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Pentagon: Iran Launched More Than A Dozen Ballistic Missiles Against U.S. Military At Two Bases In Iraq; Iran's Foreign Minister: "We Do Not Seek Escalation Of War"; Trump Tweets "All Is Well" After Iran Missile Attacks. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We can leave it at that. Or you can try to escalate even further. That's what the Iranians are warning against, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Fred Pleitgen, also, I think we're just - Iranian press TV is showing images of Soleimani being buried in his hometown or being at least returned to his hometown.

Our breaking news coverage continues right now. Want to hand things over to Chris Cuomo for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, CUOMO PRIME TIME: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo.

We know that Iran has struck multiple American bases. We are awaiting a full report of any casualties. That information may determine what happens next on both sides. We just got word of something that may be a good sign that there may be less coming next. We have that.

Welcome to PRIME TIME.

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CUOMO: All right, two airbases in Iraq that house U.S. troops have come under attack. Iran has claimed responsibility directly.

Now, according to the Pentagon, more than a dozen ballistic missiles were launched at al-Asad and Erbil bases around 5.30 P.M. Eastern Time. You're looking at video that was released of those missiles on launch.

A key point, early reports suggested that these missiles may have been launched locally by Iranian proxies. That would have been a less extreme step. But no, that is not the case.

Defense Department officials say it is clear they were launched from Iran, in retaliation to the airstrike that killed a top Iranian General last week.

That means, at a minimum, those missiles traveled about 800 miles from here in Erbil to the closest border in Iran, if that's where they came from, and at the second base a little bit more about 900 miles.

Now, the distance was greater, obviously, than what would happen if you shot them locally. But these were more sophisticated missiles. That means that they had better targeting systems. That means they could be more precise.

And that leads us to an interesting question, in a moment, but here's more information about what we know.

Two missiles hit in Erbil, one in the airport, the international airport there. The report is it did not explode. Another landed outside the city. No injuries reported from that one.

Now, U.S. military reports that it saw missiles being organized in Iran, loaded, taken out of the garrisons, put onto the launching devices, and readied for launch. A question that arises, why didn't the U.S. strike at them then? That is interesting, and complicated, and we can answer it tonight, and we will in a moment.

Now, the question is from Iran releasing these missiles, and not being done locally, do they have the ability to target missiles close enough, but not dead on target?

In other words, was this a step to save face within the region without doing maximal damage? Yes, every report that you're seeing, and I'm not repeating their words, because I don't see the benefit in that kind of invective.

But tough talk aside, was this the move show that we could have, show we retaliated, and now that's that? We have Intelligence on that as well. But what we don't know right now is probably more important.

Like I said, we're awaiting word of casualties. So far, no reports of any American casualties or let - death, anything at all, we don't have a report. There are reports of Iraqi injuries, maybe other allies. If it holds this way, and God willing it does, could that be a reason to have an end to this cycle?

Now, to the news that we thought we were going to get and didn't that may be a good sign. We were on alert for the President to announce to the nation tonight. We are now told that won't happen.

You can read that two ways. One, the President wasn't ready to announce another strike, which might be good news for those who don't want to see escalation here, or it could mean the U.S. military doesn't want to flag what's coming next.

We don't have further information on that. But you're not going to see the President tonight. At least, that's the latest word. However, what he's already said holds a lot of weight here.

The President set a red line that "These media posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that," here's the key part, "should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike back, and perhaps in a disproportionate manner."

Now, they certainly claw - crossed that red line, Iran. Iran has said in response recently, if any strike by the United States occurs inside Iran's border, then they plan to attack Dubai and the UAE, obviously a U.S. ally, and Haifa in Israel. That is a sensitive site. And, of course, Israel is a key ally.

So, we have what we know and what we need to know covered from every angle everywhere that is relevant, from the White House to Iraq and Iran. Our reporters are live across the globe.

[21:05:00]

We also have a key perspective from someone who has been in the Chair when it matters, former Homeland Security Secretary who spent years dealing with the Iran Threat, Michael Chertoff. But let's start with Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

So, my read is no word from the President tonight means there may not be further action, at least right away. What are you being told?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It sounds like they're still judging what their response is going to be because, Chris, that's the number one question coming out of the White House tonight is how are they going to respond to this?

You just laid out the President's past thought. It's not even just that. He also got even as specific as saying that if Iran did target an airbase with U.S. troops on it, talking about how he would respond to that, saying that America would respond, now the question is how much do they do that.

We know that he essentially spent the evening surrounded by his top National Security aides, who came over here to the White House, after we were first getting these reports about these attacks, and this being launched.

And that was the Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Vice President all here around the President tonight as they are essentially asking themselves what are we going to do in response to this?

CUOMO: Hey, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Now, we should have did--

CUOMO: Let me - let me--

COLLINS: Yes. CUOMO: --ask you a quick follow on that. It's great reporting that you know who's around the President.

You know, in these situations, what happens next is almost always the category of Intelligence. They dictate action about what's happening on the ground, and what needs to happen, and that can start a cycle of counsel for the President.

Do we know if he is relying on the DNI, the Director of Intel, or is it really Pompeo that he's listening to?

COLLINS: Well Pompeo and the President are incredibly close. You saw him come over here within moments, and he was reading something in the backseat of his car, we could see him.

