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Graham Wants to Start Trial; Skepticism over Iranian Threat; Trump Threatens Sanctions; Foreign Policy in 2020 Race. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 06:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[06:30:42]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate is back in session today, but President Trump's impeachment trial is not on the agenda, John. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to hand over those impeachment articles. And now Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has come up with a simple suggestion, just change the rules.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The sooner this trial is over, the better for the American people. And so what I would do, 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 could start the trial without her, if necessary.

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CAMEROTA: And joining us now is CNN political analyst Margaret Talev. She is the politics and White House editor for "Axios."

And we'll get to your new reporting in a second about what's happening with Nancy Pelosi.

But first, what about Senator Graham's idea? Can they just change the rules?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think President Trump will love this idea. But, no, I don't think that's what's about to happen. I mean the dynamics that are at play here is that the Democrats need four Republican senators to come join them if they're going to successfully pressure Chuck Schumer -- I mean Mitch McConnell to have witnesses and documents and that sort of stuff. It's going to be those same four or half a dozen or so Republican senators who, I think, will be really resistant to a rules change to bypass the normal sort of debate.

So I think it's certainly appropriate for Senator Graham to talk about alternatives and to try to exert pressure on Democrats to expedite this and move this long, but I doubt that the Senate is going to be ready to jump on changing those rules. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It would take 60 to 67 votes, depending on

how he did it. Neither of that -- those things would happen all that quickly. It would be hard for McConnell to get that through if he wanted to.

What's your reporting on what Nancy Pelosi is now thinking? She's going to meet with her caucus and committee chairs later this week. They have some new information in the form of some of these reports that came out from Just Security in these letters back and forth between the agencies.

TALEV: That's absolutely right. And they feel that those revelations from Just Security and from "The New York Times" FOIA, which revealed these -- existence of these 20 e-mails between the chief of staff's aide and the Budget Office. They feel that this is important, new information that kind of furthers the case for how the White House has been with -- sort of withholding information that would be relevant.

The White House really expected, if you'd asked a couple weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi to come back right after the break and say, OK, here, and sort of cut bait and move along with this. They are now acknowledging that that is not what's about to happen.

I'm not sure when we'll hear from her. We may hear from her Thursday at her weekly press briefing. At this point, we have no reason to believe we will hear anything decision wise before then from her. And then it could still be into next week or perhaps even the week after before we see this process really move along. And part of that is because, again, Democrats are trying to gauge whether these revelations over the holiday break have deepened those concerns among that group of Republican senators, Murkowski, Susan Collins, some of the senators who are running for re-election in difficult places. Also like maybe McSally in Arizona, Joni Ernst in Iowa, and even some others, Romney, Lamar Alexander, these are folks who don't -- are not facing re-election challenges but are just concerned about the process.

CAMEROTA: But to be clear, the White House is resisting the FOIA request, right, to turn over the actual substance.

TALEV: Yes.

CAMEROTA: So they know that these e-mails exist.

TALEV: But we don't know what's in them.

CAMEROTA: We don't know what's in them.

TALEV: No, we don't know.

CAMEROTA: And these seem to be vital, by the way, because they're with, as you say, some of the players. How can you move forward and make a decision? I'm just confused about the explanation that some of the Republicans who say, let's get this over with, we're ready to make a decision right now, don't we need to see the substance of those exchanges? TALEV: I mean I think, because the Democrats have resisted in taking

this to court, this is ultimately a political consideration. And I think it's fair to say that probably Democratic and Republican White Houses both would resist turning over e-mails that show a deliberative process. They would argue they don't have to do that. That's sort of protected. I'm not saying that that's true. I'm not a legal expert, but that might be the argument.

But, in this case, it's really the political argument that matters. Are there enough Republican senators that are concerned enough that they want to see those anyway, whether or not they're legally required. Do the American voters care enough about this anymore or are they ready to move on?

[06:35:01]

And, most importantly, what impact does the Soleimani killing and the situation now with Iran have on all of the impeachment process?

CAMEROTA: Margaret Talev, thank you. Great information. Great to have you here in studio.

TALEV: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, there's skepticism growing about whether the American people will see that intelligence that reportedly shows an attack was imminent on U.S. national security and that is what warranted taking out Iran's top general. So we discuss with the former head of national intelligence, next.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Soleimani was plotted imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. But we caught him in the act and terminated him.

