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EARLY START

Iranian Lawmakers Designate U.S. Military Terrorists; Washington Post Reports White House Is Drafting Sanctions Against Iraq; U.S. Sends Reinforcements To Australia. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:00]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Terrorist organization.

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

ROMANS: And, Facebook will ban those highly-manipulated videos known as deepfakes but loopholes remain.

CNN is live this morning in Tehran, Baghdad, Australia, and London as only CNN can. Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: We've got a lot of bodies there -- a lot.

ROMANS: We sure do.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett, half past the hour.

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 Gen. Soleimani's hometown of Kerman for his burial this morning.

President Trump is standing by his decision to order the strike that killed him.

(BEGIN VIDEO 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 VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: But there are still questions over U.S claims that intel showed Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on U.S. interests. The 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 that top congressional leaders, the so- called Gang of Eight, are set to receive an Iran briefing this afternoon.

Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live for us in Tehran where he spoke with the foreign minister. Fred, he wasn't holding back with you.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, he certainly wasn't holding back and he certainly is very much still enraged about the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani and also saying that there will be retaliation coming from the Iranians.

By the way, the funeral -- the burial for Qasem Soleimani was actually going on earlier today in his hometown of Kerman, and the latest reports that we're getting is that apparently there was a stampede at that burial and that several people there were killed. We're going to follow up on that and see whether we can get any sort of numbers to confirm for you and get back to you with that. But certainly, it seems like potentially a big event that took place there.

But, yes, I talked to the foreign minister Javad Zarif and he basically ripped into President Trump, ripped into the Trump administration, and said that President Trump had lost the confidence of people here in the Middle East. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAVAD 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: So there you have the foreign minister Javad Zarif certainly not holding back at all as he put it in that interview, saying the U.S. is none the safer for having been in this region such a very long time. And, once again, reiterating -- which he also did at a recent conference as well here in Tehran -- that he believes America's time in this region is coming to an end.

Again, right now, the Iranian leadership, for basically all levels that we've seen, still extremely angry about that targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani, saying there is going to be revenge. There's going to be revenge against military sites, as they put it. Obviously, leading to a lot more tension here in the Middle East and certainly also, a lot more tension among those many U.S. forces who are in this region as well, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Fred, a great interview. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right.

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

And then adding to the uncertainty, this letter the Pentagon sent to the Iraqis saying troops are going to be moved out. This letter, unsigned -- some kind of a draft. Then the Pentagon says no, that's not the case.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live from Baghdad -- Jomana.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Christine, in the midst of that uncertainty, adding to that confusion was this letter that was leaked to the Iraq media late in the evening, coming out as breaking news here, saying that the U.S. military has begun withdrawing from here.

[05:35:02]

That led U.S. officials, both in Baghdad and Washington, D.C., to start scrambling to try and explain and clarify what that letter was about. And according to officials, they say that this has nothing to do with withdrawal -- that they are not.

Actually, what they are doing is repositioning troops -- moving them within the region, and they say it is standard procedure. They were letting the Iraqis know that they will be doing this so that they understand the movements and increased chopper activity around Baghdad.

And then we had the chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, coming out and trying to explain this letter, saying that it was poorly worded because there were indications in that letter that there will be a withdrawal, talking about abiding by the decision of the Iraqi Parliament. So it's really unclear why that letter was written in the first place -- why it would indicate withdrawal when this was not the intention. Now, the biggest concern is after U.S. officials came out and said -- and we heard it from the Secretary of Defense, too -- Mark Esper saying there will be no withdrawal. They're not planning on doing that.

We are hearing renewed threats right now from the Iranian-backed proxies here in Iraq -- these different groups saying they are considering uniting their fronts and fighting U.S. forces if they do not withdraw from Iraq, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jomana Karadsheh for us this morning from Baghdad where it's just in the early afternoon. Thank you so much, Jomana.

JARRETT: So, European officials who have sparred with President Trump on several fronts are urging de-escalation. How do they view the tensions between the U.S. and Iran?