And we should note that of course there is no confirmed Director of National Intelligence at this time. It's just someone who is in an acting position in that role after the President nominated someone who Capitol Hill, of course, lawmaker John Ratcliffe, and that - that ultimately fell through.

So, the question over the Intelligence has been of course this is a President in the past who has repeatedly doubted and undermined U.S. Intelligence. But that's what you've seen not only the President, but also Mike Pompeo, referring to, and relying on, time and time again over the last several days.

CUOMO: Well not only is the President now telling us we have the best Intel in the world, but he actually did something that he's always criticized in the past. This is probably one of the most provocative actions by a U.S. President in our lifetime.

Kaitlan, thank you. Please let us know what you're hearing. I'll come right back to you.

Now, let's go to Tehran inside Iran. Fred Pleitgen is there. We've been showing Fred live pictures of a Memorial to General Soleimani.

Obviously, he was more to people in that country than a perceived terrorist, as he is to the U.S. government. He was more than a General. He was a cultural figure. I think, in Iraq, recently, he was polled at about 80 percent popularity.

What are you hearing on the ground about why this happened tonight?

PLEITGEN: Well I think you just hit the nail on the head there, Chris. I think the reason why this happened tonight is because the U.S. - they had that targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani.

And I think one of the things that I've been hearing from the Iranians, Chris, was the reason why they feel they are almost forced to do these strikes that we're seeing or that we have seen tonight is because the U.S. took direct responsibility for killing Hassan - Qasem Soleimani.

I had an interview earlier today with the Foreign Minister of Iran. And the Foreign Minister said to me, "The U.S. killed one of our top commanders. And the U.S. admitted that it killed one of our top commanders."

Therefore, they say, they saw this as a direct aggression against the Iranian nation. And therefore, the Foreign Minister told me, "Iran is going to take action."

Now Chris, a couple of days ago, I actually had an interview with one of the top advisers to Iran's Supreme Leader. This is someone right in the power center. And that person told me, "Look, I can tell you right now, there is going to be a military response from our side. That military response is going to be against military targets."

The Iranians also, however, have been saying they don't want this to be a full-on war. And so therefore, it really wasn't much of a surprise that the Iranians immediately took responsibility for launching those ballistic missiles towards Iraqi territory and hitting those U.S. bases.

What they're essentially trying to do Chris is, on the one hand, they are trying to obviously send their message, but they're also saying, Chris, that they have the capabilities to hit American targets, even from Iranian territory.

One of the things that we've been talking so much about is Iran's ballistic missile program. They've been investing a lot into it. They've made it more and more sophisticated.

And now they're showing this stuff actually does work, and this stuff can actually be a threat to the United States, so some significant messaging that the Iranians are also sending.

And what we've been seeing here over the past couple of days, in the aftermath of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, has been big outpouring of grief, but also calls for revenge.

[21:10:00]

And I was actually at one of the main funeral processions for Soleimani, just yesterday, and there were people holding placards, Chris that had two words written on them, "Hard" and "Revenge."

And guess what the operation is called, according to the Revolutionary Guard tonight, launching those ballistic missiles? They call it Operation Hard Revenge. They are saying they are warning the U.S. against striking back. They say that will lead to more retaliation.

They're warning other nations here in the vicinity that house U.S. bases not to let America use their bases to launch attacks against Iran. Otherwise, those countries will become targets as well, so certainly a very tense situation.

It does seem as though, and this is something that we've heard from Iranian officials, it's something very important, the Iranians don't want this to escalate any further is what they've been telling me through various channels, Chris. CUOMO: Well actions speak louder than words. One of the questions for U.S. military to assess, thank you to Fred Pleitgen, we'll be back to him in a little bit, is whether or not they fired these missiles that are supposedly so accurate in a way that they would come close, but not cause the kind of deadly damage they might have.

Now, that question hangs on the answer of a full assessment of who was hurt and where. We don't have that yet. We're waiting on it. Let's go to Baghdad. Arwa Damon is positioned basically, you know, right outside as a triangle of the two bases.

Arwa Damon, what is the assessment you're hearing from sources on the ground about the damage done by the strikes?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the U.S. military saying at this stage, in their initial assessment, they do not believe that there are any U.S. casualties. However, it is worth reminding everyone who's watching that these U.S. military bases are often joint bases, as was the al-Asad airbase.

So, what we're hearing from an Iraqi security source is that there are reportedly casualties on the Iraqi side. We don't know how many. We don't know if these casualties were just wounded or killed. But we are receiving reports of those kinds of casualties.

And this is a country that has been bracing itself, realizing that it is the physical battlefield at this stage between this brewing war between Washington and Tehran.

The Iraqis that we've been talking to are saying that this is exactly what they have been fearing, for quite some time now, that they are going to be on the receiving end of any sort of retaliation from either side, Chris.

And also worth noting though that even if - let's assume that this is as far as Iran's response goes at this stage, let's assume that the U.S. does not somehow respond, and escalate even further.

In Iraq, this is not where it ends because you still have the U.S. military here, and you still have these Shia paramilitary forces, Shia parliamentarians, who do make up the majority of parliament, and a Prime Minister who have been saying that they want foreign forces to leave, and these Shia paramilitary groups, proxies of Iran are saying that if the U.S. military does not leave, they are going to be forming some sort of resistance force.

