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Trump's Tweet on Strikes; Earthquakes hit Puerto Rico; American Teen Killed in Ambush Attack; Responses to Soleimani's Death. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 08:30   ET

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


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[08:32:38]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says lawmakers will vote on a war powers resolution this week limiting President Trump's actions against Iran. But President Trump already tweeted what he called legal notice to Congress that the U.S. will strike back if Iran retaliates.

Joining us now is Oona Hathaway. She's a professor of international law at Yale Law School and special counsel to the Defense Department -- former special counsel.

Professor Hathaway, thank you so much for being here because you have a very interesting take on this, particularly the tweet that President Trump sent out.

So let me just read this tweet because you say he's threatening to do something illegal. So let me just read exactly what it is it says and what you think is wrong with it. He says -- this was from January 5th, 3:25 p.m. These media posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike back and perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless. Exclamation point.

What part of that is illegal?

OONA HATHAWAY, PROFESSOR, YALE LAW SCHOOL: Well, just about all of it is illegal. So, first of all, the president can't notify Congress via tweet on his personal Twitter account. That's kind of passing absurd. And second of all --

CAMEROTA: But, hold on. Let me just stop you right there. Why not? I'm curious.

HATHAWAY: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Because, in this day and age, aren't those official presidential statements?

HATHAWAY: They're really not. The president can't give orders via Twitter. It is actually his own personal account. In fact, he has litigated to allow himself to block users on the grounds that it's his own personal account, not an official account of the United States government.

But even so, there are procedures that one has to follow to actually notify Congress under the War Powers Resolution and a tweet just doesn't do that.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's talk about that. So him issuing this, you know, decree, I mean it's funny, frankly, that he says these media posts. He's not even using the term tweets, which is the normal term for what that is. He's giving it a different name as though he knows that saying a tweet would not kind of cut it. But you're saying that officially how does -- how must he notify Congress?

[08:35:04]

HATHAWAY: Well, there's an official process for notifying Congress after a strike has taken place. Part of what's strange about this is he's notifying Congress in advance that at some point he may strike and that this is an advance notice in some form. So that's just strange. In addition to the fact that it's strange that it's happening via tweet.

I mean what he really should be doing is going to Congress and seeking consent from Congress to take military action against Iran. He shouldn't be sort of declaring on Twitter that he's going to be taking significant military strikes. It's Congress that has the constitutional right to declare war in the first place. So he really needs to be going to Congress to seek its consent, not blasting something out on Twitter.

CAMEROTA: And, in fact, that is part of the War Powers Resolution, section three. Just so that everybody knows, I'll just read a portion of this. The president in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States armed forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances and after such introduction shall consult regularly with Congress.

Another thing that you say that is illegal as -- in that tweet is that he's promising a, quote, perhaps disproportionate strike in response. What's wrong with that?

HATHAWAY: Yes. In many ways that's the most troubling part of the tweet. He actually uses the word "disproportionate," which is suggesting that he's not simply going to respond to any attack by the Iranians with a proportionate response, as is required by international law, but he's threatening a disproportionate response. That suggests that he intends to respond with a much bigger hit back than is legally permissible. And we don't know exactly what he means, of course, because this is a tweet. It's not a war powers report. We don't have a lot of detail. But the fact that he's using a term that very clearly would be in violation of international law if he carried it out has got a lot of us quite worried. CAMEROTA: And, just very quickly, you know all of this. You're a Yale

law professor. Surely the lawyers at the Department of Defense know this. Are they -- are they concerned, do you imagine? Why aren't they stopping him from doing some -- from saying things that could be illegal?

HATHAWAY: In some ways that's the most concerning part of all of this is, clearly the lawyers have not been involved. They were not consulted I'm sure about this tweet. Anyone who works in the U.S. government who has a law degree could have told the president that there were many things wrong with this tweet.

