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THE SITUATION ROOM

John Bolton Willing To Testify In Trump Impeachment Trial; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; Interview With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY); Homeland Security Warns Of Threat Of Iranian Cyber Attack; Bolton: I Am Prepared To Testify In Impeachment Trial If Subpoenaed; U.S. Notifies Iraq Of Troop Movement But Pentagon Says Military Is Not Withdrawing; Australia Struggles To Contain Deadly Fires. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following two major stories right now, including top Pentagon leaders defending the intelligence behind the decision to take out Iran's top general, Qasem Soleimani.

That comes amid criticism that the intelligence was weak. And military officials are also saying that a letter to Iraq implying that U.S. troops were preparing to withdraw from Iraq was a draft letter that was released by mistake, and that the United States is not withdrawing.

We're also following President Trump's looming impeachment trial. The Senate is back in session, with Democrats and Republicans still at odds over calling witnesses.

But former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a potential star witness, now says he's prepared to testify if he's subpoenaed by the Senate.

We're covering all angles of both stories as only CNN can with our correspondents in key locations and our experts and analysts all standing by.

First, let's get the very latest on the Iran crisis.

Our Senior National Correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is with us right now.

Alex, there's been a flurry of major developments.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There really has, Wolf.

But let's start with the first one, an embarrassing moment at the Pentagon tonight. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, admitting to reporters that a letter that was leaked suggesting that the U.S. was withdrawing troops from Iraq was a mistake. Milley said that it was just a draft that was poorly worded and that a withdrawal is not what's happening.

Forces are, however, being repositioned in the Middle East. Now, this comes as calls are growing louder in Iraq for U.S. troops to leave after the killing of Qasem Soleimani. The Trump administration has said he was planning imminent attacks, but now, days later, they have said very little about what those attacks were.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, calls are growing for details on the attacks that were being planned by Iran that the Trump administration says were imminent.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This was a bad guy. We took him from the battlefield. We saw that he was plotting further plans to take down Americans, in some cases, many Americans.

MARQUARDT: Now Senate Democrats demanding the president declassify the notification he sent Congress about the drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, writing: "It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner."

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): An entirely classified notification in the case of this particular military operation is simply not appropriate. And there appears to be no legitimate justification for classifying this notification.

MARQUARDT: But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remained vague about the threat.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When you say the attacks were imminent, how imminent were they? We talking about days? 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. And we took a bad guy off the battlefield. I -- we made the right decision. There is less risk today to American forces in the region as a result of that attack.

MARQUARDT: Still, flying back from his Christmas holiday, the president said, "We may discuss" releasing the intelligence.

He also addressed the shock and anger around his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran responds against Americans. "They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people," he said, "and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."

Today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicting the president, saying the U.S. would not target cultural sites and would instead follow the laws of armed conflict.

House and Senate members are expected to get briefed on Wednesday, as Democrats in both chambers work on war power resolutions that would limit President Trump's ability to act militarily against Iran. REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): 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.

MARQUARDT: In the wake of Soleimani's killing in Iraq, more than 3,000 U.S. forces are now being sent to the Middle East, a show of force that will also, many fear, make for a potential Iranian target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's stressful for sure, especially with everything that has escalated recently. He was supposed to be only doing, like, training. And now it has obviously transpired into something else.

MARQUARDT: The American killing and the all-but-certain Iranian response to come raising global fears it will set off a new round of deadly violence, the U.K., France and Germany issuing a joint statement saying: "There is now an urgent need for de-escalation. We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility."

POMPEO: Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And we have just learned that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on Capitol Hill a short time ago giving some senators a classified briefing on Iran.

Then, tomorrow, the Gang of Eight congressional leadership will get one as well. On Wednesday, all senators will be able to attend a briefing on the Soleimani strike by top national security officials.

Now, tonight, General Mark Milley defended those accusations that the intelligence on the planned attacks by Iran was razor-thin. He said that very few people have seen the actual intelligence, that it was compelling, it was imminent, and it was very, very clear in scale and in scope -- Wolf.

[18:05:04]

BLITZER: I hope they release a lot of that intelligence to the American public.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thank you very, very much, Alex Marquardt, reporting.

