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EARLY START

Zarif: U.S. Days in Middle East Are Numbered; Bolton Willing to Testify; WaPo: Facebook to Ban Deepfakes; Losses Mounting in Aussie Bushfire Crisis. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:19]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER OF IRAN: The United States has to wake up to the reality that the people of this region are enraged.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A forceful warning from Iran's foreign minister. Iranian lawmakers now designating the U.S. military a terrorist organization.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: He called shadow diplomacy a drug deal. Now, John Bolton says he is willing to testify but Republicans aren't itching to invite him.

ROMANS: And Facebook will ban highly-manipulative videos known as deepfakes but critical loopholes still persist.

CNN this morning is live in Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut, Australia, and London.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is EARLY START. And I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Tuesday, January 7th, 4:00 a.m. in New York.

Breaking overnight, Iranian lawmakers designating the U.S. military a terrorist organization in response to the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. There are now reports the Trump administration is denying Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif a visa to travel to New York ahead of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday. CNN has not been able to confirm this.

ROMANS: Huge crowds packing into General Soleimani's hometown of Kerman for his burial this morning. President Trump is standing by his decision to order that strike that killed him.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

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.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Questions persist over U.S. claims that intel showed Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on U.S. interests. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley says very, very few people saw that intelligence. Adding it was imminent and it was very, very clear in scale and scope.

JARRETT: A source tells CNN top congressional leaders, the so-called Gang of Eight are set to receive an Iran briefing this afternoon. Rank and file members of the House and Senate will be briefed tomorrow.

Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Tehran where he spoke with the foreign minister, Javad Zarif.

Fred, what did he tell you?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Laura. We wrapped up our interview just a couple minutes ago. And Javad Zarif really touched on several points. First of all, he obviously ripped into President Trump and President Trump's decision on that targeted killing of General Qassem Soleimani. He said that President Trump disregards international law as he put it, but he also said he believes the killing of Soleimani would spell the beginning of the end of America's presence in this region because he believes that people are going to be enraged at the United States.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER OF IRAN: He is showing to the international community that he has no respect for international law. That he is prepared to commit war crimes because attacking cultural sites is a war crime -- disproportionate response is a war crime. But he doesn't care, it seems, about international law.

But has he made the U.S. more secure? Do Americans feel more secure? That's the price for arrogance, for ignorance, for lack of respect.

Their days in our region are numbered not because anybody would take any action against them but because they are not welcomed. This is state terrorism, this is an act of aggression against Iraq, and it amounts to an armed attack against Iran and we will respond.

The United States has to wake up to the reality that the people of this region are enraged -- that the people of this region want the United States out. The United States has been in this region for many years and has not brought itself or the region any security. We'll leave it at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: And there you have it. Javad Zarif, some pretty harsh words for the U.S. and, of course, specifically for the Trump administration. I was also asking Javad Zarif whether or not at this point in time, it's even worth speaking to the Trump administration, whether that's something that he plans on doing. It didn't seem as though that was in the cards from his point of view.

But one of the really key things I think, Laura, that he said is he said there will be a response from the Iranians. He said it's going to be a proportional response to obviously the severity of weight -- of how they evaluate the killing of Qasem Soleimani. But he obviously didn't go into any detail as to where exactly and how exactly that response would take place.

So, certainly, a very tense situation. Very much still for the Middle East, for U.S., and Iran, and certainly also for the many U.S. service members here in the Middle Eastern region as well, Laura.

PLEITGEN: Fred, thanks so much. We'll see you back soon.

ROMANS: All right. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is now contradicting President Trump. He says the U.S. will not target cultural sites in Iran.

Now, the president has threatened to do so twice now with the backing of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

[04:05:06]

But Secretary Esper tells CNN: We will follow the laws of armed conflict. It is a war crime to deliberately target cultural sites in a military operation.

The Pentagon's policy has long been to avoid striking areas of cultural importance.

JARRETT: The White House readying action against Iraq if it expels U.S. troops. "The Washington Post" reports administration officials started drafting possible sanctions on Iraq, which President Trump threatened over the weekend.

Adding to the uncertainty, well, the top U.S. general says a letter suggesting America would withdrawal troops from Iraq was released by mistake. But, quote, that's what's -- that's not what's happening.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live in Baghdad for us.

Jomana, what's the reaction there to this dual talk from the military?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, there was a lot of confusion of course and uncertainty when it comes to this letter that circulated here late in the evening. A letter that is not signed but it was coming from the commanding general of the coalition forces here to the Iraqis, and indicating in that letter, basically, that there will be a withdrawal. That it is on the table, without pointing out any -- giving any timetables.

