Return to Transcripts main page


Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) Discusses Upcoming House Vote On War Powers Resolution, Congress Not Being Notified Of Strike On Soleimani, Warren Saying Trump's Strike On Soleimani Is To Distract From Impeachment; WAPO: Pompeo Responsible For Pushing Trump To Approve Killing Of Soleimani; Ilan Goldenberg Discusses The Possible Ways Iran Can Retaliate; Families Say Goodbye To Loved Ones Being Deployed To Middle East. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says her chamber will vote on a war powers resolution this week aimed at limiting President Trump's military actions with Iran.

Let's talk about all of this with Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He serves one the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. And he's also an active-duty Air Force officer. And he currently serves in the Reserves. He's a colonel in the Reserves.

Sir, thank you for being with us.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Last night, your committee tweeted something to the president after he said that his tweets serve as notifications to Congress.

This is the tweet from your committee, quote, "This media post will serve as a reminder that war powers reside in the Congress under the United States Constitution and that you should read the War Powers Act, and that you're not a dictator."

Going back to the president's original rationale here about notifying Congress in a tweet served as notifying Congress, what was your reaction to that?

LIEU: I believe it's disrespectful for the president of the United States to conduct formal actions by tweet. Issues of war and peace are complicated, lives are at stake.

He should not be using Twitter as a way to notify Congress and the American people. It is not really good for nuance. It's not good for complicated issues.

And I really hope the president sits down, not only reads the war power act but also the Constitution, which says only Congress has the power to declare war. KEILAR: The speaker is having this vote, a war powers resolution

vote. You're trying really to restrain the president from using force when it comes to Iran.

Why has Congress been reticent for years to deal with this? There was this, obviously, disagreement with the president, somewhat successfully, on Yemen. There was an authorization, a UAMF vote in the House this past summer. But that was in 2019 and the UAMF was from 2001. Why has Congress been so loath to deal with this?

LIEU: So the House of Representatives has recently asserted more power over war-and-peace issues. That's why the House has passed additional authorizations to restrain military conflict. Unfortunately, the GOP-controlled Senate has not taken them up.

Right now, there's only two Authorizations for Use of Military Force that Congress has passed, and neither of them would authorize war with Iran.

So when the president goes on Twitter and threatens 52 sites in Iran -- by the way, cultural sites you can't target based on law of war -- he can't do that without congressional authorization.

KEILAR: Do you think it's harder now -- I hear you say the House has acted, but do you think it's harder for that to make headway? Because Congress, for years now, whether controlled by Democrats and Republicans, split entirely by one party or another, as deferred for so long to presidents, both Democratic and Republican?

LIEU: Yes, I think that's a statement of fact. For so long, Congress has ceded our war powers authority. The House has reclaimed it back. I'm going to support the war powers resolution this week. I hope is that the GOP-controlled Senate also does the same.

And I hope that both Houses of Congress really rein in this president, who is making threats that are escalating the situation when we should be trying to deescalate the conflict in the Middle East.

KEILAR: Let's listen to something that Senator Elizabeth Warren told Jake Tapper about the timing of the Iran strike that killed General Soleimani.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I think people are reasonably asking about the timing and why it is that the administration seems to have all kinds of different answers.

When the administration doesn't seem to have a coherent answer for taking a step like that, and they have taken a step that moves us closer to war.


KEILAR: Do you agree with that? Do you believe that Trump may have done this to distract from impeachment? LIEU: Senator Warren is correct. I served on the House Foreign

Affairs Committee for three years now, and I have not seen a coherent strategy from the Trump administration when it comes to Iran.

They can't even answer basic questions, such as, what are our goals with Iran, how the airstrikes achieve those goals, are we prepared to send in ground troops. They haven't really been able to articulate to American people why they conducted this strike.


We'll have a classified briefing sometime this week. I look forward to hearing from the administration what the justification was.

KEILAR: She and Senator Sanders have used the term "assassination" when they're talking about this U.S. killing of Soleimani. Do you agree with that?

LIEU: So Soleimani was both a general as well as a very popular political leader in Iran. He's somewhat in a gray area. You could look at him as either as a politician or a general or both. So people can look at this on both sides and argue that it's assassination or it's not.

I'm more concerned about the overall tragedy, or lack thereof. This is a tactical strike that they engaged in. I want to know how it fits into the greater picture of making our troops safer. I don't think it did. By trying to reign in Iran's nuclear capabilities, I don't think this strike did that either.

