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Thousands In Iran Mourn General Qasem Soleimani After Death In U.S. Airstrike; President Trump Vows To Attack Iranian Cultural Sites In Response To Possible Retaliation For Killing Of General Soleimani; Iraqi Government Votes To Expel U.S. Troops From Country; Terror Group al-Shabaab Kills Three Americans In Kenya; Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) Reacts To Skepticism On Intel Of Imminent Iranian Threat. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is 8:00 in the East. And we do begin with breaking news. At this hour, hundreds of thousands of Iranians are lining the streets of Tehran to mourn the death of General Qasem Soleimani who was killed in that U.S. airstrike. These are some of the pictures we've been seeing all morning long. That right there is Iran's supreme leader praying and weeping over General Soleimani's slain body. Soleimani's daughter is threatening an attack on the U.S. military.

Iran also announced it is abandoning what is left of the 2015 agreement to contain its nuclear program. Another consequence, Iraqi lawmakers have voted to expel U.S. troops from their country, a vote that U.S. officials tried to keep from happening.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump, meanwhile, is repeating his threat to hit Iran's cultural sites if Iran retaliates. Doing that is considered a war crime under international law. Two senior U.S. officials described widespread opposition to that idea within the Trump administration.

President Trump is also threatening to impose, quote, very big sanctions on Iraq if they force out American troops. All of this as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving to try to limit President Trump's military actions against Iran.

BERMAN: We've got one eye on Tehran all morning long. In the meantime, joining us, CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory, former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. She is now the director, president, and CEO of the Wilson Center, and CNN Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon.

David, I want to start with you and where we are this morning, because General Soleimani, as you've heard everyone say, was a bad actor, no one is mourning his death this morning in this country. However, if you look at the consequences, what has happened since he was killed, Iraq has voted to push U.S. troops out of that country. Iran has withdrawn from the remainder of the nuclear deal. The United States has had to say it is pausing operations against ISIS in the region. There are these very real consequences already of this decision.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have to look at two potential roads here that are in front of us. One is this was such a brazen and unpredictable act on the part of the president, who is impulsive, who is not known for strategic thinking with regard to his foreign policy, in fact, what we know is he did not want to be an active participant fighting wars in the Middle East, said President Bush should have been impeached, Donald Trump did, as a candidate for the conduct of the war in Iraq.

All of that said, this may be a brilliant stroke. It not only took somebody who was dangerous to the United States off the battlefield, perhaps it will restore a sense of deterrence with Iran. We don't know. And we're fearful because this is such a dangerous situation. My big question, the U.S. has to manage now trying to keep Iran from restoring a nuclear program. It now has to insert itself as the leader of this conflict in the Middle East without shared sentiment among allies, seemingly more alone when you have an actor out there that clearly wants to respond.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Harman, your thoughts how all this unfolded?

JANE HARMAN, CEO, WILSON CENTER: Happy New Year, everybody. I think, David, the chances of this being a brilliant stroke are zero to none. I think that this is an example of a process-free foreign policy. There's no national intelligence estimate. There's no forward plan. There's no consideration of the day after.

It's also an example of the disappearing Congress, which has had years to authorize or forbid the use of military force in the Middle East and elsewhere. And now to see that the Trump administration may be trying to roll out one more time that 2001 authorization to use military force against Iraq to justify this action -- excuse me, against Afghanistan to justify this action, is really sad to me. Iran was a country that stood up to help us after 9/11. We ignored that. And we're in, I think, a colossal mess.

And just one more comment. To see those thousands of Iranians lining the street in solidarity with their government when three or four weeks ago they were protesting their government is, by my lights, an F in terms of achieving a foreign policy goal.

BERMAN: That's one more consequence to the list that I added before. The immediate consequence of this action is it has unified the Iranian people who had been protesting their government over the last few years, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's such an important point that Jane makes, because the Iranian people have been divided. There is a generational divide. We should be trying to exacerbate that to bring about change.

But instead, especially when the president threatens cultural landmarks, not only in violation of international treatises, it would be a war crime, but that's exactly the kind of thing that can unite the Iranian people around the regime. This is not about strategy. This is about an impulse. It's about, in part, being tougher than President Obama.

[08:05:00]

But it's going to be impossible for the Trump administration to be able to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, for example. And the downstream effects seem chaotic. We can see no -- let's be realistic about the fact that escalation seems to be the only certainty we see right now.