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CAMEROTA: That was President Trump on Friday saying that a, quote, imminent attack on U.S. interests prompted him to order the killing of Iran's top general. The Trump administration has yet to provide public evidence to back that up.

Here to discuss, we have CNN national security analyst James Clapper. He's the former director of national intelligence under President Obama.

Good morning, director. Great to have you here.

So do you think that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the U.S.?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, in the absence of, you know, seeing the intelligence, that's a hard call to make.

[06:40:02]

Soleimani himself doesn't -- didn't plant IEDs. He didn't himself launch rocket attacks against American personnel or facilities. So it's a little hard -- to me it's a bit of a stretch that by doing this they thwarted an imminent attack because attacks are carried out typically under Soleimani by proxies. That is, militias -- Shia militias in Iraq. So it's hard to believe.

And I also think there's a credibility issue here in general where the president has spent the last three years discrediting the very intelligence community that produced this intelligence. And I think there's a little bit of history that people should re remember about 17 years ago when the administration then made some assurances about intelligence pertaining to Iraq, which, of course, was the occasion for an invasion. So I think skepticism is in order here.

CAMEROTA: But just tell me a little bit more about the discrediting of the intelligence agencies because, you know, what -- what people have said for the past three years is, and when you need them, when you some day need the CIA or the FBI or the -- just intel, the raw intel, if you discredit them too much, it's going to be a problem. And do you think that this is that day?

CLAPPER: Yes, I think this is -- you know, this is going to -- that skepticism -- the discrediting of the intelligence community is going to come back to haunt. And this -- this may be a case in point.

So if it has to do with Russian meddling or the determination of North Korea not to denuclearize, which turned out to be correct, well, we don't -- that's intelligence we don't like. Be if we have intelligence we do like that supports our position, well, then it's OK. So I think, again, a bit of a credibility challenge here for the administration.

CAMEROTA: When you say that you are skeptical because Soleimani would have acted by proxy, that's exactly what the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, was saying this weekend, that they had intel that he was going to do something by proxy.

Let me play for you what he said on Fox News this weekend.

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AMB. ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I can tell you it was very solid intelligence. Soleimani was traveling around the region, working out of plan to attack Americans with his proxy allies, with Iran's proxy allies, and Syria and Lebanon and in Iraq. We had the intelligence. We knew what he would -- you know, that he was in the process of planning these attacks and we acted to defend American lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Does that explanation make you feel better?

CLAPPER: No, not really. Again, Soleimani wasn't an executer in that he didn't plant IEDs and

he doesn't launch rockets. He's a planner, an architect, and has been for decades. So I just fail to see the connection here. In the absence of the intelligence, which he's seen and we haven't, you know, to make that believable in light of the track record here in the regard or lack thereof, as the occasion calls, for intelligence.

CAMEROTA: But as the former director of National Intelligence, exactly what evidence would you need to see to believe it?

CLAPPER: Well, that's a great question, Alisyn. And I worry here about, you know, depending on the sensitivity of the intelligence, the compromise -- potential compromising of sources and methods.

Now, the president has indicated he might declassify the intelligence, which is certainly his prerogative to do. And in this case, the occasion may call for it since what I think they're trying to do is galvanize public opinion in support of the action he's taken. So I think probably the argument is going to be very compelling for declassification.

I also observed that at least the two intelligence oversight committees in the Senate and the House certainly are entitled to the same intelligence information and to my knowledge they have not been exposed to it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, they don't seem satisfied, at least from what we've heard this weekend, with what they've been presented yet.

Former DNI James Clapper, thank you very much for your expertise.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Talk to you soon.

CLAPPER: Thank you. Happy New Year.

CAMEROTA: John.

You too.

BERMAN: Iraqi lawmakers voted to have U.S. troops removed from their country. What does that mean for U.S./Iraqi relations? What does it mean for the fight against ISIS? We'll discuss, next.

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[06:48:41]

BERMAN: In just hours, U.S. officials will meet with their Iraqi counterparts in Washington. The relationship between the two countries under serious strain this morning. Iraq's parliament voted yesterday to expel all U.S. troops from the country. In response, President Trump now says he would sanction Iraq if U.S. troops were kicked out.

Joining me now is Abbas Kadhim. He leads the Atlantic Council Iraq Initiative. He was a senior adviser to the Iraqi ambassador to the United States during the Obama administration.

