Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
U.S. Admits Draft Letter Suggesting Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Was Sent By "Mistake"; Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Discusses About Pentagon Defending The Killing Of Soleimani; U.S. Sending B-52 Bombers To Region In Case U.S. Strikes Iran; Bolton: I'm Prepared To Testify In Senate Trial If Subpoenaed; Pompeo Holds Classified Briefing With Senators On Iran; Pompeo Briefs Senators On Iran As He Dodges Questions On "Imminent" Threat That Led To Strike. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 6, 2020 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Australian fire season is only just beginning and experts say the dangerous conditions are likely to worsen. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, massive failure. The Pentagon now saying it is not withdrawing troops from Iraq after mistakingly releasing a draft letter suggesting that's exactly what the United States was doing. This as the Defense Secretary of the United States contradicts his boss, the commander-in-chief on Iran in a big way.
Plus, John Bolton says he's ready to talk. So why don't Republicans want to hear from the guy who was in the room on the calls and with the President? What are they afraid of?
And Iran and Trump's impeachment up ending the race for 2020. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, on the brink, a boiling point this hour between the U.S. and Iran, and a major blunder tonight from the Trump administration creating chaos at a terrible time. This is what I'm talking about. Look at this letter.
The Chairman of the Chief of Staff admitting the military made a mistake when it sent this letter. This letter notifies Iraq that American forces will be relocating to 'prepare for onward movement'. So in English that is they are moving to withdraw.
So U.S. troops, 5,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq preparing to withdraw. A move made caving to Iraq's parliament which voted to evict U.S. troops. This would be a major and transformative move for the United States to take in light of the Iran chaos.
But then a short time later the military said, "Uh-uh, the letter is a mistake." The quote, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the letter was a draft. It was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.
I mean, this is an incredible thing. You're talking about the greatest, the mightiest military on the face of the planet. So the United States Military said it was withdrawing from Iraq, caving to Iraqis who were siding with Iran when it was not true, they had a draft letter stating they were doing it. They weren't even doing it. And then it comes as the Secretary of Defense is now contradicting President Trump when it comes to targeting Iran's cultural sites.
President Trump saying just last night and I quote him, "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. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."
Well, except it does when the you're the United States of America and it would qualify as a war crime to go in and start blowing up Iran's priceless cultural sites. And Secretary Esper, Secretary of Defense, just moments ago when asked about targeting cultural sites said, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict."
Just to be clear, those laws would say you do not destroy cultural sites. So the President and the military that he commands are not on the same page. The Secretary of Defense of the United States of America is taking on the Commander-in-Chief.
This is not a small thing. This is a seismic thing, especially at a time when the stakes with Iran could not be higher. Tonight, the United States is preparing to deploy B-52 bombers to the region to be on standby should the U.S. need to strike Iran. So these are a lot of fast moving developments tonight and I want to go straight to Pamela Brown who is OUTFRONT live for us in Washington tonight.
Pamela, massive confusion to say the least from the administration tonight.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is certainly been mixed signals, confusion emanating from the administration tonight as this administration, Erin, braces for a potential counterattack from Iran amid the fallout from a strike on Soleimani.
BROWN(voice over): Tonight as tensions with Iran escalate, congressional Democrats are demanding the White House declassify the formal notification sent to Congress justifying the deadly drone strike against the Iranian Military Commander Qasem Soleimani. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bob Menendez sending a joint letter to President Trump saying, "It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner. An entirely classified notification is simply not appropriate in a democratic society."
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the White House's decision to classify the entire notification 'highly unusual', saying in a statement the move suggests the Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a bad guy. We took him from the battlefield.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN(voice over): Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoiding directly answering questions about the imminent threat the administration says Soleimani posed in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: We saw that he was plotting further plans to take down Americans, in some cases many Americans.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When you say the attacks were imminent, how imminent were they? Are we talking about days? Are we talking about weeks?
