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Sources: U.S. Forces on High Alert For Possible Iran Drone Attacks; Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) is Interviewed About the Intelligence Behind Killing of Soleimani; U.S. Military Personnel in Middle East on High Alert Due to Possible Retaliation from Iran; Iranian Foreign Minister Interviewed on Iranian Response to U.S. Killing of General Qasem Soleimani; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) Interviewed on Upcoming Briefing from Trump Administration on Intelligence Used to Justify Attack on Iranian General. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Out there battling these fires now for months. So really even though things have calmed down, John, we know that this threat is far from over.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, they're going to need that resilience going forward, Anna Coren, because the fire season is not over, not even close. Thanks so much for being with us.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. For U.S. viewers, we have breaking news. The Defense Department and Pentagon on high alert overnight. We'll tell you why. NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, January 7th, 8:00 now in the east. And we do begin with breaking news. So let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She has been live at the Pentagon all morning for us. She is just getting these breaking details. Barbara, what are you being told?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn and John. What we are learning is it what a tense overnight for the United States military in the Middle East. They had intelligence that they believe pointed to the possibility of an imminent -- there is that word again -- imminent threat of an attack by Iranian drones in several places across the region where U.S. troops are located. We're told that those locations included Iraq, where, obviously, there are about 5,000 U.S. troops, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

The intelligence showed that Iran was planning perhaps, you never know unless and until it happens, to launch drone attacks, Iranian drones now equipped with precise missiles that have been used in other attacks, especially last year against Saudi oil facilities. They are devastating. What U.S. officials, multiple U.S. officials are telling us is that U.S. forces, including Patriot missile batteries, which can shoot down these drones were on the highest state of readiness throughout the night, that they had warning to be extra vigilant, extra watchful. The window could, in fact, still be open for these kinds of potential attacks.

Now what we do know is the intelligence is showing that Iran has moved some of its ballistic missiles, some of its drones around in recent days. This could indicate either an attack or it could indicate that the Iranians are moving their weapons into position to preserve them, believing that the Trump administration might launch an attack against them.

So that's why the intelligence is a point of analysis, if you will. They analyze, they assess that this was a real threat overnight, that they were in a position to launch an imminent attack. Do they know absolutely that it was going to happen? No. And, of course, nothing has happened yet. But this is the kind of thing that they are tracking. It led to very tense overnight hours. Alisyn, John?

BERMAN: All right, Barbara, much more context in what was going on overnight and this morning. Please keep us posted as you watch these developments.

Also this morning, CNN has a brand-new interview with Iran's foreign minister who did issue new threats to the United States. Let's get right to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen who is live in Tehran. Fred, you've been there for days. Very interesting to hear how Javad Zarif is now framing this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. And John, so interesting also to hear the details there from Barbara Starr about the U.S. military, they're on high alert, because one of the things that Javad Zarif also talked about was the fact that the Iranians are saying they certainly are going to retaliate against the United States, and most probably against American military interests in the region after the killing of Qasem Soleimani.

It was interesting on all levels to speak to Javad Zarif. On the one hand, he called the Trump administration the Trump regime, he called what the Trump administration is doing state terrorism. So certainly, really lashing out at President Trump and the administration. First question, however, that I put to him is how is war going to be avoided here in a region that is so tense right now. Let's listen in.


PLEITGEN: You have said that Iran will retaliate for the targeted killing of General Qasem Soleimani. President Trump has said there would be a disproportionate response if you do that. What do you make of President Trump's threats?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: His threats will not frighten us. But what he's showing something. He's showing to the international community that he has no respect for international law, that he's prepared to commit war crimes, because attacking cultural sites is a war crime. A disproportionate response is a war crime. But he doesn't care, it seems, about international law. But has he made U.S. more secure? Do Americans feel more secure? Are Americans welcome today in this region? Do they feel welcome?

PLEITGEN: Your government and your leadership and the military here has vowed to take action against the United States. What kind of retaliation is that going to be?


ZARIF: The United States violated three principles, Iraqi sovereignty and the agreement that they had with Iraq. They got a response from the Iraqi parliament. They violated the emotions of the people. They will get a response from the people. They killed one of our most revered commanders and most senior commanders, and they took responsibility for it. This is state terrorism. This is an act of aggression against Iran. And it amounts to an armed attack against Iran, and we will respond. But we will respond proportionately, not disproportionately, because we are committed to law. We are law- abiding people. We're not lawless like President Trump.

PLEITGEN: So you think you can strike at any point? Because you obviously -- it's no secret that you control militias in this region, that you have forces that are on your side in this region, in many countries.

ZARIF: No, we have people on our side in this region. That's much more important. The United States believes that this beautiful military equipment, according to President Trump, that you spent $2 trillion on these beautiful military equipment. Beautiful military equipment don't rule the world. People rule the world. 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, and the United States cannot stay in this region with the people of the region not wanting it anymore.