Let's go to the White House right now.

Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on the scene for us.

Jim, the president is dealing not only with the crisis with Iran, but also his looming impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate and a potential star witness. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump steered clear of the cameras today, but he did sound off on conservative talk radio, defending his decision to take out the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and slamming the impeachment process here in Washington.

Aides to the president now have to keep their eyes on two big wild cards, the Iranian regime and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who now says he will testify if called at an impeachment trial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Keeping the U.S. on a potential path to war, President Trump is vowing swift action should Iran seek vengeance for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani.

The president told conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh he's waiting to see what Iran does next.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should have been taken out a long time ago. And we had a shot at it. And we took him out. And we're a lot safer now because of it.

Now, we will see what happens. We will see what the response is, if any.

ACOSTA: As protesters took to the streets after Iran announced it has abandoned its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the president ramped up the rhetoric on Twitter.

Mr. Trump tweeted: "Iran will never have a nuclear weapon."

But the president still hasn't publicly provided any evidence backing up his claim that Soleimani was on the verge of carrying out an attack on Americans.

TRUMP: Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. But we caught him in the act and terminated him.

ACOSTA: In the impeachment inquiry, one of the GOP's biggest hawks on Iran, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, has reemerged, offering to appear at Mr. Trump's upcoming Senate trial, saying in a statement: "I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify."

Bolton's testimony could be explosive, especially when it comes to the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and his role in the administration's alleged scheme to find dirt on Joe Biden and Ukraine.

FIONA HILL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: In the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.

ACOSTA: About Bolton, Giuliani told CNN: "He never said anything to me. Maybe he's a bit passive-aggressive."

Democrats are once again insisting it's time to open up the Senate trial to witnesses.

SCHUMER: One of the key witnesses I have asked for, Mr. John Bolton, former national security adviser to President Trump, correctly acknowledged that he needs to comply with a Senate subpoena for his testimony, if issued.

ACOSTA: That's not what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Even with a process this constitutionally serious, even with tensions rising in the Middle East, House Democrats are treating impeachment like a political toy.

ACOSTA: The president is also on a collision course with Congress over Iran, trying to make the case that his posts on social media are some kind of legal notice that he may take military action, tweeting: "These media posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that, should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike back, and perhaps in a disproportionate manner."

The White House is defending that by saying Democrats can't be trusted.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: But, again, a lot of people just like to head straight to the cameras. Could you imagine telling the chairman of the Intel Committee, one Adam Schiff, that this was going to happen? Could you imagine? The man goes to bed with his earpiece and microphone on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for impeachment, a source close to the White House says the president faces maximum danger -- quote -- "maximum danger" heading into his Senate trial because of the potential for surprises that could be damaging to Mr. Trump.

The prospect of John Bolton testifying is exactly the kind of unpredictability the White House fears at this point.

Earlier today, Republican Senator Mitt Romney told our Manu Raju that he's open to the idea of hearing from John Bolton. But the question is whether or not Republican senators would actually vote to subpoena John Bolton. That's a different question altogether -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Let's dig deeper into all of this.

Joining us now, the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He's currently a director with defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Thanks for

having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to point out you're also a general -- former general counsel over at the Department of Defense.

And I want to start off with letter that a brigadier general in Iraq wrote to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, saying American forces are preparing for onward movement, and that -- quote -- "We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure."

You were the top lawyer over at the Pentagon. Do you accept the explanation from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the defense secretary that this was simply a mistake?

[18:10:00]

JOHNSON: The Pentagon is a very large bureaucracy. It's entirely possible that such a mistake could occur. And I would not want to be in the position of the person who released it.

So, yes, it is not implausible that such a mistake could happen in such a large bureaucracy.

BLITZER: We don't know who released it. We know it was written by a brigadier general of the U.S. Marine Corps and sent to the Department -- from the Department of Defense letterhead to the deputy director Combined Joint Operations Baghdad Ministry of Defense.

All right, let's talk about the strike on Qasem Soleimani. Has that jeopardized the overall U.S. mission in Iraq?

JOHNSON: Well, that's the question of the day, Wolf.