POMPEO: If you're an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that's relevant. We have to prepare. We have to be ready.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN(voice over): Ahead of an intelligence briefing for the House and Senate from key administration official set for Wednesday, Pelosi introducing a war powers resolution in the House aimed at limiting the President's powers with regard to Iran going forward.
On his way back to Washington from his two-week Mar-A-Lago holiday, the President told reporters aboard Air Force One that he may discuss releasing the intelligence, but didn't commit to anything. As Iran mourns the loss of Soleimani, Trump also renewing his threats to target and attack Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliates against the U.S. saying, "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. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."
But Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicting the President today saying the U.S. Military will follow the laws of armed conflict, which would not allow for such attacks.
BROWN: And Erin, I'm told by a senior administration official that President Trump has been in close contact with his National Security team and he is being briefed multiple times a day on the latest regarding Iran, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Pamela, thank you very much. And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. And Senator, I appreciate your time.
That's just the top leadership of the Pentagon today defending, again, the killing of Soleimani saying that there was an imminent strike. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, "I will stand by the intelligence. I saw that it was compelling that it was imminent and it was very, very clear in scale and scope." Do you believe him?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Erin, I believe that we can only believe it when we see it. I think we learned the very hard way during the Iraq War how administrations, political folks, and administrations and others manipulate and corrupt intelligence to get the policy result they wanted. In this case, an excuse to go after Soleimani.
And so it's very appropriate that we'd be asking for this evidence, after all the administration's story on this keeps shifting. Their rationale keeps shifting and they have provided no evidence to Congress that there was an imminent threat. There was a staff briefing at the top secret level just a few days ago, before the Senate reconvened and they didn't provide any.
The administration didn't provide any information and evidence supporting that. So it's important that we get that. It's also important that we recognize that the overall goal the administration had is really just blown up. I mean, you talked about this back and forth today in response to the Iraqi parliament's vote to get rid of U.S. forces.
VAN HOLLEN: Look, whether or not in the end of the day all our forces pull out or not, the reality is that Soleimani's goal all along was to undermine our strategy and our interests and influence in Iraq and he seems to have accomplished in death what he could not do in life because of this administration decision.
BURNETT: So General Milley says this letter that you're now referring to was released by mistake and poorly worded. He said that's not what's happening in terms of removing troops. He knows we can all read. The letter says, "We're required to take certain measures to ensure the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner. We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure."
So it's not poorly worded. It says what it says. OK.
VAN HOLLEN: No.
BURNETT: What do you think is happening here?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I read the letter too and it's clear on its face what it meant. I think this administration really the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. And what we're seeing as the result of that chaos, on the one hand, they're going to send that letter to the Iraqis or they did. On the other hand, they say, no, we didn't really mean that.
So this is a pretty dangerous situation. It has been from the start. It's been made more dangerous by this administration's escalation. We are now closer to war with Iran than we have been before. And so we should really be deescalating this. Instead, you have this overly outrageous rhetoric from the President threatening war crimes and his administration, Secretary Esper, has to bring that back too.
BURNETT: I just want to ask you - let me just jump in on that point if I may, Senator, because you're raising that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is contradicting the President today saying the U.S. will abide by international law, which would not be to bomb Iranian cultural sites.
I just want to make sure it's an important moment, OK, because I want to make sure how you hear it, do you hear the Secretary of Defense of this country saying that he would defy an order from the President of the United States to do so?
VAN HOLLEN: I think Secretary Esper made the right statement, whether or not he had any consultation with the President before contradicting the President. I don't know.
I'm glad he made that statement. It was important that somebody do it. But we appear to have a president who's increasingly unhinged. He is tweeting out all of these things, including threatening war crimes. Then he, yesterday, threatened the Iraqi government with sanctions if they told us we had to remove our troops then today we have a letter from the commanding officer in Iraq say, "We are going to remove our troops."
You have the President, by tweet, telling the Congress that he has the right essentially to go to war in Iran when the Constitution gives the Congress the power to authorize war. We are in a very dangerous moment with a president who does seem increasingly unhinged and I think the Congress really needs to come together now as one and assert our constitutional responsibility.