Who makes up these groups, Chris? The very same Shia militias, who fought U.S. forces during the U.S.-led occupation here.

So, even if we do have some sort of easing of tensions, at the level of Washington and Tehran, that doesn't necessarily translate into an easing of tensions on the ground in Iraq.

CUOMO: Now, understandable and very important perspective, and the biggest problem in terms of how much catalyzing there is there, is you don't have Tehran and Washington D.C. talking to each other. Right now, we know of no channels of communication, which means it's hard for things to get better.

Arwa, you're going to keep the feed in your ear. When you hear the conversation with Chertoff and the other experts we're having, going forward, when there are points you want to make or things you hear on the ground, let me know, I'll come right back to you. Same for Fred Pleitgen in Tehran.

And obviously, we're monitoring the White House. Hopefully, we get no other word from there tonight because that may well be an introduction of some new action, and I don't know why anybody wants to hear that, at this point.

So, with all the information on the ground, what does it mean to those who have to make the decisions about what happens next?

Michael Chertoff, all right, former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush, thank you so much for making yourself available tonight, Mr. Secretary, on such an important night.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, CHERTOFF GROUP: Sure, absolutely.

CUOMO: So, from what you've heard of the state of play on the ground, what are your concerns and considerations?

CHERTOFF: I think this is a kind of a classic example of the cycle of escalation, where you have a back-and-forth, how do you decide at what point you can kind of climb down as opposed to continuing to amplify the level of violence?

[21:15:00]

Remember, this cycle began with an attack by an Iranian-backed militia on a airbase that resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor, and a number of U.S. service people being injured. So, that began this.

We then responded to that. There was then an attack on the Embassy. And so, it has slowly stepped up. What I'm hopeful about, but I'm certainly not - not for sure is that the Iranians are now signaling that they are ready to stop at this point that they--

CUOMO: Now, let me ask you something, Secretary.

CHERTOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: This suggestion that "Oh, it would have been better if they were locally fired missiles by proxies, it wouldn't have been a big - as big an escalation." Now the Intel is "No, it came directly from Iran."

So now there's a secondary question that to me seems very important, if it is accurate, which is their missiles and capabilities are good enough that they could have fired them close, but not deadly on target, to do maximal damage.

Do you believe that is true of Iranian capabilities and plausible of their intentions?

CHERTOFF: Well I'd be - I'd be guessing if I told you that I know what their capability is to hit directly on target.

But I do think what's significant is that they chose not to hide behind proxies, which is typically what they do, in many cases, but to actually come out front, and basically say, "It's us. We're using ballistic missiles, you know, which are relatively sophisticated, and we're launching from our territory."

That, to me, is a symbolic issue, frankly, part of which I think is directed at the internal population, and it's designed to kind of navigate between two possibilities.

One is not creating a cataclysmic effect that guarantees an American response, but indicating that there's a level of seriousness about anger in Iran that has pulled them from behind their proxies.

CUOMO: Right.

CHERTOFF: And they've come out front.

CUOMO: If God willing there are no American casualties, or worse, does that give the American President space, and those around him, to say "We don't know - I know what you tweeted. I know you, what you tweet, but we don't have to act on that. We don't have to do anything else. There is no exchange of actual blood on American blood."

CHERTOFF: I think that's exactly right, Chris. I think if in fact no Americans got killed, and I recognize it's tragic that Iraqis apparently got--

CUOMO: Yes.

CHERTOFF: --part of this. But if no Americans are killed, there's an opportunity, at that point, to say, "OK, you didn't kill any Americans. We're calling a halt here."

Now, that requires you not, you know, dance in the end zone, and humiliate the Iranians because then that kind of pushes them to take--

CUOMO: Right.

CHERTOFF: --the next step.

CUOMO: All right, so two more points.

In terms of who's in the region, OK, we have a lot of troops there, about 50,000. They just sent 4,500 more to the region. We don't know what that means. But look, this area is rich with targets of opportunity for the Iranians.

And just for you, at home, I am not giving out information right now that is not publicly knowable, and widely distributed, within all of the relevant circles. We're not giving information away about American vulnerabilities. I would never do that. But, Mr. Secretary, when you look at how many different troops there are in the surrounding areas and countries, all well within reach of Iranian capabilities, without them ever having to leave home, and more being sent to the region, what does that mean in terms of U.S. preparation?

CHERTOFF: Well I think it means that, and this is, I'm sure, something that's been underway that you have to then make force protection of all of your assets, including civilian assets, diplomats, in the region. That has to become a high priority.

I mean it's always been a dangerous region. But I think, in this case, you really want to dial it up a little bit. Now, the good news is you have to - since you're dealing with the military, they do have force protection capabilities.

And I believe they've indicated that a lot of the diplomats ought to leave. But I think this is now going to become a kind of a top urgency for the Department of Defense and Department of State.

CUOMO: The Iranian officials, again, you know, rhetoric happens on both sides, but they said, "If anything happens inside Iran, from the U.S., we're going at Dubai and the UAE, and we're going at Haifa in Israel." Why those?

CHERTOFF: Well I think two things here.

First of all, they are signaling that they regard an attack on Iranian territory again as a step-up in escalation. And as I indicated at the beginning, controlling the cycle of escalation is really the big challenge, and these kinds of back-and-forth.