And I have to say that I know what I don't know. I am no longer a member of the National Security Council. I'm not privy to the intelligence that apparently prompted the president to take this action.

I do know that, if I were sitting in the Situation Room advising the president, evaluating whether to do this or not, I'd want to understand the second-, third- and fourth-order effects of escalating what has been, for years, basically shadow warfare between Iran and the United States directly and through proxies.

I'd want to know the consequences of escalating that conflict with what we refer to as a decapitation strike. A decapitation strike against a leader of a nation state in this manner is a very provocative, in-your-face action. You're basically saying, yes, I did it. What are you going to do about it? It affects the national honor in Iran.

One second-order effect that has been very clear that any Foreign Service officer could have predicted is the reaction in Iraq. This strike has clearly mobilized Shia public opinion in Iraq, to the point where the Parliament has voted that the U.S. presence should leave. But I think that it's incumbent -- it was incumbent -- and I hope they went through this analysis -- to understand the consequences of taking such a provocative act.

BLITZER: Just a little while ago, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, used your words to defend the president as far as the strike is concerned.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: Jeh Johnson, President Obama's own former Pentagon, general counsel and secretary of homeland security, here's what he said.

"If you believe everything that our government is saying about General Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective. And the president under his constitutional authority as commander in chief had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without, without an additional congressional authorization."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so, what's your reaction?

JOHNSON: Well, my first reaction is, I have been around Washington long enough to know that you're an expert for one purpose, and a partisan Democrat or Republican for another.

The legal inquiry does not end the inquiry. If we believe everything the government is telling us about how dangerous this individual was, he is a lawful military objective, and the president had ample legal authority under the Constitution to take him out.

But that's not the end of the inquiry. As a policy, strategic, and military matter, one has to carefully consider the consequences of such a provocative action, as I mentioned earlier. And I hope our government has done that at the highest levels.

BLITZER: Well, Mark Esper, the defense secretary, says that there's -- he believes the intelligence that convinced him, convinced the president, convinced other officials to go ahead and take out Qasem Soleimani.

What's your reaction to that? Do you believe the defense secretary?

JOHNSON: Well, I have -- I have to -- I'm not in a position to evaluate the intelligence myself.

I -- of course, I take our secretary of defense at face value. But one can make -- reach different conclusions based upon the same set of facts. And the principal consideration, from my experience, that I know someone should carefully evaluate in this situation is, OK, if we take this action, such a provocative action, what are going to be the consequences? Our government has chosen to elevate a long-simmering shadow warfare

against the Iranian government to now something in the open, where we have acknowledged that we did it, and we have to be very careful about what happens next.

The Department of Homeland Security, my old department, on Saturday issued a national threat advisory that I think was in very candid, blunt terms that I hope many Americans will carefully read about the potential threats to our homeland.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you about some serious threats, new threats to the U.S. homeland?

[18:15:00]

JOHNSON: Well, that statement issued by DHS is a very serious statement.

They talk about how Hezbollah has demonstrated the capacity and intent previously to try to attack our homeland and that a strike could occur at any moment. That has to be taken very, very seriously.

So, I think that, reading between the lines of that statement, what our government is telling us is that, in the short term, at least, tensions have been elevated, and we need to be particularly vigilant here in the United States.

So I think we can expect to see an enhanced presence at government facilities. I think we can expect to see enhanced screening at ports of entry.

But just wearing my prior secretary's hat for a moment -- and I'm speaking here in my personal capacity, by the way -- I would encourage all Americans to be extra vigilant, extra careful, but continue to go about their daily lives, continue to go to public events, gatherings, public places, but be extra vigilant and extra careful in this current environment.

BLITZER: And, as they say, if you see something, say something.

JOHNSON: If you see something, say something.

BLITZER: All right, the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead: hundreds of thousands of Iranians voicing their rage at the United States as they mourn their country's former top general. We're going live to Tehran.

And we will also talk about the deepening crisis. Republican Senator Rand Paul -- there you see him -- he's about to join us live. He's got some serious thoughts on all of this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:20:52]

BLITZER: In Iran, grief and rage, as the country mourns its former top general killed by the United States in a targeted strike.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, is on the ground in Tehran for us.

