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THE BRIEF WITH BIANCA NOBILO
Pentagon Says No Plans To Withdraw Troops From Iraq; U.S. Expected To Deploy B-52 Bombers In Case Of Iran Ops; Huge Crowds Flood Tehran Streets Calling For Revenge; Democrats Seek Answers About Strike That Killed Soleimani; Australia Bushfires: Family Returns To Burned-Out Home; Bolton Prepared To Testify In Senate Trial If Subpoenaed; Trump's Critics Argue He Has No Strategy For Iran; Tens Of Millions Donate To Help Australian Firefighters. Aired 5-5:30p ET
Aired January 6, 2020 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Tonight on THE BRIEF, as tensions grow between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. is forced to deny its withdrawing its troops from
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton makes a bombshell announcement on impeachment.
And massive bush fires rage in Australia. More on the victims and how you can help.
I'm Bianca Nobilo, welcome back to the show. and a very happy new year from me. We begin now with some fast moving developments. In the wake of the
U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed the Iran's top military commander, Pentagon Chief Mark Esper says the U.S. military is repositioning forces
throughout the region. But he insists the U.S. has no plans to withdraw from Iraq as many Iraqi lawmakers are demanding.
The pentagon is trying to clear up confusion from a letter sent to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, you can see it there, that says U.S. troops in Iraq
are preparing for "onward movement." CNN's Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr tells us how the top U.S. General is explaining things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, coming back in the press room within minutes
of leaving earlier to tell us what he had learned about the letter after making some phone calls. The letter, he says, quote, "That letter is a
draft. It was a mistake. It was unsigned. It should not have been released. Poorly worded. Implies withdrawal. That is not what is happening."
So this letter talked about repositioning some forces. That has been going on. That is very well known, very well understood. But the letter goes on
to say to prepare for "onward movement." General Milley, adamant, that is a mistake.
The letter, as a draft, had been sent to some Iraqis and apparently leaked or sent to the media from somewhere in this chain of events. Milley very
concerned about the international implications, so he wants to emphasize it's not true that the troops are leaving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: And I believe I just said Mike Esper, but it's actually Mark Esper. I blame my jetlag. Apologies for that.
The Pentagon is planning a show of military force as tensions with Iran grow over the killing of the Quds Commander Qasem Soleimani. A U.S.
official says it's preparing to send B-52 Bombers, like the ones you can see here, to a British territory in the Indian ocean incase operations
against Iran are ordered.
Meantime, in Iran, calls for revenge are growing as anger spills out on to the streets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Huge crowds turned out tonight for a funeral procession in Qom, one of Iran's holiest cities. Soleimani will be buried soon in his hometown of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: We have correspondents all over the region covering this story for you. Let's start with Frederik Pleitgen in Tehran where mourners filled the
streets earlier today, as far as the eye can see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Fury and threats as Iranians mourn their top general Qasem Soleimani.
Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Tehran, weeping, chanting, vowing retribution.
There is a great deal of anger here on the streets of Tehran as many, many people have come out here to pay their final respects to the body of Qasem
Soleimani and the others who are killed in that American air strike. Of course, there's a lot of grief, but also a lot of anger at the United
States, and specifically at President Trump and the Trump administration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All Iranians says down with Trump, down with U.S. government. We don't hate American people, European people, but we hate the
policy that they follow.
PLEITGEN (voice over): Many of those in the crowd saying they want Iran to hit back at the U.S., as they yelled, death to America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Soleimani was a hero. He was the only shield against ISIS here, and now as our leader Ali said, you will see a rough
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us we want a revenge, and all of us say - (Foreign Language).
PLEITGEN (voice over): The Trump administration says Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks against American interest in the Middle East, but haven't
shown any evidence of that threat. Also, President Trump warning Iran not to retaliate after the targeting killing.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
PLEITGEN (voice over): Iran's leadership hailed Soleimani. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praying at his coffin, and Soleimani's replacement
vowing to kick America out of the Middle East.
ESMAIL QAANI, QUDS COMMANDER (via translator): We will continue Soleimani's path. We will remove the U.S. from the region in several steps. The supreme
leader backs this.
PLEITGEN (voice over): Iran's leadership continues to say it does not want a full-on war with the U.S., but says revenge for Soleimani's death is not
a question of if, but when.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So you can see, Bianca, that the anger level is still extremely high here, obviously, in Iran, especially in the Iranian Capital Tehran.
The stakes, obviously, for the Middle East are also extremely high as well.
And I was able to speak to a senior adviser of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And that senior adviser - he told me that there's
definitely going to be a military response on the part of Iranians. They say they're going to hit military targets. But, again, they also say that
they don't want a full on war with the United States. They say they want the escalation to end there.
