Return to Transcripts main page


Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) is Interviewed on Impeachment Trial and Iran; NTSB Investigating Pennsylvania Turnpike Pileup; Troops Deploy to Middle East; U.S. and Iran on Brink of War. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 08:30   ET



REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): Not only through the impeachment process in the House, but the revelations of the last few weeks that have shown there are e-mails and further information that is being withheld by this administration that directly links and further explains how this president ordered the military aid to Ukraine to be withheld to further his own political gains. The Senate needs to take responsibility, remember their oath of office, and hold this president accountable.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: If they do not do what you are asking them to do, do you think, at this point, that the House leadership would withhold those articles indefinitely?

CLARK: I do not think we'll withhold them indefinitely, but we do want to make sure the American people know what is at stake. Every single senator is going to have to take an oath of impartiality and we want that to mean something, that the evidence of this president, how he has broken his oath of office, endangered our national security for his own political election and trying to gain a personal advantage has put our 2020 elections at risk, and it is a very serious matter.

We have impeached in the House. And the Senate needs to stop being a lap dog to this president and remember that their oath is to the Constitution and to the American people.

BERMAN: There is now an international crisis with Iran. The United States, as you well know, has killed this top Iranian figure.

Does this crisis -- or how does this crisis affect the impeachment process?

CLARK: You know, I think that the two are linked by the fact that both highlight we have a dangerous president. We have a dangerous president who is unpredictable, who acts out of his own self-needs and ego wants and not those of the security of the country and of the American people. And when you combine that with a dangerous and unpredictable world, we have a threat to our security and to Americans here and abroad. This situation, we really can't emphasize that the reckless nature -- BERMAN: Can I ask, though, are you suggesting -- are you suggesting,

though, that killing General Soleimani was somehow for personal gain by the president?

CLARK: I think that he is obsessed with how he is viewed worldwide. We don't know exactly why he did this, because the White House is not being forthcoming. And this president and his administration do not exactly have a deep well of credibility, either with the American people or abroad. And what we've seen is a continuation of reckless action that now is already having very, very dire impacts, whether it's our -- impacting our ability to combat ISIS, having the Iraqi government and prime minister asking that foreign troops be removed from their country. We've seen the attack in Kenya. And while we don't know if they are related, it is amazing and disturbing that the president has not yet commented on that and yet continues --

BERMAN: We have not heard --

CLARK: Yes, continues to use his --

BERMAN: Yes, we have not heard -- we have not heard from the president on the -- on the attack in Kenya, to be clear, nor have we seen any link between the Kenyan attack and what's happening in Iran. Who knows what will develop over time.

I do want to ask because Senator Elizabeth Warren, from Massachusetts, whom you have endorsed for president, suggested, or at least raised the question about whether or not the president ordered the killing of General Soleimani because of the impeachment trial.

Listen to this.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's the thing. We've known about him for a very long time. Why didn't this happen a month ago? Why didn't it happen a month from now? Why right now, as Donald Trump faces a potential impeachment trial in the United States Senate next week?


BERMAN: What evidence have you seen, if any, that the president made this decision to order the killing of Soleimani because of the impeachment trial?

CLARK: That's exactly the problem. We have not seen the evidence. We do not know why this administration decided that this was an imminent threat. And what we have seen is Secretary Pompeo just trying to assure us with pabulum that everything's going to be OK, that we are more secure. We know from what has already happened in a few short days we are not more secure.


And when the president takes to Twitter to try and replace what should be strong, tough diplomacy with our allies with just trying to bully his way out of this, it is not about -- it is not going to be resolved with a tweetstorm. It will be resolved, I am afraid, with the one precious lives of our sons and daughters.

And that is what this president has to realize, that there are implications here for American lives, and that he has to come to Congress and make sure we understand what is the overall strategy, why was this tactic undertaken.

BERMAN: We have about a --

CLARK: Nobody is morning the loss of General Soleimani, but we do want to make sure it improves our security. And at this vantage point, at this time, it looks like this president has endangered Americans.

BERMAN: We have about 30 seconds left. I just want your quick take on why the vote that Nancy Pelosi is proposing, a war powers vote, basically denying the president the ability to do further action against Iran without congressional approval, why that vote is important.