CNN's Max Foster is live for us in London. Max, you know, this is a time where the president probably wishes he has the backing of some of those top leaders like Macron, Merkel -- but, not so much?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, their priority right now is considering their interests in the region and obviously, their close allies -- the officials that I've been speaking to -- of the United States. So they're having to consider the intelligence.

They're talking to each other and this is the premise they're working on. They really do think that anything is on the table and that's because Iran can't be seen to being pushed around for its domestic audience or its international audience, and it never had an attack at this level of the Revolutionary Guard.

So, what are the scenarios that may play out? Well, cyberattacks are one thing that the Europeans are expecting because Iranians have done that before.

They also expect the Iranians to be funding and arming militias throughout that region to take out American targets in the region and that's the advantage of making it much harder for the Americans to defend many positions as opposed to just those within Iraq. So I think that might be likely as well.

What they don't expect is a full traditional conflict between the U.S. and Iran. However, they do point out that President Trump and his actions are quite unpredictable so they're not calling that off. But they're thinking that it might be a cyberattack, it might be more of these sort of targeted attacks across the region.

They're also saying that if there is an immediate response from Iran, it may well be in weeks rather than days because the U.S. and allied positions in the Middle East in that area have moved from aggressive to defensive positions, so they're in a stronger position than they were before.

JARRETT: Max Foster live in London. Thanks so much for joining us.

ROMANS: All right, 38 minutes past the hour. More ahead on all of this. Plus, the U.S. -- Americans deploying to help battle raging wildfires in Australia. CNN live in New South Wales.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:42:45]

ROMANS: Overnight, the foreign minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, responding to President Trump's threat to target Iranian culture sites.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZARIF: He doesn't -- he doesn't care, it seems, about international law. But has he made the U.S. more secure? Their days in our region are numbered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That interview with CNN -- our Fred Pleitgen.

Later today, the top leaders in the House and Senate receive a briefing on the Iran crisis. President Trump standing behind his decision to kill the head of Iran's Special Forces, but with a new twist.

JARRETT: Joining us live from Washington, "Washington Post" congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian. She's a CNN political analyst. Karoun, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.

JARRETT: So the president obviously not backing down. He is going all-in on the strikes. He has Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going out on every Sunday show defending him on this. But he's also gone to some familiar, comfortable ground if you will.

Take a listen to what he said with Rush Limbaugh yesterday about the past administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's a terrorist. He was designated a terrorist by President Obama and then Obama did nothing about it. He was a terrorist.

You know, they don't want to call him a terrorist. Now, the Democrats are trying to make him sound like he was this wonderful human being.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: So, of course, making this about President Obama -- a familiar target.

What are your sources on the Hill -- what's their read on this?

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, look, there is a division right now that has been playing out for several days where you have Republicans that are basically saying what Trump did was a very prudent move even if they harbor some concerns about what's coming next and how Congress hasn't really been kept in the loop.

And, Democrats, of course, saying that this was a -- you know, a kind of gut decision to strike somebody who, yes, everybody thinks is a very bad guy with a lot of American blood on his hands, but killing him potentially unleashes a series of events that could spiral out of control and thus is reckless.

And so that dispute has been playing out and it continues to play out as lawmakers get back to D.C. And they're still waiting, really, for substantive information about the intelligence behind this decision -- the strategic decision and how it came together.

We're going to see the rank and file members of both the House and the Senate getting a fuller briefing on that tomorrow from the heads of the military and the State Department and the Defense Department.

[05:45:00]

But at this point, it's a lot of -- there's a lot of speculation about whether this was prudent or not. That has not really been informed by a direct --

ROMANS: Direct.

DEMIRJIAN: -- testimony from the people who were involved in the decision.

ROMANS: You know, the strike, Karoun, is dramatic enough, right, and a game changer enough for the U.S. and Iran, and then the president adds these Trumpian flourishes. Like, he says he's got 52 sites, come of them cultural sites, that he will -- he will take out and destroy these important heritage sites. He's said that twice now.

