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INSIDE POLITICS

Sen. Sanders Knocks Joe Biden's Record; Warren Releases Plan to Strip Down 2005 Bankruptcy Bill; U.S. Forces in Mideast on Alert for Possible Iranian Drone Attacks; Prosecutors Recommend Jail Time for Michael Flynn; Pompeo Says He Won't Run for Kansas Senate Seat. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And to get turnout, you need energy and excitement. And I just don't think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the energy that we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Remember that. We're going to come back to that sound bite. Remember that.

But with the votes now just 27 days away, the former vice president Joe Biden could have even more incoming from the left. Senator Elizabeth Warren today has a new proposal to strip down that 2005 bankruptcy law that she and Biden went toe to toe on almost two decades ago. This is what happens, you get closer to the voting and the candidates get chippy.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I don't normally see Bernie Sanders who can be a little curmudgeonly go directly after his Democratic rivals by names so aggressively. It does appear that, you know, with less than 30 days before the Iowa caucuses and Joe Biden continuing to lead in a number of these early states and lead a national lead, it shows that there's a sense that Bernie Sanders and some of the other candidates want to knock him down a couple pegs to make this race a little more competitive.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think the Sanders, you know, Sanders supporters and the liberals in the party see this is a really strong contrast for Bernie Sanders that he can position himself as sort of the anti-war, left-leaning, foreign policy candidate. They think there's an audience for that in the party, and there is. And, you know -- but at the same time, Biden sees it as a strong contrast for him, it allows him to highlight his experience. He really is the standard-bearer in a lot of ways of Democratic foreign policy over the past 20 or 30 years.

So this is a fight that we could see play out and I suspect we will see play out in interesting ways during the debate. KING: And it's a fight Sanders did not with the nomination in 2016 but he did a lot more damage to Hillary Clinton and he lasted a lot longer in the race than anybody thought he could. And he built this network that he's using now not only to raise money but to maintain his support. Other people have gone up and down, Sanders has been like this.

I asked people to remember that sound bite because we have seen this movie before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Let us talk about the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country. I led the opposition to that war. Secretary Clinton voted for that war.

The American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madam Secretary, when you voted for the war in Iraq, the most disastrous foreign policy blunder in the modern history of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He is remarkably consistent. He also made the point that her husband was the president who passed NAFTA and he made the point about energy turnout against Secretary Clinton, saying he was worried the base wouldn't turn out for her.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the irony here is that those sentences could have been spoken by Candidate Trump as well. And here we are with -- because they're sort of populist, you know, isolationist for lack of a better way to say it, sensibilities are very similar, sort of where the two polls meet. Having said that, the fact that Bernie Sanders was so ready last night with Anderson Cooper to go, as you said, to go so specifically against Joe Biden tells you that he does see what happened in Iran as an opening, and he does see it as a potential to use against him in a very, very aggressive way. And it's not a sneak attack politically because we have seen the rise of Bernie Sanders, but this is more evidence that he sees it, and they see something real, especially in Iowa where he has a history of doing very well.

KING: And indirectly, it's also a way to try to peel off -- he's attacking Joe Biden but he's trying to peel voters off of Elizabeth Warren as well. As this moment trying to get out the progressives to say Bernie is the true anti-war guy, Bernie has been there from the beginning, let's go to Bernie at this key moment.

Warren has an interesting moment. She owned the summer, she's plateau and even dipped since. And now she has this new plan on bankruptcy, clearly, there's a debate coming up next week, she's looking to mix it up with Joe Biden as well. And she's on television a lot more than she normally is including the Sunday shows, trying to get back into the conversation.

She was on "The View" today. She has had several different answers when asked about General Soleimani, who he is, whether it was justified, whether he's a terrorist. This, today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This doesn't change the truth. The question is what is the response that the president of the United States should make? He's part of a group that has been --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But is he a terrorist?

WARREN: He's part of a group that's been designated --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he's not a terrorist?

WARREN: Of course he is. He is part --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

WARREN: -- of a group that our federal government has designated as a terrorist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is an odd answer in the sense that he's a terrorist because he's part of a group that the federal government has designated as terrorist as opposed to saying, yes, he is.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Yes. I mean, it's -- we should talk about how steady this race has been for and how long it's been steadying. And you are seeing this effort by Bernie to say -- finally stand and say, I am the standard-bearer. Don't look at these other people, I'm the standard-bearer.

She started out early on in her campaign by giving a foreign policy speech, if I remember correctly. And what struck me about it was a lot of her messaging was maybe the president's goals are right but the tactics are wrong. And it's been interesting to watch the Dems manage this one as well.