BURNETT: And obviously you're referring specific to this situation. This is in the context though of a pending, a looming impeachment trial, whatever form it may take. On that, Senator, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, as you know, says today he'll testify at the Senate trial if subpoenaed. We understand that he has a lot to say and that he knows what happened. Will we see John Bolton testify in front of the Senate?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, Republican senators are out of all excuses for not calling these witnesses, especially now John Bolton, the House was worried when they asked him he said no. And they were worried about a long drawn out legal proceeding to bring him to testify. But now he's made clear, he will comply with a senate subpoena, so we should bring him down.
I would also refer everybody back to December 3rd, President Trump said he wanted Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff to testify at a Senate trial. That was what President Trump said. Why are we having any dispute over whether Mick Mulvaney should come down when President Trump said he want him to testify? So I think every American understands in order to have a fair trial,
you need relevant witnesses and relevant documents, and that's all we're asking for.
BURNETT: All right. I appreciate your time, Senator Van Hollen. Thank you.
VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you.
BURNETT: And next, Mike Pompeo briefing senators behind closed doors tonight. Does he have credibility on this issue of the Iranian imminent attack?
Plus, John Bolton, he says he's willing to talk, but will Mitch McConnell let him testify before the Senate? And if Bolton testifies, could his testimony help or hurt Democrats' case?
BURNETT: Tonight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holding a closed door briefing with senators on Iran. Pompeo has been the face of this strike defending the administration's decision to kill Iranian Military Commander, General Soleimani. The question is does Pompeo have credibility on this claim. Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT.
And Kaitlan, President Trump is particular about who speaks with him, obviously. But he has stayed out of sight today. Pompeo has been the voice of record on Iran both publicly and, of course, behind closed doors with senators today.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The President, Erin, who had Mike Pompeo go on those six Sunday shows yesterday to defend this move. Of course, the President was only on air briefly during that address last Friday when he talked about this. And really it's been Pompeo who has essentially been the face of it.
A lot of that has to do with Pompeo being the one behind the scenes, pushing for this option as the President was essentially weighing which way he should go with all of this. And this comes in wake of past events, when you've seen Iran provoked the administration in the past and you've seen people like the Secretary of State push for certain options that Iran - the drone strikes, shooting down that drone comes to mind, that was certainly a key moment in that when the President called off that retaliation at the last minute.
And certainly, this is like an instance where he played a key role in all of this. You've got to look at who else is around the President who could potentially have been doing those Sunday shows yesterday, that's the Vice President Mike Pence, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Those are figures who typically you could see in a situation like that. But instead, it was the Secretary of State on every single show.
Now, today could give you an indication of why you see what happens when people are asked about the President's threat to target these Iranian cultural sites. People like Pompeo yesterday were saying that wasn't what the President said, look at what he said closely, though you could read in the President's own remarks what he had said about that.
And then you see people like the Defense Secretary when they're asked about that today, essentially saying, no, we're not going to do that. We're going to follow the law. We're not going to go forward with these war crimes.
So essentially you see the President moving forward those statements. People like Pompeo as someone who's very close to the President and pushing options like this and that is why the President has had him be so public over this and hold such a public role.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it, Kaitlan.
And I want to go now to Mike Rogers, he's a former Republican Congressman who served as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And also with me, Jasmine El-Gamal, former Middle East Advisor to the Department of Defense under President Obama and now Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. I appreciate both of you very much for taking the time.
Jasmine, let me start with you. So obviously, you have this situation where today what we heard from the Secretary of Defense is, no, we won't do what the President said that he thought was fine to do cultural site targeting. Vice President has obviously not been touching any of this. So it's Pompeo, yet again, that we see again and again coming out and defending this so called imminent strike. Do you believe them that this was imminent that this was concerning and needed to be dealt with right now?
JASMINE EL-GAMAL, FORMER MIDDLE EAST ADVISER, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Well, I think that's a really important question. And one of the things that we need to talk about is how incredibly politicized, and political and partisan the Iran issue has always been. And it doesn't just start with this president. It was that way under the Obama administration as well.