So, what they're also doing is they're holding our allies hostage. They're basically saying "If you attack us in Iran, your allies are going to pay a price, whether it be Israel or whether it be the UAE."

And that again is designed to be a brush back to prevent the U.S. from kind of just leaning into, taking this up to the next level, which is attacking the territory of Iran.

CUOMO: Two other big points. One is of course we care about our allies in the region. We care about those who are fighting on the ground. We're - care especially about the U.S. fighting men and women who are in all of these areas, relatively exposed.

[21:20:00]

But the scariest threat, I think, for Americans will be a hit in home. And there was a rhetoric that came out of Iranian, different levels of state, that we are thinking about coming at you where you live as well.

How realistic is that? What does that mean for us here in America?

CHERTOFF: Well, again, I think part of that is, again, signaling to keep us from taking escalation to the next level. I think the biggest threat to the U.S. Homeland is a cyber-threat.

We have seen the Iranians operate in cyberspace in a destructive manner. They did it in Saudi Arabia. They've tried to do it in the United States. And certainly, they could cause disruption and damage if they took that approach. They've gotten more sophisticated in recent years.

Physical attack, I think, would be harder. Almost 10 years ago, there was an effort to assassinate the then-Saudi Ambassador in the U.S. But again, you need to have in place capabilities.

And we have a pretty good array of - of capabilities in terms of detecting people who might be a threat. So, my sense is the more likely thing we would see would be an effort in cyberspace.

CUOMO: All right. And Secretary, help me with legal analysis here for a second.

Now the case is very easy, I think, for the Executive, the President obviously, at the Head of the Executive branch to say, "Well now I'm operating under an obvious imminent threat. Now I'm operating out of self-defense. And I don't need Congress to do anything."

But, arguably, should Congress have been brought in before the Soleimani move? And does Congress have any ability now to be involved in this process because, as you and I know, and the American people are getting up to speed on very quickly, this is Congress' job, declarations of war--

CHERTOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: --and statutory authority for these types of hostilities. How long could it be the President alone?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, typically, on something like this, the Executive branch would bring in at least the very senior Members of Congress and advise them about something.

CUOMO: Which he - which this President did not.

CHERTOFF: But I would say this. I mean we need to recognize again it's not like this "War" or this really, what I would call, an armed conflict, just started with a strike on Soleimani. This back-and-forth has been going on for a while.

You might say the first blow was struck by the Iranians when they attacked and killed an American and wounded several others. At that point, Presidents generally have the ability to respond without a formal declaration of war, and that goes back to even in the Civil War, the blockade cases.

So, I don't know that this is particularly a legal issue as much as it is an issue of what's prudent in order to get the support you need at home. And also, most important to me, what is the strategy?

CUOMO: Right. CHERTOFF: What are you are viewing several steps ahead? What's the endgame? What's the objective?

CUOMO: Right.

CHERTOFF: And I think that needs to be articulated ultimately to the American people, if you're asking them to support continued engagement in the region.

CUOMO: Well and I think the absence of that is what is motivating my questions to you, Mr. Secretary. You know, you heard our President say--

CHERTOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: --when asked about Iran earlier, "I don't need an exit strategy. It's not necessary. That's crazy talk."

CHERTOFF: Well--

CUOMO: As you well know from a planning perspective.

Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, reportedly has been working on this, and working on the President to do this because this isn't the President's natural disposition. He doesn't believe in these kinds of insurgent actions. He doesn't think they get America anywhere.

So, if you combine that, there doesn't seem to be a strategy. They couldn't articulate imminent threat, even though Pompeo has had a lot of opportunities. You got questions about it in Congress.

What is your level of confidence that this is being done the right way at the highest levels?

CHERTOFF: Well I have no visibility into what the discussions are.

I know there are some very capable people in the National Security community that - like the Secretary of Defense and Secretary Pompeo was in fact the CIA Director. So, these are smart folks. How it works in the White House, I'd be - I'd be guessing.

What I would say though is in this kind of a very, very tricky situation, you need to have a clear sense of your objectives.

Most of the cases in the past, where American involvement in a conflict has been turned out to be - didn't work out so well has been because we were not clear about what we're trying to achieve.

And then there's mission creep and there's muddled messaging. And, in fact, even our field commanders aren't exactly sure what they're supposed to achieve.

So, I - I, you know, given the fact that this Administration came in, saying no more endless wars, I would think there's a premium to be placed on articulating for the American public without giving away, you know, obviously secrets, what is the general objective here, and then that - sticking to that as part of a strategy.

CUOMO: Mr. Secretary, I know you basically ran out of an event to come and help us tonight.

CHERTOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: Your perspective was sorely needed, and is greatly appreciated. Secretary Michael Chertoff, thank you very, very much.

CHERTOFF: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, so now, what do we have going forward? We have gaps in our understanding, and we have very big questions.

I think at the top of the list you have to put what is President Trump going to do. What does it mean that he didn't speak tonight?

[21:25:00]

Does that mean that there's being some reserve, there's some thought, or do they not want to give away that something is afoot, and that this red line he tweeted about is some type of official standard?

We will review history, back from the Bush era, when Chertoff was in there, and what happened in that war, with some of our best military minds. What are the options here? And what could each mean? CNN's breaking coverage continues next.