Fred, a rather dramatic day.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An extremely dramatic day, Wolf, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets here in Tehran.

I was right in the middle of those crowds. And a lot of those people obviously mourning General Qasem Soleimani, but at the same time also vowing revenge and demanding that their leaders take revenge against the United States.

Here's what we witnessed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Fury and threats, as Iranians mourn their top general, Qasem Soleimani.

Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Tehran, weeping, chanting, vowing retribution.

(on camera): There's a great deal of anger here on the streets of Tehran, as many, many people have come out here to pay their final respects to the body of Qasem Soleimani and the others who were killed in that American airstrike.

Of course, there's a lot of grief, but also a lot of anger at the United States and specifically at President Trump and the Trump administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All Iranian says, down with Trump. Down with U.S. government. We don't hate American people, European people, but we hate the policy that they follow.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Many of those in the crowd saying they want Iran to hit back at the U.S. as they yelled "Death to America."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Soleimani was a hero. He was the only shield against ISIS here. And now, as our leaders today at least said, you will see wrath, revenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us want to hold revenge. And all of us say...

(SHOUTING)

PLEITGEN: The Trump administration says Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks against American interests in the Middle East, but haven't shown any evidence of that threat. Also, President Trump warning Iran not to retaliate after the targeted

killing.

TRUMP: If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified. And I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary.

PLEITGEN: Iran's leadership hailed Soleimani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praying at his coffin.

And Soleimani's replacement vowing to kick America out of the Middle East.

ESMAIL QAANI, QUDS FORCE COMMANDER (through translator): We will continue Soleimani's path. We will remove the U.S. from the region in several steps. The supreme leader backs this.

PLEITGEN: Iran's leadership continues to say it does not want a full- on war with the U.S., but says revenge for Soleimani's death is not a question of if, but of when.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, another thing that the Iranians have been saying is that they are in no rush to retaliate.

But, of course, we have spoken to senior leadership here in Iran, and they are saying that they are certainly going to have a military retaliation, and that military retaliation is going to be against military sites of the United States, probably here in the Middle East.

Again, the Iranians saying they don't want to start a full-on war with the U.S., but certainly an extremely dangerous situation here in the Middle East right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, thank you, Fred Pleitgen live in Tehran. Thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of today's late-breaking developments with Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did the president's decision to kill General Soleimani make Americans safer or less safe?

PAUL: Well, I think that's a good question.

And I think the stated purpose by the administration was that they were going to prevent attacks on Americans. But I think, if you ask the question now, is it more or less likely that there will be attacks on Americans, I think it's much more likely.

[18:25:01]

The replacement for Soleimani is basically a clone, somebody who is a hard-liner, who has worked with Soleimani for 20-some-odd years.

And so, while Soleimani may have been plotting attacks, and probably was, it's now a certainty that there will be attacks in revenge for his killing.

The other unintended consequence here is, you saw the chanting in the streets of Tehran. This has emboldened the hard-liners. Iran is like any other country. There's a mixture of opinion. There are hard- liners that never want to talk to America at all, "Death to America."

But there are moderates and younger people who do like the West and who would talk to us.

I think what this does is, it lessens the voices of anybody that wants moderation or diplomacy. And even the Iranians will not be able to approach us on diplomacy until there's revenge, until there's adequate revenge to satiate the people who want some kind of revenge.

And this is sad. I mean, the death of Soleimani, I think, is the death of diplomacy with Iran. I don't see an off-ramp. I don't see a way out of this.

BLITZER: So, did the president make a major mistake?

PAUL: I think that he got bad advice.

I think that, basically, even though he let John Bolton go, this is John Bolton. John Bolton is clapping and jumping up and down and rubbing his hands together, because this is what he wanted, to take a dramatic action, to kill one of their main leaders.

But the thing is, is, it's going to have unintended consequences. And, really, as part of this whole recipe, the administration, mainly at John Bolton's behest, tore up the Iran agreement, placed a significant and severe embargo on Iran, and then killed one of their major generals.

Nobody in their right mind would actually think that that would lead to negotiation. So, when Secretary of State Pompeo is out there saying, well, maximum pressure, our goal is to get them back to the negotiating table, no naive child would believe that.