And Secretary Pompeo has been very well known for a long time to have these incredibly hawkish views on Iran and to always be pushing for further action against Iran. So already he's coming in as Secretary of State with a lot of baggage when it comes to this issue.
And so when the intelligence around the strike is so opaque and when the administration is not as forthcoming as it should be with the intelligence, it makes it very hard to kind of keep an open mind and give them the benefit of the doubt because you know the history and you know where they're coming from, which makes it all the more important for this administration to be even more forthcoming than any other one just because we know that members of this administration have been pushing for these actions for a really long time. BURNETT: So Chairman Rogers, look, part of this, of course, is the
history, right, of trusting an administration and ending up in a war. That's why we still have 5,000 troops in Iraq today. Listen to Mike Pompeo dodging questions about what this imminent threat was that the administration says justifies an air strike that killed Soleimani that, of course, could lead to war. They know that. They're open about that and they say it was worth it to get him because of this imminent threat. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, HOST, NBC NEWS: ... is the justification this imminent threat?
POMPEO: Chuck, it's never one thing. You've been at this a long time. The American people are smart, too.
TAPPER: How imminent where they? Are we talking about days? Are we talking about weeks?
POMPEO: If you're an American in the region, days and weeks, this is not something that's relevant.
MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, FACE THE NATION: So Iran can still carry out that specific threat you described as imminent? Is it still imminent?
POMPEO: Margaret, we continue to prepare for whatever it is the Iranian regime may put in front of us ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Chairman, do you believe that they need to do better, they need to give the American people and certainly Congress more details about exactly what it is that they say was so imminent and urgent?
FORMER REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI): Yes. And two things, General Milley who is the Chairman the Joint Chiefs came out today and denied that it was then he reiterated his position that he believed that the intelligence was good. And I have a lot of faith in General Milley and that separates it, I think, from the political figures who are out, talking about it, number one.
And I do think their credibility with Congress is bad, the Congress' credibility with the White House is bad, the Congress' credibility with each other is bad. All of that, I think, spells trouble for a serious national security event like we just saw.
And yes, I do think they're going to have to be better, not necessarily come out and tell you all, here's the hundred things that we had. We had human intelligence. We had foreign intelligence shared. We had signals intelligence. We had phone intercepts. We had data.
I don't think it's their point to do that. It should do that in the classified setting in Congress so that they can get a good picture. And so here's where I think we got to be careful, I think it was, if General Milley, as I said a lot of faith, it was justified I think clearly, just the way Obama went after al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2014. And I supported the President on that at that time, I was still Chairman.
I think it was justified. Now, you just have to answer the question was it wise to do it and were you prepared for what comes next, I think those are very legitimate questions to happen in the days and weeks ahead.
BURNETT: Right. And I guess, Jasmine, they have not answered that question as to whether they are prepared for what comes next other than the President, of course, saying he's willing to respond to anything that happens disproportionately and thinks it's unfair that he would not be allowed to bomb Iranian cultural sites.
EL-GAMAL: Absolutely. I just couldn't agree more with what was just said. There has been no proper explanation of why we're doing what we're doing and to what end. So in the clip that you just played, Secretary Pompeo said that the timing is not relevant. It's incredibly relevant because the administration has so far outlined in the Middle East two main goals in terms of why U.S. troops are there and what we're doing.
The first one is to counter Iranian influence in the region and the second one is to defeat ISIS. But when you look at every single action the administration has taken so far both in Iraq and Syria, none of them actually seem to address those two goals. In fact, they seem to be aggravating the tensions and making them worse.
So they definitely do need to provide us an explanation of why they're doing what they're doing.
BURNETT: All right. I appreciate both of you taking the time very much as we all try to understand what is happening here and obviously time is of the essence to know more what we are going to know.
Next, John Bolton says he wants to talk. And tonight, former White House officials reportedly believe his testimony will be damning to the President or would be if he is subpoenaed.