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CUOMO: All right, a quick review of what we know. Iran has struck two different American bases in Iraq, bases that are often allied bases, but you have U.S. troops housed in both places, a dozen missiles.

Whether they intended it, or not, these missiles, thus far, have been reported to have taken no American lives. That is the early word. We have heard nothing else from the Pentagon. We await a further and full report of casualties. Thus far, the number is zero.

Now, Iraqis may have been hurt or worse. Other allies may have been hurt or worse. We're waiting word on that as well. So, we know what happened. We know why it happened. What do we know about what could happen next? Let's get perspective from people who know what war is like in Iraq,

Major General Spider Marks and Paul Rieckhoff. It's good to have you both.

[21:30:00]

P.J., from the perspective of being on the ground, I heard something, help us understand it.

U.S. Intel was watching, saw the missiles come out of the garrison in Iran, being put on launchers, readied for fire. Why doesn't the U.S. go at them then, before they launched them? What are the questions?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ WAR VETERAN, VETERANS ADVOCATE, PRESIDENT AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, RIGHTEOUS MEDIA: Oh, I don't know. And I think that that's an important thing for anybody who's on television to start with. Most of us really don't know.

And what's happening inside the White House, and happened inside the Pentagon is a damage assessment. They're trying to consolidate and reorganize and, on some levels, find out what happened, and then hopefully think about a clear strategy and long-term objectives.

For me, you know, what we - we really need to think about, all of us watching right now, is those men and women who are in harm's way. There're over 5,000 of them that are in Iraq. They're about 50,000 in the region. There are a few more thousand on the way.

And - and I know that many of the folks watching tonight are military families. They don't know what's happening to their sons and daughters. This is not a video game. This is not a - this - this is a real-life occurrence that is affecting real people.

And that - that's who I think about right now, and I hope people can step back away from the screen and remember that moms and dads and husbands and wives are watching right now, thinking about their loved ones.

And maybe, that can be a unifying force. We do need to hear from the White House. We need to hear from the Pentagon about what's next. And those families, in particular, need to hear what happened and what's next.

CUOMO: And you got to need to hear from Congress. They talk all the time--

RIECKHOFF: Yes. And we--

CUOMO: --about how they care about these men and women.

RIECKHOFF: We need unity, right? We really do need unity right now more than ever.

CUOMO: Yes.

RIECKHOFF: A lot of people talk about it. But this is the time to really put country first.

CUOMO: Right.

RIECKHOFF: No Republicans and Democrats, be about Americans today.

CUOMO: As you've said to me, long ago, in talking about veterans, Left and Right bleed the same--

RIECKHOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: --in war.

RIECKHOFF: Yes.

CUOMO: And we have to be aware of that. All right, so General, let me bring you into the conversation. What can you help us understand in terms of what you do?

It has been explained to me from the military side that you don't just fire rockets because you see them being ready to be launched because that could be seen as an act of war, and what if you miss, and there are all these other contingencies.

But what do you do in a situation like this when you know they're thinking about hitting you, you see them getting ready, how do you prepare to be safe enough?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well clearly, the - the first thing you do, when you see that, you got to validate the Intelligence.

And the fact that we had pretty good Intelligence, the one thing that you don't know about a threat is you can always kind of assess a capability. It's very difficult to assess what the intent is, and the combination of capabilities plus intentions is what equals that threat.

So, in this particular case, we knew what was happening. We didn't know what they were going to do with those. It might be a logical step to say they're going to fire them. They could have been putting them into a position for future operations or to further protect them.

I think at this point truly what - what we need to keep in mind is that every soldier that deploys, Paul knows this. He was a young lieutenant in combat. He understands this intimately.

The first thing that you have with all your men, all your women, all your soldiers, is force protection. What is the level of force that I have that's ready that I have available that I can use to protect and preserve the force? I want to stay alive. I want to be able to do my mission.

Step two is de-escalation. In other words, a proportional level of force, and then let's turn the dial down. Let's achieve the task and let's try to de-escalate this thing. I think what we might have seen tonight, at a strategic level, is de- escalation. And I would hope that would be the case if that - if we had the 12 missiles. There are probably more. We'll probably pick up some Intelligence that there might have been more.

But I would hope that this administration said "Looks - let's breathe through our nose. We took a shot. We didn't have significant damage. Let's try to work the de-escalation."

And oh, by the way, Iran probably did that, as we've discussed, for internal consumption. They had to demonstrate to all their folks that they weren't going to take a blow from the big--

CUOMO: General, are they good enough--

MARKS: --big, bad United States.

CUOMO: --to aim missiles so that they come close, but don't do maximal damage?

MARKS: Well they have missiles that have what's called a circular error probable, don't want to get inside baseball too badly, but that's the accuracy of those things.

So, they have missiles that have various levels of accuracy. But in order to achieve that accuracy, all the telemetry - everything has to go right. Telemetry data has to work. The missile has to work, etcetera, etcetera.

So, for them to precisely aim it, and just miss a little bit, that is Kentucky windage, and I would not attribute that to them.

CUOMO: All right, P.J., message to the President.

We thought we were going to hear from him tonight. My concern was if you're hearing from him, he has to have something to say. If he has to have something to say, that means he has something he has to do.

He had tweeted already "My red line, you do anything Iran, I'm coming for you," they clearly crossed that line.

