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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump: We Saved A Lot Of Lives By Killing Soleimani; U.S. Forces On Alert For Possible Drone Attacks; Intel Shows Iran Moving Military equipment; Key Lawmakers Being Briefed On Iran Crisis; McConnell Says He Has The Votes To Move Ahead On Senate Trial Without Agreement On Witnesses; Pompeo Insists Soleimani Attack Was Imminent; Iranian Foreign Minister: Killing Of Soleimani Is State Terrorism And An Armed Attack On Iran; Trump: U.S. Leaving Would Be Worst Thing To Happen To Iraq; Trump: We're Prepared to Attack Iran If We Have To; New Warning About Potentially Dangerous Iranian Cyberattack. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Leyla Santiago reporting from Puerto Rico. Leyla, thank you so much. Stay safe.

Our coverage on CNN continuous right now. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, prepared to attack. President Trump says the United States is ready to attack Iran if necessary. The President also claiming his decision to kill a powerful Iranian general saved a lot of lives, but wouldn't reveal any details about the attacks he says Iran was plotting.

High alert, as Iran maneuvers its military equipment, U.S. forces in the Middle East are keeping an eye out for possible drone strikes. Is there any hope for de-escalation?

Cyber threat, a stark new warning from the Department of Homeland security that U.S. infrastructure could be a prime target for an Iranian cyber attack. Some experts are warning of potentially crippling disruption to power grids, fuel pipelines and the water supply.

And no witnesses, Mitch McConnell says he has locked down enough support to move ahead on President Trump's impeachment trial without any agreement to call witnesses. Can the Senate Majority Leader keep his Republican caucus unified?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, top lawmakers are receiving a very, very sensitive briefing on the crisis with Iran. The gang of eight as they're called, the group of congressional leaders from both parties will have access to top secret information that the Pentagon calls exquisite intelligence including highly classified material that led to President Trump's decision to kill the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. I'll discuss that with a top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez and our correspondent. And analysts are also standing by with full coverage of today's top stories.

CNN is covering the latest developments on all fronts with correspondents on the ground in Baghdad and Tehran, as well as the White House and the Pentagon. Let's begin with our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, President Trump says his decision to strike Soleimani saved many lives, but he didn't offer any evidence.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. The national security officials are briefing the congressional leaders at this hour.

Those congressional leaders who make up the so-called gang of eight, the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire just arrived up on Capitol Hill for that briefing, but the Trump administration is still providing the public with conflicting explanations where the President's claim that the strike on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani prevented an imminent protected many lives. And the President added more anxiety to the situation today, declaring fro, the Oval Office that the U.S. is ready to strike if Iran retaliates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was a monster.

ACOSTA (voice-over): With U.S. troops on high alert for Iran to retaliate after the targeted killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, President is beating the drums of war vowing to respond of Tehran hits back.

TRUMP: If Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences. We're prepared to attack if we to.

ACOSTA: The President appear to walk back his warning that U.S. forces could destroy Iranian cultural sites during an American response.

TRUMP: Well, don't forget in our case, it was retaliation because they were there first. Two people dead, people badly injured, and then before that there were other attacks. And look at what he was planning.

ACOSTA: But Mr. Trump defended his decision to take out Soleimani, choking it up as an active both prevention and retaliation.

TRUMP: We have tremendous information, we've been following him for a long time and we followed his path for those three days, and they were not good stops. We didn't like where he was stopping. They were not good stops. We saved a lot of lives.

ACOSTA: Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, is also talking tough. MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are not looking to start a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one.

ACOSTA: With Democrats demanding that the administration provide proof to backup its claim that an Iranian orchestrated attack was imminent Esper first told CNN Christiane Amanpour such an operation was just days or weeks away.

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Ticking time bomb imminent threat is that what you are saying?

ESPER: I think that the threat was being orchestrated by Soleimani. That's what the intelligence reported. That's what he was doing on the ground in both Baghdad and Damascus and elsewhere and I think it was only a matter of days, certainly no more than weeks.

ACOSTA: Esper then clarified that to just a matter of days at a Pentagon briefing.

ESPER: I think it's more fair to say days for sure.

ACOSTA: That was more specific than what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: So, if you're looking for imminence, you didn't look enough further than the days that lead up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani.

ACOSTA: The President also claim he didn't know about the unsigned letter from a U.S. general that appear to signal that American forces were pulling out of Iraq, that letter confused Iraqi leaders who had just voted to ask the U.S military to leave their country.

[17:05:00]

TRUMP: Well, I don't know anything about that letter. That letter was sent and I understand it was an unsigned letter.

At some point we want to get out, but this isn't the right now.

ACOSTA: Democrats are pouncing on the President's handling of the Southern Iran crisis with former Vice President Joe Biden saying Mr. Trump can't be trusted.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All we've heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat to the American people, nor our allies and indeed no one around the world seems to be taking his word for it.