Mr. Kadhim, thank you very much for being with us.

ABBAS KADHIM, SENIOR FELLOW AND IRAQ INITIATIVE DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Good morning.

BERMAN: I know that the Iraqi parliamentary vote isn't final. It doesn't mean that U.S. troops are leaving today. Still, what was the significance of that action?

KADHIM: Well, thank you very much, John.

It is very significant because everybody is hoping that after all of these fights that the U.S. and Iraq have fought along each other, they should have better relations and this. And it is -- nobody was counting on the day were we have this kind of anti-American sentiment, even at the official circles in Baghdad.

I have been -- I -- and I work on a -- in a program that concerned mostly on Iraq and the past year we've had excellent relations between the two countries.

[06:50:01]

Lots of mutual visits. And the turn of events that happened in the past few days is just sad for anybody who hopes for robust U.S./Iraqi relations.

So it is very significant. And also it signals that -- to the -- the Iraqi government has turned, the Iraqi populous as turned also in their sentiment.

Now, the U.S. presence has never been popular in Iraq for obvious reasons, historic, et cetera, and the (INAUDIBLE) between Iraq and the U.S., but we've moved a long way to improve the relations, and that has just reversed everything in the past few days.

BERMAN: Mr. Kadhim, I should tell you, we're looking at live pictures from Tehran, where there are huge demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Tehran mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani.

Let me ask you this, if forced to choose between Iran and the United States, which country would Iraq choose?

KADHIM: Well, the Iraqis, if they are cornered, then basically they will find it safer to be on the Iranian side. First because the Iranians can inflict serious wounds on the Iraqis. Iran is a reality next to Iraq geographically. Politically, Iran has many arms and tentacles inside the Iraqi society. So there is more fear of choosing the U.S. side than choosing the Iranian side. The United States does go around assassinating people who vote against it inside the parliament or also do other things that what the Iranians and their proxies inside Iran do.

BERMAN: The president -- KADHIM: So it is safer for them to choose the Iranian side. And there is also popular sentiment there that backs this choice.

BERMAN: Sure.

The president of the United States seemed to threaten Iraq yesterday as to what would happen if Iraq did go forward to removing U.S. troops there. He said, if they do ask us to leave, if we don't do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before. It will make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.

That's a remarkable threat against a U.S. ally. How do you think the Iraqis will respond to that?

KADHIM: It is remarkable, but Iraqis would beg to differ. Nobody suffered stronger relations -- sorry, sanctions than the Iraqis. Eleven years the U.N. sanctions that was led by the U.S. between 1990 and 2003 have been worse than any human being have seen in the history of humanity. And Iraqis could not even import a pencil at that time. It was considered dual use. So the Iraqis have seen sanctions.

But I think to look at this statement itself, it -- you can unpack it in different ways. The Iraqis have not voted to cancel the U.S./Iraqi relations or kick the United States. Yes, the Iraqis do owe the United States a lot of debt of gratitude for removing Saddam Hussein, for helping Iraq for a long time, for helping Iraq defeating ISIS with providing a lot of assistance. And they should ask nicely.

But also from the U.S. side, look, this is not the coalition to reoccupy Iraq. It is called the -- the coalition to defeat ISIS. And ISIS has been defeated. It was declared in 2017. And the terms and conditions that these troops went into Iraq is that they would be leaving when ISIS is defeated or when the Iraqis have asked. And the Iraqis, they need to ask nicely, of course. And they will probably. But the troops should not be there if there is no function for them. And they should be there for the specific terms and conditions they've been invited for.

BERMAN: What would the consequence be of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq?

KADHIM: Well, John --

BERMAN: There are about 5,000 troops there now. What would it mean if those 5,000 troops left?

KADHIM: It will hurt Iraq, to be honest, because basically the Iraqis can use a lot of help from U.S. troops for bringing the capacity of the Iraqi forces up. They are trainers for many kinds of weapons that Iraq purchased from the United States. They are also there as a deterrence to -- for anyone who wants to invade Iraq or the tourist as well are intimidated because there is a U.S. capacity there. The reason why ISIS took over many Iraqi provinces was basically because there was no U.S. presence there. So Iraq will suffer.