PLEITGEN: Would it be worth speaking to him?

ZARIF: It doesn't need speaking. He has to realize he has been fed misinformation. And he needs to wake up and apologize. He has to apologize. He has to change course. He cannot add mistake upon another mistake. He is just making it worse for America. He is destroying the U.S. Constitution. He's destroying the U.S. political process. He's destroying the rule of law in the United States, but that's not for me to say. That's a domestic affair of the United States. He has enraged the people of our region. He has killed people of this region. He has spent $1 trillion, he said the U.S. has wasted $7 trillion in our region. He has added another $1 trillion. Is the United States more secure today because of that?


PLEITGEN: And so, guys, you can see there the tensions, obviously, running high here in the region. Also, by the way, running quite high on the diplomatic channels as well between the U.S. and Iran. In fact, Iran's foreign minister, whom I just talked to there, has now confirmed on his Twitter account, that he has been denied a visa by the United States to take part in a U.N. Security Council session where he was supposed to speak there. He is obviously criticizing that move.

It was quite interesting, because after our interview, I actually asked him about that. I said what do you make of the fact that you've been denied this visa, and all he said is, what are they afraid of? And then I asked him whether he was concerned about this fact, and he simply said no. So obviously he was trying to make it seem as though like he didn't really care about it, but you do see that there is heightened tension, not just here in this region but, of course, on the diplomatic channels as well, guys.

CAMEROTA: Fred, it is so helpful to have your sit-down interview with Zarif to just hear what he says they are planning to do next and how they're processing all of this. Thank you very much for your reporting.

Joining us now is Senator Bob Menendez. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Good morning, Senator. Obviously, a lot of breaking news this morning. I don't know if you just had an opportunity to hear Barbara Starr's reporting from the Pentagon, but just to recap, they have been on something of high alert overnight because they say that they got intelligence that Iran was moving around equipment. It made the Pentagon believe that they would be targeting U.S. forces, perhaps in Iraq, perhaps in Kuwait, perhaps with drones equipped with missiles as we had seen in the Saudi oil attack. What can you tell us about this?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D-NJ) RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I don't have independent information about it, but I will say it's to be expected. We have seen an escalation by President Trump, particularly with Iran, that is unfolding in a way that creates an alarm for many of us that we are on a march to an unauthorized war, which is why Senator Schumer and I asked for the president to declassify fully his War Powers notification to the Congress. I think the American people need to know the essence of what that says so that they can make their independent judgment.

The last thing we need is another weapons of mass destruction moment in American history. And I haven't seen anything that ultimately indicates that killing Qasem Soleimani at this point in time stopped an imminent threat and/or made America more secure without the planning for the aftermath of this.


So those actions that Barbara Starr talked about ultimately are clearly to be expected.

CAMEROTA: So you've not seen any intelligence that suggests to you that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack. But you haven't been briefed yet?

MENENDEZ: Well, the War Powers notification has some elements of that. I would simply say tomorrow there's an all-members briefing, and we'll get further details. I intend to press, as I did when I was in the House on the Iraq war and voted against it, I intend to press them on the intelligence to understand the nature of it, because the key here is what was the imminence of the threat? And why did taking Soleimani out specifically deal with that imminence? Obviously to the extent that there was anything being planned, others had to be involved. You would think that you would be dealing with others in the way to carry out that attack, that one individual alone maybe postpones it, but doesn't eliminate the threat. And so the immediacy of the nature has to be defined for Congress so that we understand why the president took this action, because in the absence of that, in the absence of facts and intelligence to establish that, then I think the president's actions would have been unlawful.

CAMEROTA: Well, the national security adviser Robert O'Brien was on television this morning, giving a little bit more information about that underlying intelligence. So let me play that for you.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can tell you that there were plans being made and Soleimani was in the midst of that plotting. That's why he was traveling in the region to Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad, to conspire with people to attack American facilities that contain diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen. So the president was very concerned about that activity. Soleimani and the Iranian regime knew exactly what they were doing.


CAMEROTA: OK, so there were facilities being targeted, he says, that contained American diplomats and soldiers. What's your response?

MENENDEZ: Well, we'll have to see exactly what was the essence of the intelligence and the integrity of that intelligence to establish that. But that in and of itself isn't something new as it relates to Iran or Soleimani. And, obviously, he wasn't working -- he himself wasn't going to carry out these attacks, if those attacks were imminent. So the question is, why didn't you target the very essence of those groups within Iran, military groups within Iran, that could have carried out any such attack? And how strong was that intelligence, and how imminent was it?