Yesterday, his defense secretary said no, we will follow the rules of armed conflict. We are not going to be targeting cultural heritage sites, something that almost everyone says would be disastrous --

DEMIRJIAN: A war crime.

ROMANS: -- and a war crime --

JARRETT: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

ROMANS: -- illegal.

Is this another situation of the president saying something and his administration or his intel chiefs or his cabinet cleaning it up and the president goes back and triples down on it later? I mean, listen, we have prepared a montage of how many times he has

sort of bucked his own administration -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

TRUMP: Chairman Kim, we have a great chemistry and we're well on our way. You know, we signed an agreement that said we will begin the immediate denuclearization.

COATS: North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.

TRUMP: President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: What do you make of the president and this whole cultural sites -- and then now, the administration trying to clean that up?

DEMIRJIAN: Well look, the president often speaks beyond and out of turn based on what his administration is actually prepared to do, and it often happens on his Twitter account.

The difference here, really, is that while there's always very significant stakes when the American president is talking about foreign policy and engagement with adversary nations that this particular tweet is almost a direct threat of something that is illegal -- that is considered criminal. And that has a very weighty implication that the president is taking his pulpit to actually do that.

And so, yes, you see a scramble back from people like Esper, saying that we are not actually considering doing that at all. But the president tends to talk out of turn in these ways very often. It's just that the seriousness of this one is contained right within the tweet --

ROMANS: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: -- and it's very difficult to avoid that, especially when you're talking about a situation in which things -- in which people from both sides of the aisle believe that things could escalate here. That is a very tenuous thing to go so far as to just say we're going to wade into an area which kind of abrogates what are considered international norms of what is and isn't kosher in these sorts of engagements.

JARRETT: So, Karoun, talk to us about John Bolton. What is he up to and what are folks on Capitol Hill making of this? He makes news yesterday and grabs headlines saying he is willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate, but did Democrats have the votes for that?

DEMIRJIAN: At this point, it's not clear. The subpoena would have to -- the Democrats need at least four Republicans to come along with them and right now, that has been the big question of whether or not there are enough Republicans who are siding with Mitch McConnell to say let's not have any witnesses at all to deny Democrats their campaign -- their push to be able to get some of these witnesses who never testified before the House in its impeachment inquiry, to serve as witnesses in the Senate trial.

There are people like Bolton, there people like Pompeo -- people who are very close to the president's inner circle and would have been privy to these decisions and who other witnesses said were.

I think Bolton saying this right now is one of -- another one of those things that puts more pressure on the GOP leaders to come up with a good reason why they shouldn't hear from him. At this point, Bolton is saying that it seems like he's picking his moment, certainly, which it seemed like he might do all along. The House never actually issued him a subpoena so he never technically flouted it.

JARRETT: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: But it seems like the House is leaving --

ROMANS: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: -- room right now for the Senate to operate, saying he should go -- the Senate should call him -- but not really weighing in House leaders -- Democratic leaders in the House not really weighing in on whether they want to hear from him, too.

And, of course, the center of the action, even though Nancy Pelosi still has the articles, is going to be in the Senate next and this is the big question of will he get his moment, especially since he now seems to be putting his thumb on the scale and saying I want it? Will the GOP actually let him?

JARRETT: All right. And, of course, Congress back on the Hill this week so hopefully, we'll see some movement --

ROMANS: I know.

JARRETT: -- soon there. I know everyone's waiting with bated breath --

DEMIRJIAN: Right.

JARRETT: -- of course, to figure out when Nancy Pelosi is going to send those articles over. Karoun, thanks so much. Congressional reporter, of course, at "The Washington Post" and CNN analyst.

ROMANS: Thanks, Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, breaking news this morning. Puerto Rico is in the dark after an earthquake off the coast. It's not been revised down to a 6.4 about six miles south of Indios, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico's power company tweeting that its plants have activated their auto protective mechanism and are out of service. Remember, most of the island was without electricity for months after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

[05:50:03]

This is the island's second quake in as many days.