So I want to hear from the administration exactly what its strategy actually is.

KEILAR: We'll be awaiting that as well.

Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you for being with us.

We have more on our breaking news now. One of the people with firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine scandal says he will testify if subpoenaed. How John Bolton could change the Senate impeachment trial.



KEILAR: We're now learning more of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his long-time push for aggressive action against Iran. According to the "Washington Post," Pompeo is responsible for pressuring President Trump to approve the killing of Iran's top military commander, Qasem Soleimani.

However, it looks like Trump didn't need much convincing. A source tells "The Post" that the president was anxious about being viewed as hesitant in the face of Iranian aggression.

Joining me now to talk more about his reporting is Dan Lamothe, national security reporter for the "Washington Post."

You report that Pompeo actually had a big of a fixation, right, that's the word that's use, with going after Iran for some time now. When that start and how did this result in this decision that was to kill the general?

DAN LAMOTHE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think Mike Pompeo has a fixation going back at least a decade. I think, in addition to that, both the president and Mike Pompeo were very concerned about how action in Iraq now, particularly around embassy issues, would look in light of their past comments on Benghazi.

KEILAR: So it's was about Benghazi, but there's also this spectacle of 1979 and the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Really the fact that that undid a presidency, a Democrat presidency.

But it's Benghazi that is really the issue because to them is that just -- the -- they feel like that's something that maybe they wouldn't get support on if they're looking hypocritical?

LAMOTHE: They don't want to look weak on the issue. So, I mean, we saw presidential tweets last week where he was specifically saying this is the anti-Benghazi. I mean, I don't know how much more of a straight line you can draw there.

KEILAR: Yes. He basically spells it out, right?

So Pompeo actually once agreed -- this was a question he was asked by a host of a Christian broadcast network. But he agreed that Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED CHRISTIAN NETWORK HOST: Now 2500 years later, there's a new Haman in the Middle East who wants to eradicate the Jewish people just like Haman did, the state of Iran. Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised at such a time like this, to help save the Jewish people from a Iranian menace?

POMPEO: I certainly believe that's entirely possible.


KEILAR: And Pompeo and Trump are also aware of the fact that there's a block of people who believe this and this is part of why this policy is important.

But I wonder, when it comes to Pompeo's personal religious beliefs, has that been important to shaping his views on Iran?

LAMOTHE: I find that very hard to discern from the outside. With that said, there's a long history of people in the Pentagon, you know, certain sects of the Pentagon being very angry for a long history of aggression with Iran and a lot of dead American troops, to be fair.

KEILAR: Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, also went to Mar-a-Lago with Pompeo to discuss this killing of the general with President Trump. Why is that so significant?

LAMOTHE: You would expect the defense secretary to be involved in the loop on that. I have been stunned at this point how quiet the Pentagon has been. You had Mike Pompeo out on virtually every Sunday morning show yesterday. At least, so far today, as sitting down, my awareness is we won't hear from the defense secretary, at least for now.

KEILAR: It's pretty stunning.

Dan, thank you so much. Dan Lamothe. We appreciate you and your reporting.

LAMOTHE: Thank you.


KEILAR: And Iran has vowed harsh retaliation over the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. So what could its next move look like?


KEILAR: Now, Iran has promised retaliation against the U.S. for the attack that killed Iranian military commander, Qasem Soleimani. President Trump, in return, is saying he will not hesitate to retaliate if that were to happen. And the senior Iranian military general is telling CNN that retaliation will take military form.

Let's talk about this. Let's really get into this with Ilan Goldenberg. He's a former senior staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, covering the Middle East and was a State Department Middle East peace negotiator.

I want to walk through some of the scenarios you've laid out but, first, talk about the overall thinking is when it comes to retaliation and what that might look like.

ILAN GOLDENBERG DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST SECURITY PROGRAM, THE CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Sure. I think what the Iranians are going to do is they will take their time. They won't necessarily go back at the United States immediately on day one.

They will be weighing both, on the one hand, their own domestic politics. You say millions of people out on the streets. That sort of forces them to think hard about retaliation, think of something proportional.


But they will also want to try to avoid an all-out war with the United States. It doesn't mean that they necessarily will. But this is kind of what they will be considering as they try to find that perfect sweet spot. Whether they actually get it is an open question.

KEILAR: It is tricky because, to be proportional, is perhaps to escalate it. So you've looked at some possible scenarios. Let's go through those, starting with a proxy attack in Lebanon.

