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U.S. Forces On High Alert For Possible Iran Drone Attacks; Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) Discusses Briefing On Drone Strike That Killed Soleimani, Confusion On U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq, Iran F.M. Saying There Will Be A Response, Haley Suggesting Democrats Mourn Soleimani; Trump's Obsession With Reversing Obama Decisions May Hurt America's Position In World; Biden Slams Trump Over Soleimani Killing, Calling Him "Dangerously Incompetent"; McConnell Says GOP Will Start Impeachment Trial, Delay Witnesses. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired January 7, 2020 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: More now on breaking news. U.S. troops in the Middle East are on high alert for an attack by drones, according to two U.S. officials. This comes as Iran's foreign minister warns the U.S. that Iran will retaliate for the targeted killing of General Qasem Soleimani.
Let's discuss this with Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, of California. She is a member of both the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committees.
We thank you for talking to us today.
KEILAR: You've been briefed. You're on the Intel Committee. Have you been briefed about what is supposed to be proof of an imminent threat when it came to Soleimani?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): I have seen the intelligence that's been provided by our Intelligence Community and also the letter from the president. So that amount of information does not make me feel confident that we have done what is appropriate.
I think that this will go down in history as an epic foreign policy blunder by the president of the United States.
I fear for all of our servicemembers. I chair the Military Personnel Subcommittee. I've been at Fort Bragg. And now, with no notice, all of those families have had their spouses sent off. We now have 40,000 members of our military in the Middle East.
KEILAR: Esper said that the proof -- so you've seen the intelligence. When he's talking about the intelligence, he's saying it was more than razor thin, it was persuasive. He said it was only a matter of days, certainly, no more than weeks. Soleimani was caught red-handed on the ground in Baghdad.
And then just making the point of when one terrorist leader is meeting with another terrorist leader, essentially, he was indicating they were hatching a plan and only a matter of days, certainly, no more than weeks. Is that what the intelligence told you?
SPEIER: I think what Secretary Esper is saying is an effort to defend the impulsive actions by the president of the United States. And unless he's reading different intelligence than I am, I can't say that it was persuadable. It was vague.
KEILAR: You were looking at the intelligence that he's talking about, though, right? This is the intelligence he's characterizing, which you would characterize differently, just to be clear.
SPEIER: Yes, that's right.
KEILAR: OK. So in addition, he addressed this letter, this draft unsigned letter, as he emphasized, that was obtained by an Iraqi. He said there should be no significance in that.
The story is a little bit different when it goes back and forth between the United States and Iraq asking for a translation question. Iraq truly believes this is a letter from the United States detailing that U.S. troops would leave Iraq.
What do you make of what he said?
SPEIER: I think it was a horrific gaffe. I think what probably transpired was the president said, all right, get them all out of Iraq. And he is so impulsive. You can't have the president of the United States be impulsive.
I think the adults in the Pentagon are going to have to step up. Because what we're seeing is one action after another, not recognizing the gross repercussions that are going to occur. I am deeply troubled by the position that we have been put in.
Soleimani was the leader of the mobilization force, but he is not irreplaceable. I disagree with some of the others who have said somehow he's irreplaceable. He is not.
And I think that to somehow think that was going to reduce the risk when, in fact, it does nothing except increase the risk for our servicemembers right now.
KEILAR: I wonder what you think about Iran. The foreign minister has said there will be a proportional response. A directly proportional response would be to take out one of the top, if not the top, U.S. military commander or an ambassador in the region. It's hard to imagine what would transpire if that were to happen.
What are you expecting a proportional response to look like? SPEIER: I have no idea what a proportional response would be. And I
hope that they will recognize that there are others here in the United States that recognize that going to war with Iran is the wrong step forward.
And Congress can take actions in the next two weeks to make that very clear and, again, be the adults in the room.
The president, from the day he stepped into the Oval Office, has been waving a red flag at Iran. To take us out of the JCPOA, no-nuke deal in Iran, was reckless. And the president has shown over and over again that he wants nothing more than to engage in some kind of an arms race, battle with Iran.
He then called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. And then there were the bombings of ships in the Strait of Hormuz.
He takes actions and then they react. And then he somehow suggests that it's all on their end. It is not on their end.
KEILAR: You described him as impulsive. Many people would agree. There is a column up on CNN.com by my colleague, Ron Brownstein, discussing how is this viewed. Is it viewed as impulsive or, as some people would say, as decisive? And a lot of President Trump's supporters would say this is decisive.
But what do you think about that distinction? And what do you think would have to happen to change their minds, if anything?
SPEIER: Normally, when we do something like this, we do it in conjunction are our allies. Our allies were left in the dark. Many of our allies are not supporting us in this particular effort.
So I think the future is going to tell us whether it was decisive or an epic blunder.
And I'm concerned about our servicemembers who are now at grave risk. And the president has put them there. And he has consolidated in Iran hatred for the United States. I don't see that as being decisively good.
KEILAR: The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, made a strange assertion last night. This is about Soleimani's death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: You don't see anyone standing up for Iran. You're not hearing any of the gulf members. You're not hearing China. You're not hearing Russia. The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates.
HALEY: No one else in the world -- (END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: What do you think about that?
SPEIER: I think she's over the top. Nobody is mourning Soleimani's death. I don't want to be mourning the deaths of American servicemembers. And I think she should put our American servicemembers first.
KEILAR: Congresswoman, thank you so much. Jackie Speier, we appreciate you coming into the studio.
SPEIER: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: President Trump has long had an obsession with President Obama, and he's talking more about his predecessor now more than ever before. But is Trump's fixation on undoing Obama's decisions, on everything from Iran to immigration, helping America's position in the world?