And Iran's military is massive. It is well trained. So this is a strange question to actually be asking, but nonetheless we are because it's now relevant, what would a war with Iran look like?
BURNETT: New tonight, John Bolton says he wants to talk. The President's former National Security Adviser saying he wants to appear before the Senate. And the American people and in President Trump's impeachment trial, it is the most important witness to what President Trump did with Ukraine.
So this is an explosive development tonight because Bolton is at the center of everything. He knows what happened. He was in the room. He was on the calls. He was with the President and we have heard from others about how we felt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIONA HILL, FORMER NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR: Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of this, whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): Did your boss, I mean, Ambassador Bolton, tell you that Giuliani was, quote, "A hand grenade"?
HILL: He did, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And according to the top White House advisor on Russia, Tim Morrison, also under oath, Bolton told him to bring concerns about Trump's behavior to the lawyers, not to ignore it, not try to blow it off, go to the lawyers.
Now, Bolton had avoided testifying in the House. He said he was letting the courts resolve the issue of whether he had to appear. But today he said, "Since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify."
And there are Republicans who want to hear from Bolton. One key Republican Senator John Cornyn telling reporters, "I have no objection to him testifying." And Senator Mitt Romney saying to CNN, "I'd like to hear what he has to say."
But let's be clear. You need four of them to vote for a subpoena for one to be issued. Bolton's testimony is crucial. Anyone who wants the full truth should want to hear it, period, full stop. There's no beating around that bush. Those are the facts, people.
But here is another fact. Bolton is free to do an interview and he's free to do an interview on television. He could come on this program tomorrow night. He can speak with us for the entire hour, we'll talk, he can tell his entire story, no subpoena required. He can come.
I hope, Mr. Bolton, that you will do that.
Manu Raju is OUTFRONT live on Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, Senator McConnell has resisted any efforts from Democrats to get Bolton and others, including Mick Mulvaney to testify. Now, that Bolton has come out and says he indeed will honor a subpoena, he will come out and say everything he knows, how much pressure does this put on McConnell to allow Bolton to testify?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he'll only face pressure if he faces defection in the ranks. In the moment, those defections are limited. Most Republicans are in line with McConnell strategy that they will -- to deal with witnesses later, that they should deal with documents later, and the Republicans increasingly are making the argument that it was the House's job that -- the Democrats over there should have subpoenaed John Bolton, should have went to court to fight John Bolton and bring him forward.
They are saying it is not the Senate's job. One Republican, including Marco Rubio of Florida, told me today he would vote against a subpoena from John Bolton. Something that was echoed by a number of Republicans I spoke to today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Would you vote to subpoena John Bolton?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I wouldn't because I think in my view the -- our inquiry should be based on the testimony that they took, that we are acting on articles of impeachment and I believe we should be constrained by the information that those articles were based on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: But, Erin, the key is whether or not there are four Republicans who will break ranks. Some of those vulnerable Republicans in difficult races who are not answering questions tonight, including Cory Gardner of Colorado who told me that we have to wait for the articles to be sent over before we decide and Martha McSally of Arizona also in a difficult race. And, Erin, she would not answer whether or not she wants to subpoena John Bolton, to saying that we'll work through this and decided to -- declined to comment further.
BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much.
I want to go now to David Gergen, who advised four presidents, including two facing impeachment, Nixon and Clinton, and impeachment expert and constitutional law professor, Corey Brettschneider.
So, Corey, let me start with you. There are a lot of things that we can just get to some very basic facts. I want to start with reporting from "The New York Times." They are saying former White House officials, people close to Bolton are indicating his testimony would likely be damning to Trump, and that his testimony would put pressure on moderate Democrats -- Republicans, I'm sorry, to consider convicting him, which in the Senate is what matters. Removing -- actually removing him from office.
How big do you think Bolton's testimony could be?