And, in fact, the whole administration has been sort of all over the place about what the legal justification is for the strike. There have been suggestions the 2002 authorization for use of military force. There were some suggestions that somehow connect it to ISIS. There's some suggestion that there's self-defense justification. There's other suggestions that, well, they've been kind of dangerous for a long time and it was about time that we struck Soleimani. These are all very inconsistent explanations for the legal basis of this. That suggests the lawyers really haven't been significantly involved.

And I have to say, that really worries me because ordinarily you would have the lawyers from all the agencies involved here coordinating and coming up with a joint view about what the law requires. And then any option would have been run through them and they would have said, yes, this is perfectly legal or they would have explained that there were concerns with that particular proposal.

CAMEROTA: Well --

HATHAWAY: And the fact that we see all of this kind of running around has me worried that lawyers really are not part of the picture.

CAMEROTA: Well, Professor Oona Hathaway, we really appreciate you alerting us to all of these concerns. Thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

HATHAWAY: Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we do have breaking news. We just learned that several powerful earthquakes in Puerto Rico overnight, they've now turned deadly. We have a live report from the island, next.

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[08:42:55]

BERMAN: Breaking news.

One man has been killed after several powerful earthquakes hit Puerto Rico overnight. Nearly 50 earthquakes and aftershocks have struck the island since Christmas. The strongest, a 6.4 magnitude quake off the southwest coast caused buildings to collapse, including this church. You can see right there.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in San Juan with all the breaking details.

And as we get more light, Leyla, we're getting a sense of the damage on the island.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Now the assessment begins, John, as we learn of one trauma -- or one tragedy there with one death in (INAUDIBLE), one of the southern part of the island hit hard by this earthquake and trying to figure out exactly what is next with uncertainty looming because a lot of folks are really worried about those aftershocks. In fact, the last time that we spoke, it was just ten minutes later that we felt a really strong aftershock here on the island.

And, of course, the power grid, which has always been vulnerable, given lack of maintenance and then Hurricane Maria, remains a big issue. A lot of people without power. You step outside, you can hear the generators.

But really what you hear the most is the fear in the voices of the people of Puerto Rico for concern of what is to come given that we've had one death. There has been a school that collapsed. There has been a church that you just showed that collapsed and a lot of homes that were already in vulnerable positions have also collapsed. So people are trying to get out today, see exactly what the damage is, assess it in trying to make sure that they can get people in the right areas so that they are safe moving forward.

BERMAN: All right, Leyla Santiago for us in San Juan.

Leyla, I know we're getting more information throughout the morning. Please keep us posted as this develops.

SANTIAGO: You bet.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, now to another developing and horrible story. A 13-year-old boy returning to the U.S. from Mexico with his family was killed in an ambush attack south of the Texas border. This comes two months after a similar roadside ambush in Mexico that you'll remember left nine Americans dead.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now with details.

What have you learned about what happened, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, it is a tragic story. Thirteen-year-old Oscar Lopez, traveling back from the Christmas holidays in northern Mexico with his mother, uncle and brother were ambushed along a remote Mexican highway just south of the border.

[08:45:12] This is very typical this time of year where families are crossing back and forth to visit relatives on both sides of the border. So those roadways are used to seeing this kind of traffic where people are making this drive.

This family was from Oklahoma. According to state authorities in Mexico, they were ambushed along the road. Men jumped out of the car and started firing at them. The 13-year-old boy was killed, and the gunmen fled away from the scene in a separate vehicle.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Ed, please stay on that for us. What a tragedy there. Thank you very much.

So, new details from the administration on their claims behind what they say was an imminent threat that led President Trump to order the killing of General Qasem Soleimani. Christiane Amanpour joins us next.

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[08:50:06]

BERMAN: So new claims this morning from the administration on what they say led President Trump to order the killing of General Qasem Soleimani. Moments ago President Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, alleged that General Soleimani was plotting attacks against U.S. personnel overseas.

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JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You did say that he was planning on killing American diplomats.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He was plotting -- he was plotting to kill -- to attack American facilities and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who were located at those facilities, correct.