You would have to be brain-dead to believe that we tear up the agreement, we put an embargo on you, and we kill your major general, and they're just going to crawl back to the table and say, what do you want, America?

I mean, military escalation is really what you would predict with this. I think most people who were thinking about this would have predicted that everything they have done with regard to Iran is leading now to this military escalation.

And I want to be careful that nothing justifies their military action, but it is predictable, given what path we have chosen.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, first raised the idea of killing Soleimani to President Trump months ago.

Do you accept Secretary Pompeo's claim that the strike was meant to thwart what he has described as an imminent attack?

PAUL: You know, I don't want to question his motives. So I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that his motives are good, that he wanted to stop attacks.

But foreign policy is a little more complicated that. You also have to think, it's not just about vengeance.

You know, one senator said he was an evil bastard, so we killed him.

Well, that's what grade school children -- that's the way they think. You have to think a little bit beyond that. And you have to think, well, what happens next?

And I think what happens next is now an inevitability that there will be, not just one, but multiple escalations of this on the part of Iran, and that there is no foreseeable off-ramp, because they have been given this killing of their general that, in order to save face, they're going to have to do tit for tat. That will be their response.

And none of this justifies it, but that's what's going to happen.

BLITZER: Would you vote, Senator, to restrain the president's military action against Iran in a new war powers resolution?

PAUL: I spoke with Senator Kaine on the floor a few minutes ago, and we're looking at his resolution.

I, in general, have always supported that a declaration of war is necessary. I think killing a country's major general is an act of war. I don't think you can get away with saying it's imminent. They have been complaining for years about Soleimani.

I mean, most of the killings that are attributed to him, I think, are from the Iraq War 10 years ago or longer. And so I think saying this is imminent and saying they don't need the permission of Congress goes against the traditions of our Constitution.

And whether it's been a Republican president or a Democrat president, I have been a stickler that the way to make war rare is to make it where you have to actually vote on it in Congress, and then it has to be overwhelming.

And there have been times. When we were attacked on 9/11, virtually everybody voted to go after those who attacked us. Same way with Pearl Harbor. But this is sort of a different situation, where no one's really proposing all-out war.

What we're proposing is something that will fester and go on and on in drips and drabs of intermittent violence for decades, if not generations.

And I see no end to this and no real success to this, what -- what has happened.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul, thanks so much for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, a new wild card in President Trump's impeachment trial.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton now says he's ready to testify if subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, top Pentagon officials are defending the intelligence behind the decision to take out Iran's top general as that country vows harsh revenge for his death.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

Phil Mudd, Let me play for you an exchange that our Jake Tapper had with Mike Pompeo on this sensitive subject.

[18:35:03]

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Here in America, 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)

BLITZER: So what do you think?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, this makes me a little bit nervous. Look, a quick history on the secretary of state. He's been after Iran since he was a Congressman. The first question you would have is whether he's looking at the intelligence based on his long history of dislike for the Iranians and saying, let me interpret the intelligence maybe more aggressively even than the intel guys do.

The only other thing I'd say having spent my entire career looking at threat information is it's like numbers and accounts. You can make threat information, say whatever you want. It can look you urgent and somebody else looks at it and says, I don't think that means that much.

The intel here is important. The messenger tells me that maybe he's interpreting that as a secretary of state. He's interpreting the intel really aggressively.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: One of the critical things is whether or not Secretary Pompeo is being potentially misleading in the way he's describing the threat. One thing that we have not seen that we would have expected to is really view (ph) comprehensive briefings of Congress.

If we saw bipartisan members of Congress coming forward and saying, look, we agree that the Intelligence showed an imminent threat in the generally understood sense of the term. Maybe we disagree on policy but at least you can believe what this administration is saying. We aren't even seeing that. We are seeing limited briefings being provided to members of Congress and they are getting very, very different takeaways in terms of whether or not this was, in fact, justified.

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And imminence is really relevant and very important. It's critical for the legal analysis here in terms of whether the president had the constitutional authority to do this.

BLITZER: Because if there was an imminent threat against Americans, then the president clearly can respond.