CLARK: The vote is critical. The Constitution is clear. It is Congress that gets to decide about matters of war. And this president has launched us into an escalating situation with Iran and has really thrown flames onto what was already a tinderbox in the region. We need to be able to restore order, restore the constitutional roles of Congress and be strong. Put your case forward, but let's work for the security of the American people, not for the needs of the ego of a president.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Katherine Clark from Massachusetts, thank you very much for being with us this morning. Happy New Year.

CLARK: Thank you. Happy New Year.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, as you two were discussed, more than 3,000 U.S. troops are now being deployed to the Middle East. How are military families feeling about these tensions with Iran? That's next.



BERMAN: A team of federal safety investigators is on the scene of a deadly pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This happened near Pittsburgh. At least five people were killed, 60 others hurt in this crash that involved three tractor-trailers, a tour bus and a car. Just look at these pictures.

CNN's Miguel Marquez live in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, with the very latest.

Those images, Miguel, terrifying.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those -- they literally are terrifying, those pictures of this chain reaction crash. Heartbreaking as well when you realize that this happened about 3:30 in the morning on Saturday morning as that bus was traveling from the New York-New Jersey area to Cincinnati.

We now know that the youngest person killed of the five killed, the youngest person was nine years old. We also know the bus driver of that tour bus was also killed, as well as one passenger. And then in one of those semi-trucks, there were two drivers in the UPS truck. Both of them were killed in this accident as well.

What authorities are saying about the way this thing played out is that the weather was -- perhaps it had started to rain or sleet at about the time that the bus accident happened, but this was on a long stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There's a long, downhill stretch with a turn in it. They said that the bus driver was unable to negotiate that turn, went up on an embankment, slid over, overturned, basically, and then two semi-trucks hit that bus. A third semi hit all of that and a passenger car was also involved. Dozens of people taken to various hospitals around the area.

That team of investigators, the National Transportation Safety Board, now in the area looking at not only the bus, but the road conditions, the road itself, the design of the road, and trying to understand how this could happen.


CAMEROTA: Oh, Miguel, just horrible. The pictures are horrible. And that trip can be harrowing. Thank you very much.

All right, about 3,500 U.S. service members are being deployed to the Middle East days after President Trump ordered the killing of Iran's top military leader. Many of those being deployed are from the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

CNN's Natasha Chen has more with them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ask you, God, to give comfort where comfort is needed.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At Barand (ph) Baptist Church's Sunday night service, family members of soldiers being deployed were asked to stand. At least six members of this 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I've cried a lot.

CHEN: She found out at lunchtime that her husband, who was already deployed at training, would be rerouted to join others in the Middle East. We're not naming her or her husband for security reasons. She says an added challenge was he was not allowed to tell her exactly what was happening, so he told her to look up a particular news article.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard not to hear it from the person that's really 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 deployment date as much as possible. But his wife is a high-risk pregnancy and, you know, believe he's leaving somewhere around Tuesday and his wife is due Wednesday.

SHEN: 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 their family at home has a support system.

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

SABRINA JOHANNES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEPLOYED LOVE: I know it's scary, and we want to be able to make it a smooth flow for you and keep your kids, you know, going flowing through the school year and not being stressed out as well.


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


BERMAN: Yes, that was Natasha Chen.

This is what the 82nd Airborne is trained for. It doesn't make it easy on the families there. And even, you know, even those soldiers, New Year's Eve, to get that call and say, hey, you're going.

CAMEROTA: We're so grateful for their sacrifice and those personal stories of that one husband who may miss the birth of his child by one day if he has to deploy on Tuesday and the baby comes on Wednesday, we hope that they can adjust for that. But just, again, the sacrifice. I'm so glad that Natasha brought that to us to show us the real life consequences of all of this.

So, what is Iran's next move? What is President Trump's? We get "The Bottom Line," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CAMEROTA: Are the U.S. and Iran on the brink of war? And what is likely to happen next?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Nic, great to have you here in studio.

I know I'm asking you unknowable questions, I mean, but -- but you -- you are steeped in foreign affairs.


You do travel the globe. And so is there any way to know how Iran will respond or what they're planning?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": There's no way to know, but I think there are ways to make some good guesses. I think it's almost certain that Iran will respond in some dramatic way that it thinks will be similar in scale to what happened to General Soleimani. And what form that takes or where, we just don't know. But certainly American military bases in the region are an obvious target. I think cyber-attacks are likely to happen. We may see attacks on American economic targets to -- as a way of Iran responding to attacks on Iran's economy. You know, I would be worried if I were in charge of security at Trump properties around the globe. I can imagine them being a target.