But the question here I think, if Iraqis are forced to choose between their sovereignty or their national interest, they will choose their sovereignty, as they did in 2011. The vote to get the U.S. troops out in 2011 was, in fact -- which wasn't a vote, it was really a decision by the Iraqi government and the Obama also administration wanted that. It was against Iraqi national security, but it was the only way to accomplish sovereignty for the Iraqis.

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And I don't think that we should let the Iraqis choose or force them to choose between sovereignty and national interests. This should be done better because we have to have better relations going forward between Iraq and the United States. Both countries need each other, but Iraq needs the U.S. more.

BERMAN: Abbas Kadhim, thank you very much for your expertise on this matter. Really appreciate talking to you this morning.

KADHIM: Thank you. My pleasure.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, to Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will vote this week on a resolution to limit President Trump's military actions against Iran. Foreign policy now appears front and center in the presidential campaign.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Washington with more.

So things have changed in the past week.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They certainly have, Alisyn, good morning.

Now, the Democratic candidates were embracing to be overshadowed by impeachment in the final month before voting begins in the presidential campaign. But now the race could be influenced by the rising crisis in the Middle East. And that is raising new questions between the balance of foreign policy experience and judgment.

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ZELENY: Four weeks before the Iowa caucuses open the Democratic primary, foreign policy is now on the front burner, injecting a new era of uncertainty to an unsettled race.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to have a -- provide a steady, stable experienced leadership. Of all due respect, I think I'm best prepared of anybody running for president.

ZELENY: Joe Biden is touting his experience on the world stage, saying the rising tensions in the Middle East call for it now more than ever.

Bernie Sanders spent the weekend condemning President Trump's decision to order a strike that killed Iran's top military commander, Qasem Soleimani. But Sanders also renewed his criticism of Biden's 2002 vote for the Iraq War. SANDERS: When I voted against the war in Iraq in 2002, I feared that

it would result in greater destabilization in that country and in the entire region.

ZELENY: Pete Buttigieg is raising similar questions, telling CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that his national security judgment would be shaped by his own military service in Afghanistan.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My judgments also informed by belonging to that generation that has lived through conflicts that we were told would be over in days or weeks and are continuing to this day.

ZELENY: As a confrontation with Iran boils, all Democratic candidates are facing a commander in chief test.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can tell you that I am someone that has a heart that you have to really decide before you send soldiers into battle, exactly what you're doing.

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

ZELENY: A year-long campaign focused largely on domestic issues is suddenly taking a global turn as candidates ask voters to weigh experience versus judgement.

Long ago, Biden conceded his vote to authorize the Iraq War was a mistake. Now he's brushing aside the critic.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. We are running late.

BIDEN: Bernie's got enough baggage.

ZELENY: After seeing Sanders at a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa, Lawrence Clausen said he is leaning towards Biden, in part because of foreign policy.

LAWRENCE CLAUSEN, IOWA VOTER: Biden's my first choice because I think he's highly experienced and I think he has good relationships internationally.

ZELENY: Marilyn and Tom Kettman have never taken part in the Iowa caucuses, but they intend to this time.

MARILYN KETTMAN, IOWA VOTER: The world right now is a scary place and I just think we need someone like Joe to get us out of this mess.

ZELENY: At the center of it all is finding the strongest candidate to defeat Trump. In 2016, Cedar Rapids businessman Gary Ficken voted for Trump. He's now searching for a Democrat to win the White House.

We met him at a rally for Amy Klobuchar. ZELENY (on camera): When did you decide that you did not want him to

have a second term?

GARY FICKEN, IOWA VOTER: Maybe two months ago. But I had an inkling that's what I wanted, but I wanted to look around at the Democratic candidates and see if there was somebody that I could feel good about supporting. And Amy's the one for me.

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ZELENY: So the Democratic race is already unremarkably unsettled. A new CBS poll shows that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg in a tie for first place in Iowa with Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar rounding out the top five. It is very much an open question how these world events and foreign policy will shape voters' decisions as they weigh these candidates one month before the Iowa caucus.

John.

BERMAN: Yes, we're really in the home stretch right now. Less than one month before Iowa votes.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BERMAN: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much for being with us.

ZELENY: Sure.

BERMAN: We've been looking at remarkable pictures all morning long. Huge crowds on the streets of Tehran as the war of words escalates.

NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iran continues to be in a state of mourning, but at the same time is vowing retaliation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump issues a warning, tweeting that if Iran attacks any American asset, the U.S. will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before.

[07:00:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Cultural centers are fair targets in your view?