COREY BRETTSCHNEIDER, IMPEACHMENT EXPERT & CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: I think it is a big deal because he has firsthand knowledge of a lot of what happened. He called this a drug deal, of course. And the metaphor here was that everyone knew that there was an illegal act by the president.
Everybody knew what was happening. They know it was illegal and they likely knew that it was a high crime and misdemeanor and hearing that from somebody there firsthand and somebody who, by the way, is a conservative, who's certainly far from the left, gives it credibility. I think it could be the equivalent of what Sondland did, somebody that people thought was an ally of President Trump and wound up really hurting him.
BURNETT: And went in (ph) and he came in and said it was a quid pro quo.
BURNETT: He was definitive and he was clear about that.
BRETTSCHNEIDER: Great point.
BURNETT: I mean, David, here is what President Trump has had to say previously about Bolton testifying when this issue comes up because, of course, this has been an issue all the way along. Here is President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you want John Bolton to testify, sir, and if so --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF TEH UNITED STATES: It's up to him and up to the lawyers. It's really -- it's really up to the lawyers. I like John Bolton. I always got along with him. But that's going to be up to the lawyers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Of course, David, it wasn't and it isn't up to the lawyers in the sense of John Bolton did not and does not work for the White House. He's a private citizen. He can appear any time he chooses and tell his story. He doesn't need a subpoena to do so.
But there is a very basic issue here, which is that in any Venn diagram you draw about what happened in Ukraine, he is at the center of the overlapping circles. So, if you actually care to know what the president said and did, you want to hear from John Bolton. How can anybody -- how can anybody say that they don't want to hear him testify?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Erin, I must say that is what is mystifying me all day today. I just -- as soon as I heard Bolton want to testify, I said, Republicans have no choice, they have to allow him to testify.
If this were -- if this were a court of law, regular court of law, you would have an indictment, by a grand jury just as the House did. But then before trial, if new evidence came in, of course you would admit that evidence. Of course you would consider it. It would be brought up and discussed at the trial.
And to say, no, we're not going to bring John Bolton, it makes it very clear that for a lot of Republicans, this is not a search for truth, it is a search for way to hide things, to prevent the public from hearing. [19:35:05]
I think it is very bad political choice as well as just in terms of country, I think it violates the norms of this country.
But I think it's a bad political choice for the Republicans to be in this position because it's so brazen. The whole idea of blocking this right from the beginning and repeatedly stopping people, I think 70 percent of the American people want people to -- additional witnesses to come before the Senate and that was before we heard about Bolton.
BURNETT: Right. And this is again -- this is the person who knows everything there is to be known, Corey. It doesn't make any sense. If you're not afraid of the truth, then have the guy testify.
So, Cornyn said and he's obviously a very important senator, Republican Senator Cornyn says that, you know, he would want to hear what he had to say, but he says much of what Bolton has to say could be blocked by executive privilege. So I just made the point that you don't need a subpoena if you are John Bolton because you don't work for the White House nor when the congressional trial was going on, but does Cornyn have any -- and is he right on this executive privilege or no?
BRETTSCHNEIDER: No. Executive privilege exists to some extent, U.S. v. Nixon said it isn't absolute and the president and his lawyers have been arguing they have an absolute right to not be investigated, which is absurd. Congress has a core impeachment power, you asked David Gergen, to seek the truth, to use that power to find out what happened.
And there is no national security issue here. There is thought immunity for the executive branch when it comes to crimes -- or when it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors. In fact, we're talking about a core power of Congress to find out what happened. The senators are all going to take an oath administers by the chief justice, the presiding officer to be impartial.
And what that means is to seek truth and to find out what happened, and the idea that there is somehow a national security concern here is just wrong.
BURNETT: All right. And, of course, we've heard others testify about what Bolton said and did so we know about that so it wouldn't make sense from that perspective either.
Corey, thank you very much. David, thank you.
And next, the House Intelligence Committee chairman does not rule out issuing a subpoena to John Bolton. The House. So, could we get it that way?