BAKER: Exactly. That's exactly right. And so I think we need, we, the public, and the military need to understand exactly what this threat was and why the president felt he was justified to do this.

BLITZER: We need to understand, Laura, what the words, imminent threat, means.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is a clearly defined term. Not only you can apply it to the sky and say, I think this is will now be the definition of imminent. It has to actually be something that's going to take place quickly.

And, of course, the notion here that you have to be justified, the president of the United States can't just order the assassination of anyone he feels like because he has a knee-jerk, impulsive reaction. There has to be some reason to do so. Nor can he actually order to have somebody bomb or threaten to bomb or harm in any way cultural sites.

There are actual protocols in place here from the Hague Convention to Geneva Conventions about doing just that, because it will not distinguish you from being war criminal if you are engaging in that very behavior that you are vilifying someone you've assassinating for doing.

HENNESSEY: Look, I think it's important that we acknowledge that the definition of imminence put forward by the Obama administration has included a very, very expansive definition beyond what we would ordinarily understand as immediate. But the bottom line is the Obama administration told the truth. They offered the actual facts. And so the American people and certainly Congress still deserve to know precisely what happened.

BLITZER: If the Iranians respond through Iranian-backed proxies in other countries whether Syria or Lebanon or Yemen or elsewhere, what does the U.S. do then?

MUDD: They've got to respond again. Look, I think the problem with the Americans in this case is we're going down a rat hole. As soon as they start hitting targets with surrogates, especially in places like Syria and Iraq, we've got to respond again. And then you ask what's going to happen a week or a month down the road. We're in this for a while.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following does John Bolton's announcement that he's now prepared to testify in the impeachment trial in the Senate give Nancy Pelosi more reason to hold onto those two articles of impeachment?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're following a potential new wild card in President Trump's looming impeachment trial in the Senate. Joining us now to talk about it, Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, a member of the Judiciary Committee. Congresswoman, thanks so much for coming in.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Good evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, John Bolton, the former national security adviser, he says he'll testify if he's formally subpoenaed by the Senate. Do you believe he has information that could be potentially game changer?

DEAN: I think he absolutely does. And I'm pleased that he came forward and thoughtfully thought that through. If subpoenaed, he will come before the Senate. I believe that brings extra pressure on Mitch McConnell, Senator McConnell, to do the right thing, to hold a fair trial. It's absolutely what is necessary.

It's clear that the former national security adviser has direct information on what was going on in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani and the domestic political errand, as Dr. Hill called it.

BLITZER: does Bolton's announcement give the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, more time to hold off delivering those two articles of impeachment to the Senate, try to get assurances of what you would call a fair trial?

DEAN: Maybe that gives her more time, but also the public pressure will give her more time. It really is up to Mr. McConnell at this point.

Seven out of ten Americans believe there should be a fair trial, that Senator McConnell and all of the Republican senators should uphold their oath of office and demand a fair trial. After all, the president wants all the facts out. He wants full transparency. So what is Mr. McConnell covering up? What is he afraid of? Why would he want anything less than evidence, testimony and proof?

BLITZER: Well, the blame -- the republicans, they blame you, the Democrats in the House. Why didn't you have Bolton testify during your investigation?

DEAN: Well, you saw what difficulty we had starting first with Mr. McGahn. We were unable to get him. And it took eight months before a court would actually determine that, of course, he should have come in for that subpoena. Now, that is under appeal and had been argued just recently.

So we were well aware that all of these folks were going to be blocked by the president.

[18:45:02]

But take a look at what did happen in the impeachment hearings. We had 17 brave, courageous diplomats and career public servants come forward and tell the truth, tell what they knew.

And the information was damning. The president had every right and every opportunity to bring forward information that would be exonerating of him. He brought nothing.

And in the end, what happened is this president stands impeached, forever impeached.

BLITZER: Bolton's associates suggest he would have testified before the House Judiciary Committee if he had been formally subpoenaed. He was never subpoenaed.

DEAN: Well, I was not part of that decision-making. Word (ph) that he would have come forward at that time, instead of going after --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But hindsight, should he have been subpoenaed and brought before the Judiciary Committee?