[12:35:09]

LERER: You know what strikes -- part of what's striking to me about this interview that Senator Warren did is, you know, this is someone who, you know, her and her team really serve to stay in the Washington trappings. They don't do Sunday shows, they don't like to do -- be in that whole mix of like Washington things. And now I think over the weekend, she was on two Sunday shows, she's going on "The View", so you can see that this is a campaign that's feeling like they need to get their message out, they need to sort of get her back up in the running.

And I think the race has been set but it's been dynamic, right? You have these four or five candidates who have been sort of switching and swapping places and, you know, we're still a month away, a lot could happen.

KNOX: It's at the top, right?

KING: Right.

LERER: Well, how do you assess the top, right? Are you looking at Iowa, are you looking at New Hampshire, are you looking at national, you know?

KNOX: All of it. All of it. I mean, it's been pretty steady and I think they're seeing -- I think some of these other candidates are seeing time take away, and if they want to change the dynamic of the dynamic, to borrow your word, then they've got to take -- they've got to step up now and do it I think.

LERER: Yes, we're running -- they're running out of time.

KING: Well, Iowa always has a surprise. We don't know what it will be, but Iowa always has a surprise.

Coming up, Puerto Rico's governor declares a state of emergency after earthquakes. We'll have the latest in just a moment.

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[12:40:45]

KING: Topping our political radar today, the White House says President Trump has been briefed on the situation in Puerto Rico and the governor there now declaring a state of emergency. That after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake and strong aftershocks rocked the island this morning. Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced also announcing $130 million in aid has been made available. At least one person has been killed, approximately 300,000 people are without drinking water.

With Iran threatening retaliation against the United States, the Homeland Security Department American businesses and organizations that support critical infrastructure to be on alert for possible cyber attacks. They're being urged to closely monitor network and e-mail traffic for things e-mail phishing attempts and other compromised tactics.

And Michelle Obama launching a new Instagram TV series following four first-year college students from across the country as those students navigate campus life for the first time. The six-part series for viewing later this month is part of the former first lady's retire initiative to inspire students to pursue higher education.

Up next, as Iran threatens that retaliation, U.S. forces not the only Americans on high alert across the Middle East.

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[12:46:31]

KING: While thousands of U.S. forces across the Middle East are now on high alert for possible Iranian drone strikes, there are plenty of other American interests in the region that also must now be vigilant amid Iran's threat of retaliation. Let's just take a look through the region.

And this part is stunning, if you look at Iran in the middle here, surrounding it in several countries, well, in excess of 60,000, in excess of American troops in the region, 5,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 4,000 in Bahrain, still 12,000 in Afghanistan, 13,000 based in Kuwait. And remember, the administration says it is now sending additional forces to the region because of the confrontation with Iran.

This is the military perspective as Iran vows retaliation and suggests that will be against a military target. But, others can't be sure. Among the big U.S. companies with interests in the region and facilities in the region, energy companies, hotel chains, major banks, and financial institutions and major technology companies like Google and Apple, all again, increased alert for their workers and their facilities in the region.

This one is personal as well to the Trump organization, the president's company, his family business, it has properties in Dubai and in Istanbul that are potential targets now that Iran threatens retaliation. As this plays out and U.S. go on higher alert, listen here in almost mocking tones, Iran's foreign minister in an interview with CNN saying all those U.S. troops in the region no longer welcome.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The United States believes that this beautiful military equipment, according to President Trump, that you spent $2 trillion on this beautiful military equipment. Beautiful military equipment don't rule the war. People rule the war. People.

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 cannot stay in this region. I mean, the people of the region not wanting it anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our military and diplomatic analyst, the retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins the conversation. It is stunning and it's actually sad that only in a time of crisis like this do we do the math and realize 60,000 to 70,000 American servicemen and women in the region plus all the private contractors that have to support that. You know the region well, you know how this works, what does high alert mean for them now?

RET. RDML JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, so first, protections obviously been elevated in the wake of the strike on Soleimani and rightfully so. I mean, look, Iran is the weaker power, John, so as they have been, they will continue I think, we should expect them to continue to retaliate or respond through asymmetric means. You mentioned cyber as a possibility, certainly, proxies doing, you know, smaller attacks on forces on the ground and facilities. It's pretty clear to me that they will probably focus on military sites and not so much civilian sites because they will see that as proportional. You heard Zarif talked about a proportional response.

KING: And they've also had designated U.S. military officials as terrorist organizations just as we had -- the United States had designated the Quds forces. Is that to you a signal? And do you take them at their word when they say it will be a military site, when they say it will be a military target? Do you take them at their word in this situation?

KIRBY: I think we have to. And I think the Department of Defense is doing exactly that through force protection measures across the region sending more troops and more, you know, now bombers, you know, into the area. I think you have to.

