interests of our friends across the Middle East.

But we didn't see a situation where unmanned U.S. aircraft were being shot down in international waters by the Iranians. We didn't see a situation where gulf shipping and infrastructure was being hit by Iranian lines and missiles. We didn't see a situation when the deal was in effect where U.S. personnel were being hit by missiles from Iraqi Shia militias as well.

So I'm not trying to argue that the nuclear agreement was a perfect agreement. But it provided a much more sustainable foundation for pushing back against all of those other kinds of Iranian threats.

Now we're in a situation where not only do we face those kinds of threats, but they're escalating. And, you know, we're walking into a situation and a tragedy, which is, in many ways, of our own making, beginning with the foolish decision to pull out of the Iranian nuclear agreement.

[11:20:14] BOLDUAN: And you mentioned the -- what happens in Iraq now and this now, this latest move to kind of pave the way to expelling U.S. forces from Iraq. That is the immediate fallout, Iraq turning against the United States, Iraq pushing U.S.-- moving to push U.S. troops out of the country. I wonder very simply who that benefits the most.

BURNS: It benefits the Iranians. It benefits our adversaries. It benefits ISIS in a way which is trying to resurrect itself as well.

Again, if -- you look at the situation that, you know, we faced even a couple of months ago, where it was Iraqi demonstrators who were torching an Iranian consulate in Iraq, protesting against Iranian violations of Iraqi sovereignty.

Now what we have done has enabled the Iranians to change the channel and basically make the United States the focus of those same kinds of grievances about American violations of Iraqi sovereignty.

BOLDUAN: I want to know what you think the next move should be. The leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. put out a joint statement this morning and the message was very clearly there's now an urgent need for de-escalation. They mentioned Iran by name in the statement. They do not mention the United States.

What does the statement mean? How do you get to de-escalation?

BURNS: It is not an easy thing right now, especially given the tensions that exist in the region. And, you know, we shouldn't be naive about that.

Obviously, what you hope is that everybody takes a deep breath and uses their head and doesn't escalate the situation further, which is why some of the president's tweets over the last 24 hours, you know, threatening attacks on Iranian cultural sites, threatening sanctions against the Iraqi government if they actually do call for a withdrawal, add to the escalation, not to de-escalation.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in.

BURNS: My pleasure, Kate. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Again, his piece up in "The Atlantic" now. I recommend reading it.

Still ahead for us, the impasse over the impeachment trial appears to be going nowhere fast. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley are each floating new, different ideas for pushing past the stalemate. What they're proposing and what it means for the process going forward. That's next.



BOLDUAN: The Senate is back in session, just hours from now, and the House is back tomorrow, which will kick off this critical week in the fight over impeachment of President Trump.

No date set for the high-stakes proceedings to begin. No progress yet on resolving the impasse over how to proceed. And no clues offered on when Speaker Pelosi will hand over the articles of impeachment for the Senate trial to get under way.

And today, a new twist. Two Senate Republicans pushing to change the rules, instead of waiting any longer.

Senator Lindsey Graham arguing they should start the trial, constitutional articles be damned. Look at this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If she continues to refuse to send the articles as required by the Constitution, I would work with Senator McConnell to change the rules of the Senate so we can start the trial without her if necessary.

If we don't get the articles this week, we need to take matters into our own hands and change the rules.


BOLDUAN: While Senator Josh Hawley's moving today to flat-out dismiss the case entirely.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): We need to change the Senate rules to allow the Senate to dismiss this case if she refuses to send the articles over.


BOLDUAN: All right, joining me now, CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, and Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for "Politico."

It's great to see you guys.

Manu, let's start with the new Republican efforts that we we're playing right there. What are you hearing about this? Is this going to go anywhere, what we're hearing from Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, it does not appear likely to go anywhere. Because it's difficult to change rules in the U.S. Senate. First, in order to do it under the normal order, you need 67 Senators to vote to change the rules and, certainly, that's not going to happen with 53 Republicans.

But they could also do something called the nuclear option, which is to change the rules by a simple majority, which requires 51 Senators. So you would think that Republicans could be in line to vote to change the rules, but most likely not because there are a number of Republicans who are concerned about the precedence being set in changing the rules.

Of course, they have done that, already changed the rules for judicial confirmations, but dealing with the Senate impeachment trial is a whole other level that a lot of Senators simply just don't want to go.

One Senator who is not eager to go that way also is Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who made clear in the floor of the Senate last week that he's content in moving along with regular Senate business, confirming judicial nominees and, potentially, the U.S./Mexico trade agreement, while they wait for those articles of impeachment to come over. So he does not seem keen on going that route.

But it just shows you the pressure will build for something, for some action, and on Nancy Pelosi herself to make clear on what her plans are in sending articles of impeachment over to the Senate -- Kate?


BOLDUAN: And while nuclear option sounds quite scary, it has happened, recently. So it is unusual, yet we live in unusual times.