But he has been shy about these things, before he was President, saying "I don't get why Presidents do this. What about the troops? You put them out there for no reason. They die for no reason."

What's your message to him tonight?

RIECKHOFF: De-escalate. And remember those troops. Remember your sacred responsibility to those men and women and think about what you can do long-term to keep them safe, to keep our country safe.

You know, the fact that he's not tweeting right now, the fact that he's not out there may be a good thing, right, maybe he's finally showing the restraint that we need him to do. That might be the best way to disc - de-escalate the situation. They may be planning, they may be waiting, we could speculate all day. But I think the key here in everybody's interest globally is to bring the temperature down. We need more light.

[21:35:00]

We need the best President Trump we've ever seen. We should all be rooting for that right now, no matter what Party we're from.

CUOMO: General, in terms of de-escalating, what is the response to advice of "Oh, but you'll look weak. Oh, but look, they came at us. Look at all this smack they're talking about who they're going after next, and they want to come after the Homeland. You got to be strong," what is the effective counter in terms of strategy?

MARKS: Easy answer, Chris.

You stand up, and you say, "Look, I don't need to get into this dogfight. Look, as a young man, it made it very clear to me that I don't need to get in, you know, and start wrestling with the pigs. I can let this kind of just take place.

The United States acted very decisively going against Soleimani. The Iranians responded. I'm not going to attribute to them any graciousness or any mag - you know, magnanimous approach.

What I'm going to tell you is that they struck back. They did that internally, so they could tell the people that - their people that they were not going to put up with this nonsense.

But now is the time for all of us to just breathe through our nose. Let's take it easy for a while and let's determine what the next steps need to look like."

CUOMO: That would be--

MARKS: I think - I think it is an opportunity for some form of conversation, which is difficult for the United States certainly to do with Iran.

But, you know - you know, Chris, when we have the amount of pressure that we've put on Iran, over the course of primarily through the application of these sanctions, when you apply this amount of pressure, at some point, you got to have a release valve.

The ball's in our court to establish what that looks like. Otherwise, we're going to end up with a relationship with Iran that could be a century-old relationship.

Khamenei - Khamenei leaves the scene, his son takes over, and now we've got a 100-year relationship, which is nothing but has been defined by nothing but vitriol. We need to be able to work that.

CUOMO: So, our hope tonight is that the President listens to somebody. Hopefully, there's someone around him saying "Prove you can do both. You took out one of their big guys. You showed you can be strong. You sent that message not to mess with

us and show that you can be better than them as well, and not speak the same talk as the people that we oppose in this country."

General Spider Marks, thank you very much. P.J. Rieckhoff, as always--

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Sir.

CUOMO: --a pleasure.

MARKS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: We're going to take a quick break. Now when we come back, who's going to give that message to the President?

If he's listening tonight, God bless him. I hope you're listening to these voices. I'm hoping that you're trying to be your best self. The American people need you. Those fighting men and women are so vulnerable, they need you.

We have a Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee in the House who was briefed by the President's DHS Secretary earlier. What can he explain to us? What does he hope this President sees in this situation? Next.

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CUOMO: All right, we have new information. Just moments ago, Iran's Foreign Minister tweeted this after tonight's attacks by his country against our troops in Iraq and our allies.

"Iraq (ph) took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of U.N. Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation of war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression."

So, here he is, the Iranian Minister saying - the Foreign Minister saying that Iran took the - the measures that it thinks it was allowed to under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. I'm not going to take you into those waters, but that is a questionable claim. Nonetheless, the key part of this tweet in terms of our latest understanding of what might happen next is "We do not seek escalation of war but will defend ourselves against any aggression."

Now, arguably, that may put word - put the ball in the President and the United States Court. We are still awaiting word, however, of any American casualties from the airstrikes. So far, we haven't been told of any, and we have not heard from the President tonight.

However, if that changes, and there are casualties, he has set a red line that arguably has already been crossed, so this is a very big test for the American President that started with last week's move to take out the Iranian General.

How big is it for him? How does he handle it? What will this be in terms of the measure of the man come election day?

CNN's John King joins me now with perspective on this. This is helpful from the Foreign Minister from Iran. If you're looking for a window of de-escalation, this is helpful.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is sending a clear public signal, Chris, that Iran believes this is a response. "We're done if you're done."

Now, that is how you should translate the tweet from Foreign Minister Zarif. The issue is, just earlier today, Secretary of State, Pompeo said he's a liar and a propagandist and he should never be believed.

The - my question is, as we sort this out, you make a key point. There's so much we don't know tonight. We should be careful. One of the things we don't know is were there casualties on that airbase. That would change the President's calculation.

The President now is in a battle, if you will, between his own words. He said if Iran did anything to retaliate, he would up the ante more. Those are the President's words against his own instincts.

This is a man who campaigned on saying all his predecessors were stupid for keeping American troops in the Middle East, for having endless wars, and he wanted to end them.

He's now sending more troops to the region. He now has to make a momentous decision with 70,000-plus U.S. troops in the countries that encircle Iran already, does he want to escalate, or will he step back?

My biggest question in addition to the Foreign Minister's tweet, are there any other conversations? In his interview with CNN's Fred Pleitgen earlier today, the Foreign Minister Zarif said "Absolutely not" to any diplomacy directly with the United States right now.