CAMEROTA: What do you think, David, about the what Jane just said about process-free foreign policy? If there is a process, if there is a grand strategy, they are not sharing it with Congress or with the public, because who knows what the next move is? It feels as though the U.S. is waiting to see what Iran's next move is, and waiting to decide to see how they will then respond.

GREGORY: I think she's exactly right. Again, I still think this is so brazen that there could be a potential outcome, and I just think we need to have that possibility open.

But at the same time, look, there was a presumption about what the road ahead would be after the invasion of Iraq. It turned out to be untrue. There were a lot of strategic thinkers who worked in the Bush administration at that time. In this case there is a hardline approach, escalation happened very quickly, giving you not a lot of room to maneuver. Now the United States has to get back into the business of heading off a nuclear Iran, because they are not going to let that happen and stand by.

And then you have a cycle of retaliation that can get out of hand because leaders make mistakes and then people die. That's what worries me so much, because I worry not just about the president's temperament, his impulsiveness, the lack of a strategy, but also who is around him.

And to Jane's point, she's exactly right, because Congress has been out to lunch since 2001 after giving the president all that power. And President Obama was certainly happy to use that executive authority in his drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere. So this is a bipartisan failure in Congress.

AVLON: Certainly, both parties have misused the AUMF. But let's just focus on this specific instance here. Not only is there a contradiction with the president's longstanding desire to stay out of Middle East quagmires, but the consequence of the actions he's taken, pulling U.S. support from our Kurdish allies against ISIS, now U.S. troops are being diverted even further from the fight against ISIS. This is a quagmire of his own creation.

And let's not forget when the secretary of state went on the TV this weekend with Jake Tapper and everybody else, he offered pablum, an absolute refusal to answer any specific questions directly.

HARMAN: Let me add something here, which is we are now sending more young men and women, brave women and men in our military, into harm's way. Those people come from congressional districts. There may be casualties. There could easily be casualties. Congress can't duck this.

The voters in these districts are going to paying attention here. The intelligence case has not been made for why this action had to be taken this way and right now, or if it's been made in some classified briefings -- I used to get those, too -- to Mark Warner and Adam Schiff, who are senior members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, it hasn't been made to the public. So we're not prepared.

And there is the other point that, Iraq, regime change in Iraq. I voted for our incursion into Iraq in 2002. I thought the intelligence case was solid. It was wrong. And this time we don't even have an intelligence case for the public to assess as we devote more resources and more human lives to this.

BERMAN: Jane, I want you to follow up on that and speak about that a little bit more, because it's one of the interesting things here. Number one, we should all be skeptical of intelligence always, particularly when it comes to this part of the world given what happened with the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Number two, this administration, as has been noted before, has issues with the truth, period. So when you hear Mike Pompeo and other officials basically say take our word for it, that an attack was imminent, we have yet to see the evidence that there was imminence in this attack that Soleimani was planning. And there's others who have questioned outright whether Soleimani could be directly involved with an imminent attack.

HARMAN: I have no -- I shed no tear for Soleimani. It's not that. He had the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands. And he may -- I assume he was plotting with others additional attacks through proxy groups, and maybe directly through cyber and other asymmetric tools on the United States.

But I read all the intelligence in 2002 on Iraq. I traveled to countries that helped us collect it. It was wrong and we were wrong. And the lesson I learned was that, with others, on a bipartisan basis in 2004, we reformed our intelligence community. We created the Director of National Intelligence. We set up a process to develop these really bulletproof national intelligence estimates. I don't think there is one in this case. I don't think our government mechanisms are working at all.

[08:10:05]

And so I'm dubious. It's not just because it's Mike Pompeo. He is a capable man in many respects. But I'm dubious after my experience and how we went wrong that a case that hasn't been made to the public is a serious case.

CAMEROTA: David, so there's Jane's experience of trying to do something exhaustive, trying to do something thorough. And then on the flipside, look, which American could be blamed for having some questions about the Trump administration's veracity when the president uses a black sharpie to change a hurricane's path. We've all seen the administration not necessarily be forthcoming and forthright, and so here we are.