DEAN: I would like to have had him before the Judiciary Committee or Intelligence Committee. And there's still time for that.

But in the meantime, I think all the pressure now is on the Senate to do the right thing, uphold their oath of office. After all, these are 100 senators. If they follow Mr. McConnell down this domestic political errand to protect the president from the truth, they are really giving up on their own oath of office. They are going along with the president and literally breaking the law.

BLITZER: Representative Madeleine Dean, thanks as usual for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, confusion over the U.S. mission in Iraq as the crisis with Iran clearly deepens.

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[18:51:03]

BLITZER: Tonight, the Pentagon is trying to clarify confusion about the U.S. mission in Iraq sparked by a leaked letter.

Let's get some insight from the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired U.S. Army General, Wesley Clark.

General Clark, thanks so much for coming in. How serious is this situation right now? How worried are you?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, you know, I see the end state very clearly as war with Iran. There is a lot of people who want to do this, wanted to do this for a long time, the U.S. has looked at it several times. There was a secret effort in the Bush administration to take a look at doing it. There's been continuing pressure -- our Israeli friends have -- some of them have pushed to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: To do what? To do what?

CLARK: Take out Iran's nuclear potential, take out its military force. Set it back.

BLITZER: You think that the president of the United States is preparing to do that?

CLARK: I think -- I think there's no serious effort for an off-ramp at this point. I'm looking at the statements that are coming out and when Iran responds and we respond back, what is going on? We need to get to the bottom of, first, why was Soleimani hit? What was he doing when he was coming to Baghdad? And who gave us the intelligence? What's all that about?

Because in the region, people say he was delivering an Iranian response for a peace mission, for a peace proposal to the Saudis. So who tipped us off and who made the decision, and why did we make the decision to strike him just then?

BLITZER: Because Secretary Pompeo keeps saying that the intelligence showed there was an imminent threat. You don't buy that?

CLARK: I think that's what has to be established. I'm not inside the intelligence community. I haven't had access to it, but I think it is incumbent on the U.S. government for our own credibility, got to get that information out to the Congress, at least if it is so sensitive, nobody else could hear it.

But the American people needs to hear it because, Wolf, this seems like a lot of a compressed run-up to -- we've been here before. I remember being on this show with you many times in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and we talked about, did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? Were we going to do something? What was going on?

And I was all of the time being told by people that planning is moving forward, the decision had already been made. Now, maybe there had been no formal decision, but the decision by the administration --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you think what is going on right now as far as U.S. intelligence is similar to the blunders involving weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

CLARK: When I hear that the troops are moving out, I don't know if they're moving out or not because it is confusing, the Pentagon says they aren't, U.S. embassy in Iraq --

BLITZER: From Iraq you mean?

CLARK: Yes, that's an offensive movement, not a defensive movement.

BLITZER: Why is that an offensive movement?

CLARK: Because that clears the deck so there is no easy target for Iranian retaliation when we move. That's always been, you know, a weak spot of U.S. planning as you head all of these troops on the ground.

So I think the message here is that we need to look at the end state. The end state wasn't clear on Friday morning, but the end state is increasingly clearer as you see the actions, the maneuvers, the statements by the administration, what is being done in the region. And so, I think that this is not tit-for-tat. This is people saying, does President Trump have the statesmanship and leadership to get us out of this? Well, I don't think that is --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you're convinced the Iranians will retaliate?

CLARK: I think they'll retaliate unless there is some extraordinary effort by the United Nations and European Union to hold them back. And to do that, the United States is probably going to have to give up something to persuade them to do that, and I don't see any effort by this administration to get out in front of that and head us off.

BLITZER: General Clark, as usual, thank you so much for coming in.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Very worrisome developments indeed.

Just ahead, more than 20 people have now been killed by devastating wildfires in Australia.

[18:55:02]

Officials warned the conditions could get even worse in the days ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thousands of firefighters are battling deadly wildfires across Australia right now. More than 20 people have been killed with hundreds of homes and millions of acres destroyed. The state of emergency has been declared and one Australian state with over 100 fires are burning with many still uncontained.

Three thousand army reserve forces have been called up to help battle the flames. 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.