And so I need to see the intelligence to be convinced, because we have history already that establishes that sometimes this intelligence is aggressively looked at one side to promote a purpose, but doesn't substantiate itself under the garish light.

CAMEROTA: So what if the intel doesn't satisfy you tomorrow? What if you do conclude that the president acted unlawfully as you have suggested is possible? Then what?

MENENDEZ: This is why I'll be sitting today with Senator Kaine who has introduced a War Powers resolution as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It seems to me that we need to constrain the president while making sure the language protects our troops in the region, but constrain the president from being able to act in the absence of any threat immediately to our troops in the region in a broader conflict without an authorization from Congress or the authorization for the use of military force that comes in the first instance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has jurisdiction on that issue.

We cannot have a march to an unauthorized war. And the escalation from the missile attacks inside of Iraq and Syria to the ultimate targeting of Qasem Soleimani to the sending of thousands of troops, all of this without authorization is a march that has to be stopped, and the Congress has to be engaged in deciding whether or not it's in the national security interest of the United States to authorize any military force.

CAMEROTA: But in terms of the bottom line of having killed Soleimani, you've been a frequent critic of the Iran regime, and Soleimani is universally seen, well, in the United States at least, as a terror mastermind. So when you heard that President Trump gave the order to have him taken out, were you relieved?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, Soleimani was a terrorist. He is the cause directly and indirectly for the loss of hundreds of American troops through their surrogates and through the development of IEDs that killed American soldiers in Iraq.


I will shed no tear for him.

But the question that two previous administrations, Republican and Democrat, both faced, is targeting Soleimani and taking him off the battlefield more valuable than the consequences that flow from that decision? And both President Bush and President Obama came to a different conclusion.

So the question isn't whether or not we weep for Soleimani. We don't. The question is, whether -- what unfolds now was ultimately in the national interest and security of the United States.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Do you know what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to say at 10:00 a.m.?

MENENDEZ: I don't. I don't. I have not talked to the secretary. We've reached out for the State Department, but I have not talked to the secretary. I don't know if it's about his political ambitions or whether it is about Iraq.

CAMEROTA: That would be interesting if he had just called the press conference to talk about his political ambitions. But in any event, none of us know. So, we will see at 10:00 a.m.

Senator Bob Menendez, thank you very much for coming on NEW DAY.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John? JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our reporting on his political ambitions, by the way, is that he's told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell he's not running for Senate. He's staying as secretary of state. So, unlikely it's about that, but we will see.

In the meantime, we heard from the national security adviser suggesting his claims that there was an imminent threat. What that was that led from President Trump to order the attack on Iran's top general?

We're going to speak to another lawmaker about the intelligence that he has seen and the questions he has, next.



BERMAN: Breaking news. CNN has learned U.S. forces have been on high alert to possibly shoot down Iranian drones as the administration claims there is intelligence there was an imminent threat from Iran on the United States. That is according to two U.S. officials.

CNN's Barbara Starr reports that U.S. intelligence has observed Iran moving military equipment, including drones and ballistic missiles over the last several days. That is since the U.S. attack that killed General Soleimani.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Will Hurd. He serves on the Intelligence Committee and is a former CIA officer.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.

In addition to that reporting, national security adviser Robert O'Brien just spoke to the press and was talking about the administration claims there was an imminent threat posed by General Soleimani, that killing him thwarted an imminent attack. He claimed that there is strong evidence and strong intelligence that Soleimani was plotting to kill, to attack American facilities and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are located at certain facilities.

My question to you as a member of the Intelligence Committee, have you seen evidence yet that there was a specific plan to hit a specific target? Because General Soleimani, you know, he made those -- had discussions about those things on days that end with "Y." I mean, every day General Soleimani talked about killing Americans.

The question is, was there a specific attack that was thwarted by killing him?

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): Well, John, it's a good question, and I just got back to Washington, D.C., so I haven't been into a secure spaces to read some of the intelligence, but whether or not it was imminent, we know there's been a general threat. We know that the Iranians have been trying to kill Americans for 41 years. So, this is not something that is new. And why were we seeing an increase in Iranian activity in Iraq

specifically? You have to -- we have to remember that the Iraqi prime minister is in essence an Iranian puppet which has fomented discord within Iraq. And you've had a lot of Iraqis protesting, which is why the Iraqi prime minister said he was going to step down and be a caretaker prime minister until parliament can decide when next elections are.

The Iranians were losing a foothold in Iraq. They were using their proxies, these Shia militia groups in order to infiltrate some of these people that were protesting. So, we know that the Iranians were afraid of what was happening.

And so, whether it was an imminent threat, we know there's a general threat. Qassem Soleimani was the head of the top terrorist organization in the world. And you can't hide behind a uniform of your government to prevent you from being called a terrorist. You're still a terrorist.