KEILAR: As president and his loyalists tried to explain the decision to launch an airstrike killing Iranian military leader, Qasem Soleimani, one name has popped up over and over, and that is former President Barack Obama. Blaming Obama is part of a familiar pattern for President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Hew was designated a terrorist by President Obama, and then Obama did nothing about it, except for giving them $150 billion and, even more incredibly, $1.8 billion in cash.
(on camera): Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS.
TRUMP: Because of his weak policy and because he failed, he failed. Because he failed to get him out.
So Russia outsmarted President Obama.
When I came in, under the Obama administration, North Korea was a disaster.
The deal that President Obama made was a horrible deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: CNN's Michael Warren has an excellent analysis piece up now on CNN.com about Trump's Obama obsession.
First, just give us a sense of the kind of just how many policies that either the president hates or that he's actually reversed of Obama's that are out there.
MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Right. Specific accomplishments of from the Obama administration, the Iran nuclear deal, for instance, the Paris Climate Accords.
Then there are policy reversals that President Trump has pursued. You look at trade, for instance. President Obama wanted to expand trade authority. President Trump has reversed that and really pushed for bilateral trade agreements.
There's, of course, the North Korea policy. Very early on, the administration was saying very explicitly we reject the Obama administration's strategic patience policy in favor of engaging with Kim Jong-un.
Of course, on the Iran policy, in general, they have moved away and reversed the Obama administration's view of engaging with Tehran in favor of engaging with Iran's regional sort of rival, Saudi Arabia.
So lots of different sort of reversals and doing the opposite of what President Obama did.
KEILAR: It's not unusual for a president to say, this guy left me with a mess, right, or to blame his predecessor. We see that a bit. But it has incredibly ratcheted up when you're talking about President Trump as he sees President Obama.
What is with this fixation, and when does it flare up in particular?
WARREN: That's right. I talked to a former Trump White House official, who sort of explained the way the president views his own role, which is those past presidents screwed everything up, they messed everything up, I have to come in and fix this.
Even back to the campaign, President Trump, when he was candidate Trump, was criticizing George W. Bush, for instance.
But the bulk of that criticism falls on President Obama, his immediate predecessor, and, of course, the Democrat to Donald Trump's Republican.
KEILAR: You argue that the obsession seems to go beyond basic ideological issues, that it's actually personal. Tell me why you write that?
WARREN: I think it's obvious from the data. Our colleague, Daniel Dale, did an analysis a couple months ago and looked at how much President Trump mentions Obama or the Obama administration by name . It's a lot. Much more than presidential predecessors have. And it has increased over the last year and a half.
So, it's personal and also political. You have to keep in mind, of course, President Obama not very popular with the Republican base. You may know there's an election coming up. President Trump is going to need his base to be coming out. It's also pretty good politics as well.
KEILAR: He loves a foil and he's found one in the former president.
Michael Warren, thank you so much.
This just in. Joe Biden slamming President Trump's decision to launch that drone strike that killed an Iranian general, and calling him, quote, "dangerously incompetent." We'll have that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Six months ago, here in New York --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: This just into CNN. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now railing against President Trump's decision to launch the drone strike that killed Iran's top commander, Qasem Soleimani.
And moments ago, in a major foreign policy speech, Biden demanded that Trump explain his decision and called the president quote, "dangerously incompetent."
CNN's Arlette Saenz is in New York where Biden just wrapped up his remarks.
Arlette, tell us what else Biden had to say.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Brianna, from the outset, Joe Biden has been extremely critical of President Trump's decision to order that strike against Iran's top military general.
And he continued that criticism here today in New York City, insisting that the administration must discuss and provide an explanation for their strategy and the next steps to come. In fact, he said all that President Trump has offered so far are tweets, threats, and he used the word "tantrums."
Listen to what Joe Biden had to say a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The president says he wants to endless wars in Middle East and he's bringing us close to starting a brand-new one.
The president says he wants us out of the region, sends an additional 18,000-plus troops to deal with the crisis of his own making.
And the administration that claims the actions have made America safer, in the same breath, urges our citizens to leave Iraq and puts American throughout the region on notice because of the increased danger that now exists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAENZ: Now, in these remarks, Joe Biden said that President Trump has not demonstrated a modicum of presidential gravitas. He said, "I'll attempt to do that."
That's at the heart of what Joe Biden was trying to do, present himself as best equipped to be commander-in-chief as foreign policy is now dominating the campaign trail -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Arlette Saenz, in New York, thank you.
We have some breaking news. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling GOP Senators just moments ago he has the votes needed to move forward for his plans for the president's impeachment trial and that means not calling witnesses for now.
Phil Mattingly, tell us what you're hearing there on the Hill.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, right now, Senate Republicans are in a closed-door lunch, their weekly policy lunch. And in that lunch, one official who was inside, told me Senate Majority Leader McConnell made clear that he has all of the votes, all you need is a simple majority, to move forward on his proposal for the rules, at least the initial rules, for a Senate impeachment trial.
What those rules would include would be presentations from both the House managers and the president's defense team. And then Senators would have an opportunity to ask questions. And then they would address the question of whether or not anybody wants to have witnesses.
Now, this diverges very sharply from where Senate Democrats have been. Chuck Schumer making very clear he believes witnesses, subpoenas for documents should all be part of this initial resolution. But, as I stated, it's just a simple majority it takes to move forward. McConnell disagreed with where Schumer was. He now has the votes to move forward.
One caveat here, the Senate still doesn't have the articles of impeachment. We are still waiting for that to come over from the House. We're still waiting to hear from Speaker Pelosi on when those will come over.
But when they come over, looks like McConnell is ready to go forward with just the Republicans on the initial stage of the trial -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Phil Mattingly, thank you.
And Iran's foreign minister now responding after the Trump administration denies him a visa to visit the U.N. this week.