GREGORY: It's not only that, and this may be a subtler point, but I think Jane would agree it's crucially important. When you have a breakdown of trust within the government, when you have a president who attacks intelligence agencies who are providing the very intelligence that he's acting on, you have to worry about what the consequences are of their policy and a lack of trust within and whether this is a more extreme option and maybe not the one that they thought was best. And all of that will play itself out over time.

In the case of Iraq, you had a case building against Iraq that went back to the 80s. And there was finally a reason to make the invasion to attack. There has been a case building against Iran for a long time as well. The most immediate case would be in the middle of the Iraq War and the influence Iran had in Iraq and then that Shia arc that those within the Middle East and in U.S. policy described as something that would be menacing.

At the end of the Bush administration there was a cause to attack Iran, including by the former national security adviser to President Trump. So all of these things have been building. And the immediate question is, do we get some kind of deterrence? Has deterrence been restored? David Petraeus, General Petraeus suggested that as an option. Or is something much worse about to happen?

BERMAN: John, we have to end here, but I want to get a quick word on the timing here from you. A lot of people have pointed out and noted that there may be, could be possibly a Senate impeachment trial coming up. What's the relationship, and what could be the impact of that trial be?

AVLON: We don't know if the president was motivated to try to take Americans' eye off the ball when it comes to impeachment and the additional evidence. But there is this wag the dog scenario that's been raised. Bill Clinton was accused of it with an Iraqi airstrike back when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was occurring.

Earlier there was a Stormy Daniels Syria related strike. We're going to need to get to the bottom of that. Why now. That's one of the many reasons why the evidence is intact. But certainly, this means folks attention will be elsewhere, because this is a matter of war and peace, not just the president's impulses.

CAMEROTA: And one of the people who raised any sort of question about what President Obama was doing with Iran and if there was a political underpinning was Donald Trump at the time. Thank you all very much.

OK, developing overnight, we also have to tell you about this story, because there are new details about the attack on a military base used by U.S. forces in Kenya that killed three Americans. CNN's Farai Sevenzo is live in Nairobi, Kenya, with more. What have you learned?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, the story we are still unpicking is that, as you mentioned, three Americans died in this outrageous, audacious attack by the Al Qaeda affiliated terror group known as al Shabaab. Camp Simba where they are based over in Manda Bay, which is in Lamu County, a beautiful spot, Alisyn, that sits on the edge of the Indian Ocean full of pristine white beaches, and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. But unfortunately, of course, its proximity to the border with Somalia means that it is constantly under attack from these terrorists.

I cannot overemphasize how crucial American forces have been in the fight with al Shabaab, with airstrikes, with drone strikes. But this the first attack by the terror group on American troops on Kenyan soil. And that is since five years ago when the camp was established, that has never happened.

Whether this was in retaliation to the many strikes that have been hitting al Shabaab, who knows? But I can only say, Alisyn, that there has been a ramping up of al Shabaab activity. On the 28th of December they killed over 85 people in Mogadishu. January 2nd, they stopped a bus in Lamu and shoot four dead. And then this massive attack.

Now General Stephen Townsend, who is the commander of the U.S.-Africa command told us, as we honor and sacrifice less, it has hardened our resolve, alongside our African and international partners who will pursue those responsible. And of course, John, we keep on unpicking this for you.

[08:15:00]

BERMAN: Farai Sevenzo in Nairobi for us. Thank you for covering that for us. We should note, I don't believe we have heard yet from the President on this attack, his focus clearly has been elsewhere.

The full is Senate yet to be briefed on the Intelligence behind the U.S. killing of Iran's top general. What will lawmakers do about authorizing use of military force in the future? We're going to ask a member of the Senate Armed Services, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: National Security officials tell us the strike -- the strike against Iran was a response to an imminent threat against Americans. But is that true? What do members of Congress know about the underlying Intelligence?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Gary Peters. He's the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, great to have you here this morning.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Do you understand what the imminent threat was?

PETERS: We don't. We are waiting to hear what that may have been. We're going to have a briefing for members of the Senate sometime this week. But I think we have a lot of questions as to really how imminent it was.

But I think the other question that I certainly want to have answered in that briefing as well, is that if there is an imminent threat, the Department of Defense would come up with a number of different options that were available to the President.

[08:20:00]

PETERS: And my question is, what were those other options? And why did the President pick this option? And how does this option fit into a broader strategic plan that the administration has?

I think we know that we really can't see a strategic plan that has been put forward. But what was the thought process that went into this very consequential decision?