And he was in Iraq, not because he was transiting the Baghdad airport. He was in Iraq because he was working with proxies to increase attacks on the U.S., on our allies, and him being off the battlefield is a good thing.

BERMAN: As a legal matter, it might matter if there was a specific threat that he was involved in. And then there's the question and we heard from several members of Congress over the last few days, does killing Soleimani make Americans safer?

I've heard you say, yes. You say it's a positive thing to take him off the battlefield. But you go look at the response just the last few days, what's happened over the last few days, it seems that Iranian public opinion, which had been fractious, is now galvanized in support of the regime.

You've had Iraq vote to remove U.S. troops from that country. You've had the United States have to suspend activities against ISIS.

Those three things -- does that make the United States safer?

HURD: Well, what would make the U.S. safer is if the Iranian government stopped killing Americans, stopped killing our allies, stop lying about their nuclear program, stopped killing their own people.

I'm saying that there was a galvanization of Iranian support at the death of Soleimani. You know, they just had protests in November where the government killed, unarmed --


HURD: -- of their own folks, right?

The Iraqi parliament, this was barely a -- it was -- it was a resolution, not binding legislation, they barely had a quorum because almost half of the Iraqi parliament decided not to go there because they were protesting what this Iranian-backed caretaker prime minister was trying to do.

And so saying that this -- we have to understand the nuance of what's happening in Iraq in order to understand these larger things. So, this is about -- if the Iranians want to become part of the world community again, they know what they need to do.


Iran is not the victim in this situation.

BERMAN: But can I ask you, can I ask you? And I hear what you're saying. And I've heard this argument. Does killing General Soleimani make them becoming part of the world community more likely?

HURD: So here's what we do know. The Army War College did a review of the Iraq war. I believe it was end of 2018, beginning of 2019.

And here's what they found. When the Iranians suffer no consequences, they increase their level of activity in Iraq. When they saw consequences, their assets being killed, impact -- their folks being arrested, they curbed and curtailed some of their operations.

When you do -- when there is absolutely no consequence to your behavior, you'll continue doing it.

One thing I do know now. The new head of the Quds Force is looking over his shoulder. The other members of the Iranian military are looking at, hey, this is the new calculation that we have to think about, right?

And so, again, this is the Iranians' decision to change. And what's frustrating to me is a lot of folks in Western media is portraying this like Iran is a victim. They are not. They have been doing this for 40 years.

And so when we portray them as a victim, we are playing into their hands, and allowing them to have a covert action activity.

BERMAN: All I will say is talking about the U.S. motivation and the strategy for this attack, that isn't claiming the Iranians are victim. That's questioning, as I think, is the duty of the free press in the United States and to question the action of the --

HURD: I'm a big supporter of the press.

BERMAN: -- the action of the U.S. government, and the justifications that they're stating.

I do want to ask you a question on --

HURD: Sure.

BERMAN: -- you were on the committee that did the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. You voted against impeaching the president. John Bolton, the national security adviser, now says he would be willing to testify to the Senate. One of the criticisms from Republicans has been the lack so-called direct witnesses, people in certain rooms.

John Bolton was in a lot of rooms where things happened. Do you think the Senate should hear his testimony?

HURD: Well, that's up for Mitch McConnell. I would have loved to see John Bolton in the House hearing. I would have loved to see Rudy Giuliani. I would have loved to see Mick Mulvaney.

BERMAN: But now, but now.

HURD: I think it was the responsibility -- I think it was the responsibility of Speaker Pelosi --

BERMAN: But where we are today. This is in the senate. Should Mitch McConnell allow John Bolton to testify?

HURD: That's a decision for Mitch McConnell. Having more people's perspective is better, and that's why this should have been done in the House during this impeachment vote. And Speaker Pelosi should have pushed for the House to see and try to enforce the subpoenas.

Hearing from more people would have been better in the House. I'm not familiar with the Senate procedure, so you'll have to ask them. But again, I was supportive of more people coming and testifying when this was in the House.

BERMAN: Should he come to the House now?

HURD: Say that again?

BERMAN: Should he come to the House now? If Adam Schiff issues a subpoena now, do you think John Bolton should come testify?

HURD: Look, I'm sure -- I'm sure Adam Schiff will press for that. And they'll work for figuring this out with the Senate.

BERMAN: And you would support it?

HURD: I'd participate in the hearing for sure. I don't have control over who testifies in front of HPSCI anymore.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Will Hurd, it's a pleasure to have you on this morning. Thanks so much for your perspective.

HURD: John, thank you, and happy New Year.

BERMAN: You too.


CAMEROTA: All right, John.

President Trump says he is satisfied the War Powers Act with a tweet that notified Congress. But some experts say that's breaking the law. That's next.