Plus, the president defends the strike on General Soleimani.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We had a shot at it and we took him out. And we're a lot safer now because of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Are we? The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee is OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: New tonight, House Intel Chief Adam Schiff says the Senate must let John Bolton testify but leaves unclear whether he would subpoena Bolton himself if McConnell fails to act. Schiff telling CNN's Manu Raju we continue our investigation in the House so we aren't taking anything off the table but it really makes sense for Bolton to testify for the Senate.
OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
And, Congressman, let me just try, you know, obviously, Bolton's comments today were, you know, about the Senate but do you believe that he would also comply with the subpoena if issued by the House?
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, I do. He has firsthand information. It would be important to what we're dealing with. And I think he should step forward.
BURNETT: So, John Cornyn, a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, he said this today about the Bolton's potential testimony, obviously in front of him in the Senate.
Here he is.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Well, I think it's entirely likely that his testimony would be helpful to the president.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: "The New York Times", of course, reporting on the other hand that former White House officials say Bolton's testimony would likely be damning to Trump.
What do you think? I mean, there is the risk here that nobody knows what Bolton will actually say even though we heard from others what he said to them.
THOMPSON: Well, and that's even more the reason to offer it. If he has information one way or the other, I think the Senate should have the opportunity to hear it. So, if he's offering it, he'll be under oath. Obviously, I would hope he would not perjure himself.
BURNETT: And, obviously, he doesn't need a subpoena to tell his story. Do you think that if he is indeed genuine about his decision to speak,
that he will do so? Even if Mitch McConnell does not subpoena him, whether he does a television interview or a press conference or anything else?
THOMPSON: Well, he had -- he could do that anyway. He's a public citizen. He could do it at any opportunity. He doesn't have to do it before the Senate.
But I think the public in this instance has a right to know if basically this president conspired against a United States citizen, with a foreign government and he has information to that fact, we should know it.
BURNETT: I want to ask you about our other top story tonight because obviously chairman, you are the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. The president was asked about the risk to America in the aftermath of the airstrike against Iranian General Soleimani and I want to play for you again what President Trump said, Chairman.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: He should have been taken out a long time ago, and we had a shot at him and he took it out. And we're a lot safer now because of it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Is he right? America is a lot safer because of what he did?
THOMPSON: Well, I think a lot of members of Congress would want to know, as you know, the president nor his administration has put any information before Congress to justify the actions of last week. So, I think it is important for us, members of Congress, especially on the House side, we'll be coming back tomorrow, if the president and his administration can give us what was considered that made them decide to take this gentleman out, we need to see it. What were the other options? Did we talk to any of our allies around the world to see if this made sense to them?
So there are a lot of questions that are unanswered and you really can't talk to Congress on a tweet. Everyone is an adult. If you've taken a position then you should be straightforward and come and let us know.
And obviously we need to ask the questions.
BURNETT: So, from what you've seen --
THOMPSON: A lot of questions are being unanswered (ph).
BURNETT: From what you have seen thus far, do you believe there was an imminent threat from Iran against Americans? THOMPSON: All I know is what's being said. Again, we have a
classified briefing tomorrow night to get some of the information. Not all.
But everything here is in the public domain. There is nothing from a sensitive nature that we've been informed. So I think I would want to believe our leaders, but I need to see the information.
I have constituents calling my office, wanting to know if it is safe to travel in that region of the world. What should I do? I have family in that region of the world. What should I tell them?
So there are a lot of things that we need to do. And the president needs to come forward and share that information.
BURNETT: Chairman Thompson, I appreciate your time as always. Thank you, sir.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, Iran vows revenge. But how much of a threat is Iran to the United States? We have a special report on Iran's military capabilities.
Plus, the growing tensions with Iran having a major effect on the race for 2020.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't need more war. The American people don't want more war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham telling President Trump not to attack Iranian cultural sites saying, quote, we're not in a war with Iranian culture.
But as Trump continues to threaten military action, the question is, what would a war with Iran actually look like?
Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A robust missile program, an experienced army. If the U.S. engages in a military clash with Iran, it could be costly.