GOLDENBERG: Sure. I think one thing that Iran can do is deploy Hezbollah, which is its proxy in Lebanon. Hezbollah is its most capable partner.

And you could see attacks on Israel but I think that is less likely because Hezbollah doesn't want to start an all-out war with Israel.

You could see attacks on American facilities in Lebanon, an American embassy. You could see attacks -- you could see Hezbollah being used anywhere in the region. So it could be in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia, UAE.

But the key is that American targets in the Middle East using Hezbollah is definitely a very viable option.

KEILAR: And then accelerating the nuclear program, which we've seen them say that we won't be limited on centrifuges.

GOLDENBERG: Sure. I was actually more worried. Yesterday, they made some announcement about what they were going to do next in terms of accelerating their nuclear problem. I was worried they would announce 20 percent enrichment, which would have been a major step. And we didn't do that. So good news for the moment.

But the reality is they are taking step by step out of the nuclear deal. And as the situation escalates across the region, then the likelihood that they take the step becomes more and more extreme and then we're stuck.

KEILAR: You've laid out that there's the possibility of missile strikes. Where would that be?

GOLDENBERG: Sure. You could see missile strikes in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, against U.S. bases, against oil infrastructure to send a signal to our partners in the Middle East.

They launched some of these missile strikes in September and there was no response from the United States at that time, which was pretty shocking. So it might make them think, hey, maybe this is not necessarily that bad of an option. It might not trigger a response. Let's try that.

KEILAR: And you also talk about a terror attack or assassination and cyberattacks. But I want to go back to that possible assassination. What might look like?

GOLDENBERG: This, to me, is the most likely option. If you're really looking at something proportional, what would they try to do? They'll try and kill a senior American official, most likely in the Middle East. For them, that would seem proceed proportional.

It's something they've done before, not recently. We also haven't killed one of their senior people recently. So an attack on an American ambassador or on a senior military official. I really hope that is not where they go because, if they do go there,

that really echoes everything having do with Benghazi, which, for Trump, is a real trigger. So the Iranians calculate him this way, I think, you could see a severe American response and that sends us would be a very dangerous escalation.

KEILAR: Being proportional is escalatory. It is stunning.

Ilan Goldenberg, thank you so much for walking us through that.

Back to the breaking news out of Washington. Former national security advisor, John Bolton, says he is ready to testify in the president's Senate impeachment trial if he is subpoenaed. Hear how the House of Representatives is responding.



KEILAR: Thousands of military families said good-bye to their loved ones who were suddenly being deployed to the Middle East. Most of those troops will come from Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. The base is home to more than 45,000 active-duty military personnel, including the 82nd Airborne as well as Special Forces. The 82nd Airborne, as part of this mission, is to be ready to deploy within 18 hours.

CNN's Natasha Chen spoke to some of those families.


UNIDENTIFIED PASTOR: I ask you God to give comfort where comfort is needed.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this Baptist church's Sunday night service, family members of soldiers being deployed were asked to stand. At least six members of the Fayetteville, North Carolina, church are on their very first deployment.

The first brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division has trained for this. They run drills to go from getting that phone call to boarding a plane in a matter of hours.

Still, this deployment shook families right at the end of their holidays with the first notification sent on New Year's Eve.

This military spouse may have a smile on her face, but Sunday was rough.


CHEN: She found out at lunchtime that her husband, who was already deployed at training, would be rerouted and join others in the Middle East. We're not naming her or her husband for security reasons.

She said an added challenge was that he was not allowed to tell her exactly what was happening so he told her to look up a particular news article.

UNIDENTIFIED MILITARY SPOUSE: It's hard not to hear it from the person involved there and have to read it from somebody else's perspective.

CHEN: From Taylor Smith's perspective, he's doing all he can to support his friend who got a notice to deploy.

TAYLOR SMITH, ARMY VETERAN: The 82nd is trying to push back his employment date as much as possible. But his wife is high-risk pregnancy. And he is leaving somewhere around Tuesday and his wife is due Wednesday.

CHEN: Smith is a veteran, like many others at this church who know all too well what it's like to deploy. They say the comfort is knowing that their family at home has a support system.


CHEN: A volunteer group called Deployed Love is doing its part in building that support.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER, DEPLOYED LOVE: I know it is scary and we want to be able to make it a smooth flow and keep your kids going through the school year and not being stressed out as well.


CHEN: Stressed out and concerned about when they will see their loved ones again.