But right now you can see really all sides still very much fanning the flames as the tensions really very high here in the Middle East,
specifically between Iran and the U.S. Bianca.
NOBILO: Thank you, Fred. Frederik Pleitgen there for us in Tehran.
The U.S. Congress is demanding answers about General Qasem Soleimani's killing. Democrats are asking the Trump administration to declassify the
intelligence that led to the strike. The White House plans to brief lawmakers this week.
Meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about legislation to rein in President Trump's ability to order future military action against Iran.
Let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, have you had any word on whether or not the administration will declassify more information to give details on why this threat posed to
Americans was considered to be so critical and imminent.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. So far they've really not left any elaboration to that. The President did hint yesterday on Air
Force One, speaking with reporters, that there is a chance that intelligence could be released.
Though, we've heard the President make comments like that before and it never follows through after he meets with officials about it. So it's still
an open question about whether they'd actually declassify that toward the American people can see it.
We know that lawmakers are going to get to see it tomorrow when they have this briefing with the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State.
They're going to brief Senators and then later House members are also expected to get a briefing as well.
And the question there is really if the information that is given to them is going to satisfy those critics so far who have raised questions about
just how imminent this threat truly was that led the United States to carry out that airstrike that killed Soleimani.
And if you were watching Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State when he was doing six interviews yesterday on all of the Sunday shows, he didn't offer
a lot of details either. Even when he was asked pretty small things like was the threat imminent enough within days or weeks.
He would instead - he instead answered by saying he didn't think that that is something that mattered to Americans in the region. Though, I think,
that those lawmakers who are demanding information would make a very different argument. So, essentially, we're still waiting to see whether or
not we're getting any more of that or of that intelligence is going to be enough for these lawmakers.
NOBILO: Kaitlan, good to see you. Kaitlan Collins there for us.
With the U.S. denying it's withdrawing troops from inside Iraq, inside the country, there is still a big push for all of the foreign troops to leave.
Let's bring in Arwa Damon from Baghdad.
Arwa, so that the U.S. might be saying currently that it's not leaving. But could the pressure get so great that it would be forced to do so?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That could happen or the Iraqi government could officially ask U.S. forces and other foreign
forces to leave, at which point we're going to actually have to wait and see how it is that the United States does respond.
We do know from President Trump who said that if the Iraqis do, in fact, kick the Americans out, the U.S. would be slapping severe sanctions on
Iraq. And, look, for this country's sanctions are not a joke. They lived through it. They know what it's like. They understand all too well what it
means not to have bread on the streets, not to have fresh fruit in the market.
But in response to that, we then heard from Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is the group whose leader was killed alongside Qasem Soleimani. The same group
that was targeted by the U.S. in those airstrikes two Sundays ago. Who said that, if America does try to sanction Iraq, they would then in response to
that, severely hamper or cut off America's oil flow from the Persian Gulf.
So you still have a very unclear, very chaotic and very, very tense situation it must be said. There's been a lot of confusion tonight about
the status of U.S. forces because a letter was leaked that was later denied. But initially made it sound like the Americans were withdrawing,
when in fact, all they were doing was repositioning a small contingent of forces. But Iraq is really in this impossible position.
If the American stay, there will be bloodshed, because it's this proxy battle ground and Iran has a lot of military and political tentacles here.
If the Americans leave, it potentially leaves a vacuum that ISIS could use to try to reemerge and either way the Iraqi people are going to end up
DAMON: There are no good options. Arwa Damon, thank you very much for joining us from Baghdad.
The Iranian nuclear deal is now hanging by a thread too. International inspectors are still working in Iran, monitoring the country's nuclear
activities. But Tehran has announced new steps to pull back from the multinational nuclear agreement.
Nic Robertson reports from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Bianca, this latest announcement by the Iranians that they're breaking another term of the
JCPOA, the multinational nuclear deal with Iran. This time saying that there is no limit to the number of centrifuges that they will be able to
us, is one of a carefully calibrated escalation and publicly announced steps that they've taken over the last six or seven months since May last
Back then they said there will be no limit on the stockpiles of enriched uranium they would keep. Then they said that they would increase the purity
of enriched uranium that they would keep. Then they said that they'll go back to doing research and development, which was banned. Then they said
that they would use more sophisticated centrifuges. So that announcement, effectively, cuts down the pathway to making a new killer bomb.
Now, Iran was pushed into signing up to this deal for precisely that reason. But what experts are saying is that keeps the deal alive at the
moment, is the fact that international inspectors will still be allowed into Iran to be able to see precisely what they are doing. So that keeps
the deal alive.
These terms, these breakages, these things that Iran is not complying with now, they've been carefully calibrated, carefully escalated, but it doesn't
make the deal dead according to experts, Bianca.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Thanks Nic Robertson there.