Now, look, the terrorists, you know, saying military organizations are terrorist organizations in terms of the United States, I think that's largely rhetorical in a way to make themselves feel good about it, but I do think we need to take seriously the potential threat to military facilities and troops.

KING: Let me take you from your Pentagon days now over to your State Department days. If you are Chevron, Apple, Google, the Trump organization, how does intelligence get shared with American organi -- American businesses, American interests, American companies who have major presences in a region that is now put on high alert?

[12:50:14]

KIRBY: If the government has information, credible information in intelligence that civilian infrastructure or business, corporations are any risk, they are obligated to share to the degree that they can what they can to advise them and to help them prepare for it. And I think that certainly the Trump administration, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't do that. But again, I think largely the focus is rightly and should be on military targets right now.

KING: Admiral Kirby, I appreciate your perspective on this. We want to turn to some other important new news today. A new wrinkle today in Michael Flynn's long-delayed sentencing. Federal prosecutors now want the former Trump national security adviser to go to prison.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the new details. Jessica, what do they say in this memo today?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: John, this memo just in and prosecutors now saying that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser for President Trump, should serve up to six months in jail. This is notable because this is a marked change from what prosecutors actually recommended a year ago now, and this is really a self-inflicted wound for Michael Flynn. It was about a year ago when he was set to be sentenced, and that's when the judge said that he wasn't taking adequate responsibility for his actions.

And in that ensuing year, Michael Flynn has hired a new defense attorney. He has also peddled these conspiracy theories, saying that the FBI entrapped him into giving this interview and admitting to lying. Also saying that the government forced him into this guilty plea. The judge was having none of it. In an opinion a few weeks ago, the judge said none of this was founded, and then prosecutors asked for an extension to this deadline for their sentencing memo.

Really strong words from prosecutors here saying that our criminal justice system depends on the solemn obligation of witnesses, to tell the truth, something prosecutors say Michael Flynn has not done, that his crime is lying to the FBI. And this is notable as well. Few courts have sentenced a high-ranking government official and former military general for making false statements, but this is exactly, John, what prosecutors are asking for now.

They are now upping their request to the judge. This is a marked change from what they asked for a year ago, then recommending no jail time. John, now recommending up to six months for Michael Flynn. Back to you.

KING: Major escalation, now we await the sentencing. Jessica Schneider, appreciate the breaking news there.

Up next for us, Mike Pompeo plots his immediate future and says it's not in Kansas.

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[12:57:15]

KING: Mike Pompeo says no is his final answer to a long-speculated question. Will he run for Senate?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I said the same thing yesterday that I said for months, no. No real news there. I said that I'm going to stay serving as secretary of state as long as President Trump shall have me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But is that really the final answer? That seat will be open because Senator Pat Roberts is retiring. Roberts today is of the view that Pompeo is still leaving himself some wiggle room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS): I don't think that was Shermanesque, quite. He still has time to make up his mind. We have quite a few candidates already in the race so we ought to be all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We ought to be all right, Senator Roberts says there, but one of the reasons they're worried is the former secretary of state Kris Kobach is in the race and many think he would be the leading candidate without Pompeo. He lost the run for governor last time, and with the math in the Senate so dicey, so many Republicans on defense.

BASH: Right. That Mitch McConnell has seen the movie before where they lose a Senate seat that they shouldn't lose because somebody is running on the Republican ticket who is not electable even in the red state of Kansas which is changing a bit. There's no question McConnell is disappointed that Pompeo is not running. He was pressuring him even though Pompeo was sending a lot of signals that he was a reluctant maybe.

KING: He had met with some Republican strategists about a race. He wasn't so reluctant. Something pushed him back, though, is that the -- do you take that as the final answer? He's got until June.

LERER: We live in an unpredictable time so I think he's definitely thinking about his own political future so he may want to see how things shake out a little bit, particularly this, you know, new conflict that we find ourselves in. But I don't know, is any answer final in Washington?

KING: But he did tell McConnell which I think was his way of saying if you think Kobach is the problem, you got to find somebody else.

BASH: That's exactly right.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, I think he's hitching his wagon to President Trump and whatever Trump wants him to do, that's what he'll end up doing.

KING: We shall see.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN special coverage of a world on edge.

As tensions escalate between the U.S. and Iran over the killing of an Iranian general, U.S. troops across the Middle East are on high alert. Two U.S. officials tell CNN that the military received intelligence overnight pointing to a possible imminent attack by Iranian drones on U.S. targets in the Middle East.

Tension between the U.S. and Iran remain extremely high after a U.S. drone carried out a targeted killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Friday, on the orders of President Trump. Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the controversial strike as he was pressed for details about his claim that Soleimani posed an imminent threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[13:00:00]

POMPEO: If you're looking for imminence, you need to look now further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani. And then in addition to that have what we can clearly see --