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BERMAN: Again, what we don't know is if the administration is alleging there was a specific attack on specific facilities. He wouldn't answer that question. And, once again, they haven't offered the proof or evidence behind the intelligence.

Joining us now, CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour.

And, Christiane, obviously there are questions here. There are questions here after what happened with the Iraq invasion in 2003. People want to know if the intelligence or the proof is reliable. And there are questions when it comes to this administration and their record with the truth.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, clearly that is the major question. There are two questions, as you say. One is, what is the actual evidence? And we understand that the so-called Gang of Eight in Congress will be briefed and then a bigger congressional briefing later on this week.

The other big question is, how does Iran retaliate? And I think that this is something that certainly a huge show of emotional force and street power has been demonstrated in Iran over the last four years that may have taken people in America, people around the world by surprise.

As someone who's covered Iran for the last more than 25 years, since the very first Gulf War, I have never seen crowds of this size. And the last time there were crowds of this size was in 1989 for the burial, the funeral of the founding Islamic revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini. So this is much more than just a funeral, it's a -- it's a huge message. It's a message of resistance. It's a message about the cult status of Qasem Soleimani.

Even to the point that those who do not agree with the Islamic regime in Iran, there's a jailed house arrest reformist cleric. There are writers who have been, you know, disenfranchised by the regime who have all come out and condemned this killing of Soleimani. So that's a huge point that I think a message is being sent to the rest of the world and to the United States.

And then, of course, the foreign minister in the reform camp has said to our CNN's Fred Pleitgen that despite what the United States is saying, despite what President Trump said about 52 cultural site targets, Iran will respond proportionately.

Let's just have a listen.

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JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER OF IRAN: 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. 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.

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AMANPOUR: So, as you know, Defense Secretary Mike Esper has walked back the cultural sites without actually saying that. He said we will only act according to the laws of war.

And, of course, there is a huge amount of attempted mediation going on right now from U.S. allies in Europe and in the region to the Saudi senior deputy defense minister who's been at the White House trying to de-escalate the situation and find a way how not to create a uncontrollable cycle of attack, counterattack and spilling into either a deliberate war or accidental, full-scale war.

John.

CAMEROTA: Christiane, earlier in the program we had former undersecretary of defense, Michelle Flournoy, on and she said that in her experience with the Obama administration, the Iranians telegraph what they're going to do. And so, from your reporting of over 25 years, what do you hear in what Zarif says happens next?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think they're telegraphing it clearly and they're saying that it will be a proportionate strike. But more to the point, you can hear them all say, whether it was the ambassador at the U.N. to Erin Burnett on the day -- early hours after the assassination, to president -- to the foreign minister, Zarif, to the other officials coming out of Iran, we cannot stay silent. We have to respond. They are being told by the street that no matter what they might want to do or not want to do to escalate or to retaliate, they have no choice.

And, indeed, it actually matters for the survival, I think, of the regime, certainly with its people, that somehow this cult-like figure, because that is what he was. He wasn't just some militia leader and he wasn't just as the United States portrays him. He was their, for want of a better word, stood between them and outside aggression.

[08:55:01]

As you know, the United States has conducted economic warfare against Iran for the last 40 years and has consistently sought regime change and destabilization. From their point of view, they have been under, you know, attack from the United States for all these years. So we're -- it's all coming to a head right now.

BERMAN: Christiane Amanpour for us in London. Christiane, always great to have you on. Thanks so much for being with us.

We will hear from the U.S. secretary of state at 10:00 this morning. Mike Pompeo. We don't know exactly what he's going to say. Is he going to produce evidence of this alleged imminent attack? Will he talk about if the United States is, in fact, safer today? We are waiting to see.

CAMEROTA: We have more of CNN's breaking news coverage on Iran after this very quick break.

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POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

[09:00:01]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

We're following the breaking news this morning.

One hour from now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to speak as tensions with Iran are growing.

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