Now a little bit of rain on Monday brought temporary relief to firefighters battling huge Australian bush fires. But forecasters warned that more hot,
dry weather is on the way. As the fire recedes from some places, families who fled are coming back to see what, if anything, is left.
CNN Anna Coren with --
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Heading up the driveway towards his home through the burnt out bush. Bruce Honeyman knew
what was waiting for him.
BRUCE HONEYMAN, HOME DESTROYED IN BUSHFIRE: Hi. This is all. The house is - it's all gone. It's still warm.
COREN (voice over): The mud brick home he shared with his partner Julie-Ann Grima reduced to shouldering rubble. After the border fire that cross
Victoria into New South Wales rolled through townships, including Pericoe, West of Eden, just a few days ago.
HONEYMAN: The ferocity of this sort of fire is unbelievable and we made the right decision to evacuate, and for that I'm thankful. Yes. But, yes.
COREN (voice over): They were preparing for the worst. The reality, however, devastating.
The speed of the fire evidenced from its indiscriminate nature, it completely raised the house, while leaving the newly built pergola intact,
just a few meters away. For the battle weary firefighters who've been in the thick of it for months, the magnitude of this crisis clearly taking its
CLINT BRADLEY, FIREFIGHTER, RURAL FIRE SERVICE: I get a lump in my throat sometimes seeing people here coming for this. Then it makes me think, yes,
well would feel if it was me.
COREN: Julie-Ann and Bruce, are one of thousands of families that have returned to their homes that are no longer there. And while the rain has
arrived, it's only short lived. Those dry hot conditions are expected to return. And there are still months remaining of Australia's fire season.
There bush sanctuary, the result of 10 years' hard work, now a memory. But their resolve to rebuild and restore their life in his natural habitat,
JULIE-ANN GRIMA, HOME DESTROYED IN BUSHFIRE: This is the risk you have when you're in the bush and this is Australia. We will reassess what we do from
here and this is still we have. We've got more things than what some people have got. We've got to be thankful for that.
COREN (voice over): Anna Coren, CNN, Pericoe, New South Wales, Australia.
NOBILO: A former White House National Security Adviser says that he's prepared to testify in the Senate impeachment trial against the President
if he is subpoenaed. John Bolton is a crucial witness as he had firsthand knowledge of Mr. Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
Bolton's announcement comes at the beginning of a potentially important week for the impeachment. Lawmakers are back to work and looking to get
moving on the Senate trial. Phil Mattingly is in Washington on Capitol Hill.
Phil, just because John Bolton is willing to testify, does that mean that he's going to? And what's the significance of the statement?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You're making an interesting point just with that question, Bianca. And that is, no, it does
not mean John Bolton is for sure going to testify in front of the United States Senate.
The reality is, there is still an impasse between Senate Republicans who control the chamber and Senate Democrats over whether to have witnesses at
all during the Senate impeachment trial. Democrats want four specific witnesses. They've already asked for them, including John Bolton. They want
documents subpoenaed as well. And Republicans are saying we might deal with that later, but we certainly don't want to deal with that right now.
I think the interesting element right now, the significance of John Bolton coming out kind of with no alert ahead of time and saying he's willing to
testify is twofold. One, obviously, he wasn't willing to do this in the House where Democrats were running their inquiry.
And two, this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Senate Republicans who know that John Bolton was a central figure in this White House, a
central figure on national security issues, obviously, a central figure about Ukraine. They should want to hear from him at least according to
NOBILO: Phil, good to hear from you. Phil Mattingly for us there in Washington.
Still to come tonight, we're closely watching the situation between the U.S. and Iran and so is the rest of the world. Some people even worry we
could be close to the next World War. So we'll discuss whether those fears are exaggerated. Coming up next.
NOBILO: The death of Iran's most powerful military leader sent shockwaves around the globe and it sparked fears that the two of the world's
staunchest adversaries, the U.S. and Iran, could be on the brink of starting the next World War.
In fact, World War 3 became a trending topic on Twitter. I saw it when I was on holiday. And in tonight's "Debrief" I spoke to Tim Marshall who well
versed in Middle East affairs and he's got great insights. His book "Prisoners of Geography" was a "New York Times" bestseller. And I asked
him, because I don't like alarmism and sensationalism, whether or not the fears of the next global conflict are overblown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM MARSHALL, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR & BROADCASTER: I think so for two reasons. One, most people aren't on Twitter, so it doesn't really matter what they
say. I think most of people in the media should take less notice of what is said on Twitter.
But, more importantly, because it wasn't just Twitter, what's this got to do with China? Is China really going to get involved with this? Is Russia
going to join in on Iran's side? No. The French going to join in? Brazil?
So, in what way would this be World War 3? I am not ruling out a kinetic war between two sovereign states. I think it's unlikely. But you can't rule
it out. But that's a very long way for World War 3.