JARRETT: Facebook plans to ban its so-called deepfake videos. The policy will ban videos edited or synthesized in a way that average users would not be able to easily spot.

But not all doctored videos are going to be banned. According to "The Washington Post," the new guidelines would not have banned that deceptive clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral last year because the technology used -- well, it wasn't advanced enough.

A Facebook executive will testify before Congress this week on manipulation and deception in the digital age.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:15]

ROMANS: All right, a preview of Tuesday markets. This is what it looks like around the world. Small increases in global markets, particularly the Wall Street futures right now also leaning a little bit higher here -- barely higher, really.

You know, stocks wobbled on news of escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran and then ended slightly higher. The Dow closed up 69. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, they recovered from their earlier losses as well.

You know, where we see the uncertainty hold here is in gold. Prices hit a seven-year high. If history is a guide, markets react to consolidate and finally recover from shocks like the killing of Gen. Soleimani and it takes time. The question is how long does that take? We are in an election economy right now.

JARRETT: The U.S. is sending reinforcements to help Australia cope with the wildfire crisis. A team of hotshots, 18 men and two women from the Angeles National Forest in California, are heading to Australia right now. A state of emergency remains in effect there -- about 100 fires still active.

Anna Coren is live for us on the ground in New South Wales with the latest. So, Anna, what is -- what are the California hotshots going to do to help out there?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're going to offer their expertise and their experience. They're going to share that with their Australian counterparts.

There are already Americans and Canadians on the ground assisting the thousands of rural bushfire service members who are fighting these fires. It is an extraordinary effort that is needed to battle more than 200 blazes burning across southeast Australia.

We understand losses to be something like half a billion U.S. dollars. And so many people still haven't accessed their property, so that will no doubt rise.

The Australian prime minister, who received a phone call from the U.S. President Donald Trump over the night, offering his condolences and obviously offering help and resources.

The prime minister -- he's been under enormous criticism for his lack of leadership during this crisis. He went to Hawaii before Christmas, with his family, while much of the country was burning. Well, today, he announced a bushfire recovery agency in which more than $1.5 billion will be given to the communities who have lost their homes and whose livelihoods have been devastated.

And we've been spending time with those people. They are devastated but at the same time, Laura, incredibly resilient.

JARRETT: Losses totaling over half a billion dollars, so far. That's just amazing.

Anna, thanks so much for being there for us.

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

ROMANS: Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, of Arizona, under fire for tweeting a doctored photo of Barack Obama with Iran's president. The caption reads, "The world is a better place without these guys in power."

Two problems. Hassan Rouhani, on the left, is still in power.

Also, that photo never happened. He and President Obama never met in person. The original undoctored picture, you can see here, taken in 2011 at a meeting between Mr. Obama and the prime minister of India.

Congressman Gosar called his critics dim-witted, implying that he knew all along the picture was a fake. JARRETT: A NASA astronaut on the International Space Station sharing this heavenly image from the first meteor shower of the decade, along with the Northern Lights -- look at that. Christina Koch tweeted this composite image of bright fireball meteors as they blazed into the atmosphere. Koch recently broke the record for the longest-running space flight for a woman.

ROMANS: Wow, that's really beautiful, isn't it?

JARRETT: It's a great picture.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us this morning on EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, December seventh -- January seventh --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good catch.

CAMEROTA: -- 6:00 here in New York.

And we begin with breaking news for you because there's been this deadly stampeded erupting at the funeral procession for Iran's top general. Iran state media reports that 35 people have been killed and dozens more hurt.

Look at your T.V. screen right now at all of the people who have turned out for the procession of this slain general, Qasem Soleimani. These are live pictures. And as you can see, the number of mourners turning out for the commander's burial is massive, but it has been postponed because of this stampede.

And now, the leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guard is vowing to quote "set ablaze" locations where Americans and their allies live after Iran's Parliament voted to designate U.S. forces as terrorists.

END