But we all know there are other ways to communicate, the French, the Germans, the Brits all speak to Iran. There's a Swiss channel that is used to talk about American hostages, or American tourists who go missing, and things like that.

Are there any other conversations? Have there been or will there be in the near future to send a clearer signal about what Iran means?

But I do think you've teed this up throughout the program, the battle assessment, the military strategy assessment from the Pentagon, and let's hope not. But whether there are any casualties here is going to be - impact the President's decision.

CUOMO: God willing it holds, and we don't have American blood spilled in this situation.

And I'm not in any way minimizing Iraqi blood, or Kurdish blood, or any of the allies who were hurt. It's going to be bad. But it's not as much of a direct metric for the American President, by his own definition.

[21:45:00]

You then get to the question, John, of whom is the President listening to.

KING: Right.

CUOMO: Is this about where the DNI, traditionally Intelligence would take over at this point, in guiding steps further? Is he still relying on Pompeo?

I mean that's a very important question because we know, you know, not as a criticism, but an observation, this is not the President's strong suit. He doesn't understand these dynamics. He's never been in them. He's not trained in them. He's never lived through them. It's tough to learn on the job.

KING: Right. One of the improvements, if you will, there are many people listening who don't like this President, who don't like anything he does, and they will say I just said improvement, and they'll backlash.

But if you go back throughout the administration, even when you had John Bolton in the White House, when you had Jim Mattis as the Defense Secretary, where you had Michael Flynn, first, as the National Security Advisor, there were disagreements and competing forces throughout the Trump National Security apparatus that has been consistent, Rex Tillerson often at odds with the President and other members of the White House staff as well.

One thing we do here now, Chris, consistently is with Mr. O'Brien as the National Security Advisor, Secretary Pompeo from the CIA to the State Department, and now with Esper as the Secretary of Defense that they all get along.

General Milley is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not saying they agree on everything, but that they have a much more supportive cohesion and communication among them.

And we also know, to your point, we know that Secretary Pompeo has been one of the most fierce and vocal Iran Hawks in this administration, just decided he's not going to run for Senate, at least for now, and he's going to stay because he was a big - he was a big pushing force in the decision to target General Soleimani.

So, again, a lot of people, you might disagree with how the President's National Security team operates. But from Democrats and Republicans and everybody involved, they say at least now it is a team that gets along and functions much more coherently than it has in past crises.

CUOMO: You know, and we hope that their focus is on protecting the U.S. fighting men and women who are in that region. They just added to the number. But, you know, first-term President, strong economy, ordinarily in very good position.

I know this is an atypical Presidency. Nobody knows that better than you, John King.

KING: That's right.

CUOMO: But one thing that can mess up the calculus is a problem abroad.

And Iran is something that he started by pulling out of that deal and the talk that has followed. Hopefully, that's part of the calculus here, and it will give some pause, and some thought, about how aggressive to be going forward.

John King, thank you very, very much.

KING: You're welcome.

CUOMO: All right, we have new information during that interview.

CNN has learned that the initial assessment is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the al-Asad base not populated by Americans. Now, this is according to a U.S. military official and a senior administration official. Officials have said the U.S. is awaiting daylight to get a full assessment. But this is a good early word.

Now, earlier, an Iraqi Security source told CNN that there were casualties among Iraqis at the base. We have a key Member of Congress to discuss this with. And the President has just tweeted.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us. I want you to see this tweet as well.

"All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning."

All right, straight read on that right now, is that we don't know about any further casualties. And the hope is that it is also somewhat of a cooler head coming from the President in this recent tweet.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us on such an important night. REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): Sure. Glad to be with you.

CUOMO: Now, what does this tweet mean to you in terms of the status quo about what might happen next?

ROGERS: I think that's the first indication by the President that he does plan to de-escalate.

He recognizes that this was intentional by the Iranians to hit near the airbases and in unpopulated areas as a way to tell their domestic population, "We hit back," but to not cross a line of killing Americans that he - that they knew would in fact bring retaliation by us.

So, I think this is a good sign both in the fact that they made the hits - the strikes the way they did and that the President is showing this optimistic measured tone in that tweet.

CUOMO: Are you comfortable giving a message to the President tonight through this program or directly that you do not see a need for further military force against Iran at this point?

ROGERS: Absolutely. I - I believe that this was intentional by the Iranians to make sure they didn't kill Americans.

CUOMO: Oh.

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ROGERS: As a way to bring this to an end. I think the President recognized it. I'm certain he did - they recognized it. And this is the time to start de-escalating and start to getting into talks about how we can resolve our differences going forward.

CUOMO: Now, if nothing else happens, and God willing that happens, because, you know, we don't need any more violence in the world, the President has really high ground right now legally.

Maybe he got here by bad - by bad reason. But if Congress were to step in, and say, "Hey, don't do anything else," I don't think you have a great case because the United States' bases were just attacked.

However, if nothing else happens, is it time for you and Congress to finally start stepping up and doing your job?

Presidents from Clinton, maybe from Reagan on, have been given power that the Constitution did not give them. It's Congress' power to declare war. It's Congress' power to give statutory authority to things like what we've just seen. Is Congress ready to step up?

ROGERS: Well we have been stepping up, you know. The fact is we gave the administration the 2002 AUMF that allowed the activities in Iraq that this President used to take out Soleimani.