NOBILO: So the question everybody is asking now is what happens next. The initiative is with Iran, they need to respond, and in order to save face.
Now, do you think that's going to be kinetic military action? Could that be more asymmetric cyber warfare? Looking at the geopolitics, what would you
MARSHALL: We're all guessing. We have to put that out there, because the Rubicon has been crossed. And once you've done that, you're unsure of the
response. What the Iranians - there's something called an escalation dominance. And the Americans will have thought, right, who has the
dominance in the escalation, and clearly it's them.
So a rational actor, you expect would go for the proxy attack with what's called plausible deniability. So, let's say, for example, if the long list
of the menu of targets, an Iraqi militia does a genuinely serious attack on an American base in Iraq, with fatalities, that has plausible deniability.
Tehran can say, we never ordered it. And that allows Washington to accept that, and therefore not attack Iran. So you've got that level. And I would
guess, if I was Iranian, I would go for that.
The problem comes that if with the Rubicon being crossed, that we are in a different time, and that the Iranians feel - the Iranian leadership feels
that to show our population who's in charge and who are the big boys, they go for a tear up from that. And that then risks a war between the two
NOBILO: And how do you view the action taken by President Trump? Do you think it is a giant strategic misstep? Or do you think that if this action
has been taken by any other President, we'd be viewing it very differently.
MARSHALL: The second part is true, I'm afraid. People, I'm afraid, tend to fall down on what they think about a decision taken from their prior
position. So if you are a Democrat in United States, this is the world's worst things that's ever happened. And if you're Republican, no, it's a
bold, strategic move.
Go back to Obama and Libya, you can make the same arguments the other way around. That's problematic
NOBILO: If this action taken was to be situated within a strategy, a lot of Trump critics would argue he doesn't have one or he is behaving too
haphazardly and recklessly. But if it did, you think that strategy would just simply be to put Iran back in its box?
MARSHALL: Yes, yes. I mean, I don't know if he's got a strategy. And let's face it, he appears to have no depth of knowledge of the concepts such of
strategic depth or mutually assured destruction, or deterrents.
I mean, I just don't think that he has that intellectual reading in his hinterland to make those big strategic decisions. I think it's far more of
a tactician. So I think it falls into, you know, well, what week is it? This is what I'm going to do?
I'm not sure they have - he has completely gained it out. So, I'm afraid - afraid we just wait. My guess is that the Iranians go for a second tier
attack, allowing them to save face, at which point they have been put on notice by Trump, who was playing this madman card, which is actually quite
Nixon played it with China. I think, Kim plays it with North Korea every day that he wakes up. I think Trump's got a bit of that sort of, hey, look
how crazy I am about him.
NOBILO: People disagree about the extent to which the President is fully appraised of the context of these types of issues or he's got a very short
attention spans, and people think he's a stable genius. Some people think he is completely opposite.
If there was one lesson you feel like the administration really needs to take to heart about the culture and the geostrategic thought process of
Iran, what would it be?
MARSHALL: It would be to have the - to learn the lesson of Iraq, to know you've got to look deeply, deeply, deeply into this culture and what you're
about to do to it, because of the knock on effects that it will have.
And Iraq, for example, I - I mean, I was very involved at the time as a journalist speaking to all sorts of people from the American and British
and Iranian - Iraqi side. I was in Iraq during the war. They did not know the Americans that they were going to stir up a hornet's nest that only
Saddam Hussein's brutality had put the lid on. Many people knew they had no plan for the day after. And if they don't have plans for any day after in
Iran, it would be a repeat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: When THE BRIEF returns, Australia is still burning, but out of a tragedy we are seeing a huge generosity.
NOBILO: For months now we've watched in horror as devastating wildfires cripple Australia. People are now going to extraordinary lengths to try and
help. An Australian Comedian, Celeste Barber, has helped raise an astonishing amount of money to help fight the fires, nearly $28 million.
More than a million people have donated to her fundraiser. Celeste's mother-in-law spoke to CNN about what they are facing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY ROBIN, EDEN, AUSTRALIA RESIDENT: This is our war. This fire is Australia's war at the moment. It's burned right down the Great Dividing
Range. It now - it's going right to the coast, and there is a one IDF on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBILO: Other well-known faces are stepping up too. Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman and Pink all pledging $0.5 million to aid firefighters. Not to
mention, the support being shown from all corners of the world, with so many people donating what they can.
Thousands of firefighters are battling more than 130 fires in the worst conditions imaginable. But, as so often with tragedies like this, and the
greatest hardship comes the best of humanity. If you're looking for ways to help those affected by the wildfires, please visit cnn.com/impact to find
organizations to donate.
Thank you for watching everyone. I'm Bianca Nobilo and "WORLD SPORT" is up next.