But U.S. officials here soon were scrambling to try and explain that this letter has nothing to do with the withdrawal. That it was repositioning of troops and it is a standard thing that they do where they notify the Iraqis that there are going to be some movements taking place. That there will be some chopper activity around Baghdad. And they wanted to notify them what these movements are. And this is just moving troops within this region.

And we saw that same sort of scrambling going on in the Pentagon yesterday as the news of this letter came out. You had the secretary of defense and the chief of staff also coming out to try and explain what was happening. You know, they're saying that there is no withdrawal and as we heard from General Mark Milley saying that this is basically -- it was a poorly worded letter. It was an honest mistake. That it shouldn't have been released.

But there are some questions of why was a letter like this written in the first place? That sort of language used, hinting, indicating that there would be any kind of withdrawal. And this is, of course, coming when you hear U.S. officials saying there will be no withdrawal. At the same time, you have the Iraqis here insisting, saying that they are starting to make plans with coalition countries to ask them to withdrawal.

This is coming from the Iraqi government and, of course, the risk here, the concern is the Iranian-backed proxies. The Shia paramilitary groups have made it clear that unless there is an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, they are threatening to return to an all-out battle against these U.S. forces, Laura.

JARRETT: Yes. That mistake causing a little confusion.

Jomana, thanks for that reporting.

ROMANS: Volunteers and veterans in North Carolina are stepping up to help the families of soldiers who are being deployed to the Middle East. More than 3,000 service members, many of them from Fort Bragg are heading overseas following Friday's U.S. air strike that killed Iran's General Soleimani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was kind of like a crashing of our world cause he left without a moment's notice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a little concerned because of the newness of the situation, to not ever allow complacency to set in. And also, you know, take care of your buddies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: For security reasons, soldiers deploying with the 82nd Airborne Division are not being allowed to bring personal cell phones or electronic devices that could reveal locations.

JARRETT: Republican Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona under fire for tweeting a doctored photo of Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Take a look. The caption reads: The world is a better place without

these guys in power.

Two problems here. Rouhani is still in power. Also, he and President Obama never actually met in person.

This fake photo was debunked more than four years ago. The original picture, before it was doctored, was taken in 2011 at a meeting between Mr. Obama and the prime minister of India.

When Congressman Gosar was asked about tweeting this bogus photo, he called his critics dimwitted, implying he knew all along the picture was fake.

ROMANS: Even though Rouhani is still in power and he said Rouhani wasn't in power.

I think it just shows you where we are, where this moment will be, what this election year will be like when elected representatives of the United States are sending around doctored photos with insults of the former president. I mean, it's remarkable.

JARRETT: Yes. It's only January.

ROMANS: How many of his supporters believe that photo?

All right. Tehran has vowed revenge for the killing of General Soleimani. Now, U.S. officials are bracing for a much wider range of attacks, including a major cyberattack. Department of Homeland Security issued an alert to American organizations to, quote, adopt a state of heightened awareness as these tensions with Iran escalate.

[04:10:06]

The alert advised cybersecurity teams to enhance monitoring of network and e-mail traffic, including for e-mail phishing attempts. Experts say the risk of Iranian cyberattack is real and could cause significant disruption to the U.S.

Iran has been accused of shutting down bank websites and attacking American casinos in the past, resulting in the loss of credit card information and Social Security numbers. A cyberattack could expose companies to billions of dollars in damages. Many corporations would not be assured against those losses because many insurance policies exclude losses tied to military conflict from coverage.

JARRETT: Facebook plans to roll out new rules that will ban users from posting so-called deep fake videos. The policy will ban videos that are edited or synthesized in a way that average users would not be able to easily spot. But the rules do not prohibit all doctored videos. According to "The Washington Post," the new guidelines would not have banned that deceptively edited clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral last year because the technology used was not advanced enough. The change comes as company executive prepares to testify at a congressional hearing later this week on manipulation and deception in the digital age. ROMANS: A potential game changer in the impeachment of President

Trump. John Bolton declaring he is willing now to testify if he is subpoenaed by the Senate. The former national security advisor has firsthand knowledge of President Trump's conversations about withholding Ukraine military aid.

Here's how top Russia expert Fiona Hill testified about pressuring Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIONA HILL, FORMER NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR: Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of the -- this -- whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): And did your boss, Dr. Bolton -- I mean, Ambassador Bolton, tell you that Giuliani was, quote, a hand grenade?