ACOSTA: On impeachment, the President appeared to dismiss an offer from former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to testify at Mr. Trump's trial in the Senate. Bolton, the President insisted wouldn't have much to offer despite top administration officials testifying otherwise. TRUMP: That's going to be up to the lawyers. It will be up to the Senate, and we'll see how they feel. He would know nothing about what we're talking about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The White House hasn't exactly been transparent with the public since the killing of Soleimani. Today, a Saudi deputy defense minister tweeted that he had met with the President and the son-in-law Jared Kushner over here at the White House in the Oval Office on Monday to discuss security issues in the region. We can show you some of these photographs.

The problem is, that the Saudi's released these photos to the public well before the White House, even acknowledged the meeting took place, in a pointed statement, the White House correspondence association. This is where -- but this happen earlier today criticized the administration saying and we can show you this quote and put it up on the screen. "It is disturbing to see the government of Saudi Arabia to have more transparency than the White House about a meeting with the President in the Oval Office."

Wolf, moments after the statement was released to the public from the White House Correspondence Association, the President finally tweeted about his meeting. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta at the White House.

For more in U.S. preparations for potential Iranians retaliation let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. And Barbara, you've been reporting that American forces in the Middle East they've been on high alert over the past day or so. Tell us about the prospect potentially of war with Iran?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Defense Secretary Mark Esper in that press conference over here late today made two critical points. He said that the priorities for him and the Defense Department are the protection of U.S. forces in the region, because there may be more attacks and for those U.S. forces to be ready to strike back if ordered. Have a bit of a listen to more of what the secretary had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ESPER: I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way, shape or form, either through their proxies as they've been doing now for how many years, or by, and/or with by their own hand. And so we take this one step at a time. We're prepared for any contingency, and then we will respond appropriately to whatever they do.

STARR: Does the U.S. have any responsibility or obligation to also de-escalate or is that, in your view, solely in Iran's court?

ESPER: We have reached the point where we had to act in self-defense. We had to take appropriate action. So at this point, as I've said a few times now, the ball is in their court, what they do next will determine what happens in the subsequent moves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Esper also said that the U.S. is prepared still to sit down and talk to Iran, but with no preconditions for those talks. Don't count on that happening any time soon. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a really dangerous situation right now. Barbara Starr doing an excellent reporting for us over at the Pentagon, thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now where key lawmakers are receiving intelligence briefing on the Iran crisis. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is joining us.

Manu, with five days after the strike on Soleimani, Democratic and Republican leaders, the so-called gang of eight, they're just now getting their first intelligence briefing, what's the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. The first official briefing that the gang of eight is getting is happening right now behind closed doors. Democrats have been highly critical of the decision not to brief the gang of eight beforehand, Republican said that was fine.

Although one of those members of the gang of eight, Kevin McCarthy, was down in Florida with President Trump at the time of the strike, and may have gotten some information ahead of the time, but people like Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker and Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, for the first time they are going to hear the highly intensive intelligence that most members of Congress do not have access to, but this special group of law makers do have access to.

Now we do expect to hear from Chuck Schumer here in just a matter of moments discussing exactly what he heard and it will be interesting to hear whether Democrats in any way pull back from their criticisms about the strike. A lot of questions going into this briefing, Wolf, had been whether this was actually imminent threat to the United States as the way that the administration had been portraying this.

So the question is, do they see any intelligence to back up that assertion. We'll see how they react when it comes down on party lines as we've been seeing in the days after the attack or whether this change any minds at all, we'll get that answer here in just a matter of moments.

BLITZER: Yes, for Democratic leader and for Republican leaders in that close-door briefing.

Now the President's impeachment trial, meanwhile, is also looming up on Capitol Hill and it looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not ready to agree to call witnesses. What's the latest on front?

[17:10:10] RAJU: Yes, that's right. McConnell made very clear today that he plans to move forward and has enough votes to move forward setting the ground rules of the impeachment trials to essentially allow for just opening arguments to occur and then punt on that issue of bringing forward witnesses until a later date, as well as bring forward documents until later date. Democrats had demanded an agreement up front on witnesses and documents, but McConnell says that he has support within his conference to move forward and set those ground rules for the impeachment trial.

Now, the question was when that trial will actually begin. That's going to start as soon as Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, eventually sends over those two articles of impeachment, of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, she has not yet done that and she's keeping that decision very tightly close to her self. She has not told anybody about exactly when she plans to deliver those articles, even Chuck Schumer, I am told, he's not aware of when that may happen but there's an expectation on Capitol Hill that could happen any day now.