And, beyond that, you know, there -- there hasn't been much talk about Muhandis, the guy who was killed, the Iraqi wo was killed along with Soleimani. But some of the other militia in the area may seek their own revenge as well, either in coordination with Iran or on their own. And that may be more ad hoc.

But the bottom line is, you know, this is not over. This will continue. And then the U.S. will be faced with the question of how do we escalate. And I guess what worries me is that both sides have already miscalculated. You know, the U.S. didn't understand that when we initially had our airstrikes on five different locations and killed two dozen Iranian supporters on December 29th that Iran would respond. And Iran clearly did not respond but General Soleimani is dead. I think that miscalculation is going to continue.

BERMAN: No, look, General Soleimani, they had no idea this was coming. General Soleimani was not in hiding. This man travels out in the open or traveled out in the open now. Had they been expecting it, he would have been in hiding somewhere. That clearly didn't happen.

In military powers, this is action, reaction and counter-action here. And we're trying to figure out what or how Iran is now looking at this. One of the things that's been positive, David Gregory was noting that General Petraeus is this, is that maybe there's this new sense of deterrence. Maybe this action will create this notion inside Iran that we have to be careful about how we react.

KRISTOF: So I think it is -- General Petraeus made the point that there for a while had been a lack of deterrence. So essentially Iran, since about last May, had upped the game, had created a series of provocations and the U.S. had really not responded. And I think it's fair to argue that in that period after May, the U.S. had not created a price for Iranian provocations. But we went from under deterrence on December 29th to dramatically escalating and then we raised that again with the killing of General Soleimani.

So I think the notion that we deterred anything with the killing of General Soleimani is completely wrong. I think it will lead to more attacks on Americans and to more dead Americans. And what I most fear is that this will raise the escalation ladder and cause issues that we can't begin to predict in the Strait of Hormuz involving shipping, involving cyber-attacks, economic infrastructure. We just don't know.

CAMEROTA: Well, we do know a couple of things. And one is that Iran no longer feels any compunction about violating the 2015 nuclear deal and so they've announced that they are not going to be hamstrung by that anymore and that the Iraqi parliament voted to get rid of U.S. troops.

KRISTOF: No, I think that's exactly right. And if you look at the consequences of this, then it's certainly not obvious that this had made Americans safer. I would argue the opposite.

In addition, as you say, we are probably on the way to losing the American presence in -- military presence in Iraq. That, in turn, makes it very difficult for the U.S. to operate in Syria, for those 1,000 troops in Syria. We have kind of rescued the Iranian regime, which had been so unpopular, both at home and Iraq, and we've devastated our ability to combat ISIS.

So certainly the -- there has been a backlash so far. This has not gone the way we've wanted, either for the U.S. or, of course, for General Soleimani.

BERMAN: I think we have live pictures from the streets of Tehran. We've been watching these demonstrations all day. These are -- this is a funeral for General Soleimani. We saw the supreme leader there mourning over his body and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, one estimate over a million people on the streets there.

You just listed four things, setbacks to what you would think would be the strategic goals of the United States are in the region. One, the nuclear deal. Number two, unifying the Iranian people who had not be (ph).


Number three, getting kicked out at least in a vote in the Iraqi parliament in Iraq. And then number four, the fight against ISIS, having to pause. That's a lot.

KRISTOF: That is. And, you know, in the long run, the way out of this crisis in the long run is going to be what happens in Iran. And I've been to Iran multiple times. I've reported there. The regime is extremely unpopular. There is deep resentment at the corruption and repression of the regime. You travel in Iran and it is also, in some ways, the least religious country in the region. It's a place where people don't fast during the day during Ramadan. And you -- we begin to see those protests gaining strength in November. And now I, you know -- now, as you say, we've unified the country. I think we've put off those kinds of threats to the government. And we've -- what Soleimani wanted his whole career was to oust U.S. forces from Iraq. And by killing him, we may have helped him achieve that objective.

BERMAN: Nic Kristof, great to have you here.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here. Thanks for explaining the irony and all of the unintended consequences. Great to talk to you.

KRISTOF: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: We've been watching the streets of Tehran all morning long. New developments in the standoff with Iran, next.