HILL: He did. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Well, Bolton's willingness to testify gives congressional Democrats a big boost. It also ups the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow witnesses at the impeachment trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The Senate has the unanimous bipartisan precedent for when to handle mid-trial questions, such as witnesses -- in the middle of the trial.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): If any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we've requested, they would make it absolutely clear they're participating in a cover-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Of course, none of this means Bolton is actually close to testifying. But a handful of key Republican senators dodged questions on Monday about whether they would back a subpoena for Bolton. Utah Senator Mitt Romney told reporters he does want to hear from Bolton to find out what he knows, but he did not commit to supporting a subpoena for Bolton.

ROMANS: All right. The same day Harvey Weinstein's trial begins on rape charges in New York, similar charges are revealed in Los Angeles.

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[04:16:54]

ROMANS: Just hours after the start of his criminal trial in New York, Harvey Weinstein hit with new sexual assault charges in Los Angeles. Weinstein is charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013. Meantime, jury selection is set to begin this morning in Weinstein's

New York trial. The disgraced former movie mogul faces similar accusations from two women. Prosecutors are out to prove he committed sex crimes against multiple women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONNA ROTUNNO, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Here we are looking at a circumstance where she stands up in front of a court and calls my client a predator. Mr. Weinstein, again, has a right to a fair trial. I think she believes he's convicted already. That's not how this works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Weinstein has denied any criminal wrongdoing and claims any sexual acts he engaged in were consensual.

JARRETT: Hallmark Cards announcing it will cut 400 jobs around the world. The move by the Kansas City, Missouri, card maker, a sign of significant shifts in the retail business. The company says some cuts would be voluntary, some not. It says it will offer severance and transition assistance.

Hallmark employs 30,000 people worldwide. CEO Mike Perry blamed the way people shop and competitive dynamics in the marketplace.

ROMANS: And it's a jeopardy showdown for the ages. Three legendary players will face off starting tonight to prove who is the greatest "Jeopardy!" champ of all time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have to really be quick on a signaling device I know against these two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's done it more recently, but you know, less than half as long as certain people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like riding a bike, you know? You get back up there. You never forget.

ALEX TREBEK, HOST, "JEOPARDY!": Our elements that favor each of the three guys. They didn't win all that money by accident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow. James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter will vie for the coveted GOAT title. The first two win three matches will also receive $1 million. The other two will get a $250,000 consolation prize.

Do you know that John Berman won "Celebrity Jeopardy"?

JARRETT: I didn't but I'm not a surprise. It's also not a bad consolation. ROMANS: You ask him about it, he'll tell you about it in an hour and a half.

JARRETT: I will never do that.

ROMANS: Eighteen minutes past the hour.

JARRETT: Well, the U.S. deploying assets to help battle raging wildfires in Australia. CNN is live in New South Wales, up next.

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[04:23:31]

ROMANS: Twenty-three minutes past the hour.

The U.S. is sending reinforcements to help Australia cope with a wildfire crisis. A team of hot shots, 18 men and two women from the Angeles National Forest in California are heading to Australia right now. State of emergency remains in effect with about 100 fires still active in Victoria and New South Wales.

Anna Coren live on the ground in New South Wales with the very latest.

I know some of these California firefighters are very skilled in getting big trees and getting brush out of the way, that some of the expertise that you'll all be needing there.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Very similar conditions to what have been experienced in the United States. These massive bush fires that have swept part of southeast Australia.

President Trump, he called the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison overnight, offering his condolences and offering help. Hence, the -- the number of Americans who are now coming to help out in Australia.

The losses, Christine, are expected to hit something like half a billion U.S. dollars. And not everybody has returned to their homes to assess the damage. So that could very well climb.

The prime minister, who I mentioned, he has come under extraordinary criticism for his lack of leadership during this crisis. Well, he has announced a bush fire recovery agency, excuse me, where up to half a billion -- $1.5 billion I should say -- will be given to communities to help rebuild these towns that have been destroyed.

[04:25:04]

Livelihoods destroyed.

We have been with -- with some of these people, Christine, throughout the last few days who've returned to their homes to find just smoldering rubble. It truly has been heartbreaking.

And -- and these communities, even though it's been so devastating, the resilience is extraordinary. They all say we are going to rebuild. This is our home. This is where we live.

ROMANS: It's remarkable.

Anna Coren, thanks for that. It is the beginning of the summer with very, very tough conditions expected ahead. Anna Coren, we'll come back to you very, very soon. Thank you for that.

For more information on how you can help the victims of Australia's devastating fires, you can go to CNN.com/impact.

JARRETT: Well, Iran's foreign minister with a forceful rebuke of the U.S. He says president Trump has no respect for international law. And America's days in the Middle East are numbered.

More of what Javad Zarif told CNN live from Tehran, next.

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