CAMEROTA: And does he owe you that explanation? I mean, does the President owe Congress? To share his thought process? Or does he, as President have the purview to act against what he believes is an imminent threat?

PETERS: Well, yes, he does have an obligation to talk to Congress, the -- actually you know, our founders wanted to make sure that Congress had a role in war-making. In fact, the power to make war resides in the Congress.

The founders believed that there needs to be a check on executive power. And we know when we go into a conflict anywhere in the world in the past, we're always stronger when we are united.

We need to be united -- the Congress, the American people, the Executive -- we should all be united before we send men and women into harm's way. It is the most serious decision, anybody in elected office can possibly make it.

We've got to make sure we're making that decision based on facts. We want to make sure that decision is based on sound Intelligence, and understand that we are all united, not just as a country, but it also helps to be united with our allies, you know, and right now, we're in a situation where our relationship with our allies is very tenuous, at best, as a result of actions from this administration.

You're dealing with a very skeptical American public, for obvious reasons with this U.S. administration, and it doesn't appear that we have any kind of diplomatic channels open with the Iranians. So this is a very precarious situation that the President has put us into.

CAMEROTA: Well, The White House says that they did meet the 48-hour window to alert Congress, you know, they briefed, I guess, or sent a statement at least to the Gang of Eight, but Speaker Pelosi has raised questions about that notification that just begs some answers.

She says, "The classified War Powers Act notification delivered to Congress raises more questions than it answers. This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the administration's decision to engage in hostilities against Iran. The highly unusual decision to classify this document in its entirety compounds our many concerns and suggests that the Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security."

Do you know what she means? Do you understand what is so highly unusual about what the White House did with this?

PETERS: Yes, it is unusual. And I think it is important for the -- certainly, for the White House to put out there the reasons for the attack and the imminent nature of it. We need to understand this.

Certainly, Congress needs to understand it in a more detailed fashion than I believe is in that document. We will know more this week when we have our briefing.

But I think you're going to have a room full of at least Democratic senators that are going to have an awful lot of questions for this administration.

And you know, we want to be united if this is an imminent threat, we are all going to be there. There isn't anything more important than protecting our country.

You know, I served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. I served with patriotic men and women who are committed to defending our country.

But we want to make sure that it's being done based on facts, and it's based on good Intelligence, and it's being done in a way that furthers the national interest and our strategic objectives in the region.

These are serious questions. These are important questions that have to be answered, and if the administration is unwilling to do that, that should raise all sorts of danger flags.

CAMEROTA: We just had former Obama Homeland Security adviser, Lisa Monaco on with us, and she said that her biggest fear is that they will retaliate with a cyberattack. Is that your biggest fear of what Iran will do next? And as someone on the Homeland Security Committee, are we prepared for that?

PETERS: Well, cybersecurity is a critical issue. And I think the cyber threat just generally is a major threat that we face as a country whether from the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese and others, we do know the Iranians have very sophisticated cyberattack capabilities.

We would not be surprised to see those capability used against particularly soft and critical infrastructure in the United States. That's why the Department of Homeland Security has stepped up their efforts to make sure they're working very closely with some of the private entities, private companies as well that control critical infrastructure.

But we have to be focused on this. We have to be prepared and understand that it is without question, a very serious threat.

CAMEROTA: All right, Senator Gary Peters, thank you very much. Please let us know what you can share after you are briefed with all of this.

PETERS: Will do. John.

BERMAN: Senate Republicans threatening to change the rules if House Democrats don't hand over the Articles of Impeachment. We're joined by a member of the Democratic House leadership, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:49]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That is the Senate Judiciary Chair, Lindsey Graham suggesting that Republicans won't wait for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hand over the Articles of Impeachment against President Trump, would officially begin the Senate trial process.

Joining me now is House Democratic caucus Vice Chair, Congresswoman Katherine Clark of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.

Senator Graham's comments aside, because it's not clear he could actually even do that if he wanted to. On the House side, you're a member of leadership. What is your current understanding about the timing of handing over those Articles of Impeachment to the Senate?

REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): Good morning, John. And what we are looking for is for the Senate to stop their stance of willful ignorance and to look at the evidence that has come out, not only through the impeachment process in the House, but the revelations of the last few weeks that have shown there are e-mails.

[08:30:09]