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: This will not be like our, our actions in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or in Syria. This is a conflict on an entirely different scale with a highly sophisticated, well-trained and well-armed adversary.
FOREMAN: An adversary that would almost certainly turn to guerilla tactics early on. Military analysts say Iran could stage attacks such as those last year on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and Saudi oil fields. The U.S. blamed Iran for those hits, Iran denied it, but world oil markets were briefly rocked nonetheless, and bigger attacks could undeniably create larger shocks.
Or Iran could call on its many allies in the region to carry its fight against America. Shia militias, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, groups that could use Iranian intelligence, logistics, weapons, and more to launch terror strikes on U.S. allies, embassies, military bases, American officials, or even private citizens abroad or at home.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There is a network of Iranian elements within the United States that the FBI is watching.
FOREMAN: In terms of sheer firepower, Iran is no match for the U.S., which has more warships, planes, helicopters, tanks, and active troops.
ILAN GOLDENBERG, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: They know if we go all the way up the escalation ladders, you know, our capabilities are air force, our naval capabilities will destroy theirs. They're much happier playing at a lower level, sort of the asymmetric level.
FOREMAN: But when and how and aimed at which targets? All we know for sure is that the Iranians are promising a response to the killing of that top-level military leader.
MAJID TAKHT-RAVANCHI, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Definitely, there will be a revenge, there will be a harsh revenge. Iran will -- will act based on its own choosing.
FOREMAN: And the White House?
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We will respond with great force and great vigor, if the Iranian leadership makes a bad decision.
FOREMAN: Analysts widely believe neither side really wants a full- fledged war, but neither side wants to blink, either. And that's what has diplomats so worried -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Tom. That, unfortunately, is what has caused wars before. Thank you.
And next, how Iran is changing the 2020 race.
BURNETT: Tonight, the 2020 race upended by Iran and impeachment. Abby Phillip is OUTFRONT.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2020 Democratic candidates tonight are gearing up for a new challenge -- foreign policy.
WARREN: We don't need more war. The American people don't want more war.
PHILLIP: The candidates facing a fresh commander-in-chief test, as they respond to President Trump's decision to kill a top Iranian military official, Qassem Soleimani.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And what we need, in my humble opinion, is a president who can provide steady leadership on day one when they're elected.
PHILLIP: Five candidates still in the race who serve in the U.S. Senate already preparing for an impeachment trial that could throw a wrench into their plans to go all in in Iowa.
Now the debate over what powers the president has to go to war could become very real for those senators.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He never consulted with the leaders of Congress. He never consulted with Speaker Pelosi.
PHILLIP: Senator Cory Booker even canceling some Iowa events this week to attend an Iran briefing on Capitol Hill.
The possibility of a direct confrontation with Iran also reviving an old debate about the 2002 vote to authorize military force in Iraq. Senator Bernie Sanders, who voted against authorizing that war, arguing that Vice President Joe Biden got it wrong.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Similar to my concerns that I raised way back in 2002, regarding the war in Iraq, a new war with Iran could cost thousands of lives.
PHILLIP: Biden now saying he made the wrong call.
BIDEN: I did make a bad judgment trusting the president.
PHILLIP: But defending himself against Sanders' criticism.
BIDEN: It's not to suggest that I haven't made mistakes in my career, but I will put my record against anyone in public life in terms of foreign policy.
PHILLIP: Pete Buttigieg, who was still in college at the time of that vote, says his experience serving in the military in Afghanistan gives him a different perspective.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll say a presidential candidate who has served has a personal understanding of what we're dealing with. This is not a show. This is affecting lives.
PHILLIP: And despite the criticism of his Iraq war vote, Joe Biden is doubling down on his experience argument. In fact, he's planning to give a foreign policy speech on Iran and on foreign policy judgment in New York tomorrow -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Abby.
And thanks very much to all of you for joining us.
Our coverage tonight continues with "AC360" and Anderson Cooper. See you tomorrow.