We have had no need to go back and revisit that AUMF. We have, as you know, I'm one of the most senior Members-- CUOMO: Yes, Sir.

ROGERS: --of the Armed Services Committee. We monitor on a regular annual basis what's happening over there. And if we choose to differ with the White House about their actions in the region, we can cut off the money. We can cut off authorization.

CUOMO: That is true.

ROGERS: We don't do that.

CUOMO: You don't do it.

ROGERS: So, there is ongoing activity to monitor what's taking place. But I don't think an AUMF necessarily is - is necessary at this point in time.

CUOMO: Well, look, I mean I think it's a debate for a different day, to be honest, because I don't know how an AUMF in 2002 that was derivative of 9/11, and stopping anything that went into that, and going after terror organizations, correlates with what is going on with Iran right now.

But let's put that aside. Your second point is more relevant. You should be in the loop. You weren't in the loop, to our understanding, until after this happened. Should that change?

Should the President reestablish the connection, at least to the Gang of Eight, before he does anything else like this?

ROGERS: No. The fact is, with Osama bin Laden, nobody was notified ahead of time, and they shouldn't have been. This town leaks like a sieve.

The President and his top leadership should make the decisions based on the Intel that they have to make to keep Americans safe and take action. And then, under the War Powers Act, they should notify us immediately thereafter.

We have all sorts of reviews that we can take afterwards to make sure that the law was complied with and things were done in a - in a prudent fashion. But I'm not for Congress starting to micromanage the Executive branch, particularly the Commander-in-Chief.

CUOMO: All right, but just to be clear, and again, this conversation is respectful and deliberately so because it's not a partisan argument.

ROGERS: Correct.

CUOMO: It's just a concern about the continuum of leadership.

Osama bin Laden was the Head of a terrorist organization that was directly related to 9/11. That was an ongoing battle. Of course, the President was going to make a move there. This is different. Going after Iran, whether or not Secretary Pompeo

can make a good case for imminent threat or not, which he hasn't to date. They didn't put out the Joint Chiefs Head, which usually they do, which I think is telling, this is something where they could have consulted with you.

And it just seems to me that given what we just lived through, God willing, it ends here. Is this something where you're really comfortable, letting the President make a call like this, to take out a General like that, without Congress having anything to do with it?

ROGERS: Certainly, just like I was OK with the 2000 drone strikes against terrorists that Obama had and - and strikes here--

CUOMO: But those were terrorists. It's part of an organization. Not a General who's--

ROGERS: And Soleimani--

CUOMO: --number two of a sovereign.

ROGERS: And he was a designated terrorist.

CUOMO: True.

ROGERS: He was a lawful target, not only designated by us but by the United Nations. This was a very bad actor who killed over 600 Americans who was the leader--

CUOMO: Yes.

ROGERS: --of - of many of the militia groups in the - in - in Iraq. Let's get this - people need to be mindful.

CUOMO: Yes.

ROGERS: He was in Iraq, in Baghdad, when he was taken out. He was not in Iran. He was in Iraq--

CUOMO: True.

ROGERS: --meeting with militia groups, planning another attack. He had organized and initiated the attack in December that killed an American contractor. This fellow needed to be killed.

They had actionable Intelligence, where he was going to be, meeting with the - one of the founders of Kataib Hezbollah--

CUOMO: Right.

ROGERS: --and took him out. They - they didn't have time, in my view, based on what I know, to come to Congress and have a conference with the--

CUOMO: Well--

ROGERS: --the - the Gang of Eight or whoever. And I don't think it would be appropriate to do that anyway.

CUOMO: I take your counsel on that. You know information we don't.

That's part of the problem here is that this President has told us not to trust U.S. Intelligence. I never took that seriously. But he apparently did. And he said "Classified, confidential informants, forget it, they're all Deep State buzzwords."

Now is the time for him to give us the information that you apparently have, so American people can be on the same page. I thank you for your argument here tonight, Congressman.

ROGERS: Sure.

CUOMO: And your perspective. You're always welcome on this show. God bless.

ROGERS: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, so that's Mike Rogers.

In case you're just tuning in now, we're going to bring you up to speed on everything that's been happening. Iran has retaliated. They believe they were justified under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

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I don't know that that's a good case. But we know what's happened, we know why, and we now have a better of understanding of what may or may not happen next. Stay with CNN.

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CUOMO: All right, here's our latest understanding of what may happen next.

This came out of Iran. The Foreign Minister tweeted this. "We don't seek escalation or war." They believe they were justified in what they did under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

I don't think they have a great argument. But the intention to not escalate is a great message. It's a widow for our President. And the President seemed to take the opportunity. He tweeted "All is well" that the missiles launched from Iran at the

two bases located in Iraq, the assessment of casualties and damages taking place now "So far so good," all right?

And with that, I appreciate you for watching our area of the coverage. It's now time to give it over to Don Lemon. I'll be back at midnight for more new information on this but our breaking coverage continues with Don Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Chris Cuomo, thank you very much. This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon.

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LEMON: And this is our breaking news. Iran fires more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. troops, at two Iraqi bases, in retaliation for American air strikes, that killed a top Iranian General, just days ago.

Video from Iran's Fars News Agency reportedly shows the moment a ballistic missile hit the al-Asad base in Iraq.

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