Now also the decision yesterday by John Bolton the, former national security adviser, to make it clear that he is willing to testify before the Senate impeachment trial sent the White House scrambling according to our White House reporters who said that the White House was not prepared for that possibility. But Republicans have said that that decision about bringing forward John Bolton and issuing a subpoena should wait for a later date.

Now Mitch McConnell also has not committing to bring forward john Bolton, only saying we should deal with that later. And Mitch McConnell himself, Wolf, has been criticizing this democratic impeachment case for sometime. Say, they do not have enough evidence to go forward.

But when I asked Mitch McConnell directly about whether or not he thought it was appropriate for the President to ask the Ukraine government to investigate his political rival, Mitch McConnel sidestepped that question and said he would not address it at this time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: You continually criticize the Democrats' impeachment case saying they don't have enough evidence here, does that mean that you believe that it was appropriate for the President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: You're asking me to comment on the issue that's going to be soon be before us. I have addressed that type of thing on the floor over the weeks. And I really don't have anything to add to it.

RAJU: But you already commented on the impeachment case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So no comment there, but that will of course be a question to come up, and we will see how other members react and whether any Republicans break ranks from the President at this point, Wolf, we're not seeing much of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, let us know when that members of gang of eight leave that classified briefing and see what they have to say. Appreciate it very much Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Let's discuss today's developments with Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Let's talk about all the new developments. The President says Soleimani was planning what he describe as a big attack against the United States. The Defense Secretary says this attack was coming within a matter of days. Do you believe it?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I believe it when I see the intelligence that justifies it. You know, we don't need another weapons of mass destruction moment that led us to a war in Iraq in a previous administration. We need to know what the intelligence was and the facts deriving there from that created the imminent threat that made Soleimani singularly the most important figure to take out in terms of preventing such an attack, then I'll believe it, but until then, I want to see the proof.

BLITZER: The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said earlier today that they assessed what he called multiple pieces of information from not only the U.S. Intelligence Community, but also elsewhere as well. You are going to get -- you and your colleagues are going to be getting a formal briefing tomorrow, what questions do you specifically have about the U.S. intelligence?

MENENDEZ: It's the essence of what I just said, Wolf. I want to hear what was the intelligence, the degree of certainty of the intelligence, what were the facts that gave rise to the imminent, and I underline and, you know, emphasis on the imminent threat to the United States that was uniquely posed by Soleimani and that eliminating Soleimani eliminated the threat. Not just eliminated it temporarily.

But Soleimani had to be working with others. So let's say he was the intellectual head of it, but at the end of the day, he is not the operational figure that was going to carry out whatever supposed threat existed, so you have to give us the reasoning why uniquely eliminating Soleimani that other administrations, Republicans and Democrats, alike passed on, because of the consequences that would flow from that made -- this administration made a different choice, give us the facts for that because this is going to ultimately make the cases as to one, would the President have the authority to do this, number two, what's to follow-on, what's your strategy for the follow-on.

[17:15:10]

And what we have seen is a path where the President had strikes in Syria and Iraq, then you have the taking out of Soleimani. Then you have 3,500 troops being sent. We see an escalation without any authorization at all by Congress. And it's time for Congress to put the brakes, get the information and then make a decision.

BLITZER: If the intelligence, and we don't know what it will show, but let's say it shows that there was intelligence saying that American diplomats and military personnel were being targeted within a matter of days, targeted for death by Soleimani and his associates, would that have justified his targeted killing?

MENENDEZ: Well, we'll have to see the evidence. Let's assume that all of the evidence and the confidence in that intelligence assessment led to that conclusion, the corollary question is was Soleimani uniquely going to taking out Soleimani uniquely ending or is the threat still alive?

If the threat is still alive, then you have to question whether the follow-on of what comes as a result of having Soleimani taken off of the battlefield is still of value. If the threat that is supposedly existed is totally eliminated by getting rid of Soleimani, then it may have been a legitimate attempt by the President.

BLITZER: If and when Iran retaliates and everyone assumes they will in some form, won't President Trump have to respond to that retaliation? How do you stop all of this from escalating into a full- scale war?

MENENDEZ: Well, that's exactly why I support the efforts that Senator Kaine, and I met with him today to discuss this War Powers Act resolution, I understand that the House of Representatives, Representative Slotkin has an effort on the same vehicle, a war powers resolution in the House. I think that this is the only way that Congress constrains the President to march off to war unless the Congress gives him the authorization, otherwise, he can just continue down this march.

And I am afraid that what we will have is going to be an escalating series of responses to the last response that leads us on a path to unauthorized war. And that would be a tragic mistake at the end of the day. So there is a difference of defending the security of the United States, its troops and its allies and ultimately bumbling into a war.

The President has a series of tactics here, he just not have a strategy, a strategy I have been calling for most of 2019 is how to deal with Iran. He has failed on having a strategy. Now we are on a series of actions that without a strategy, it can lead us into a war that I think would be calamitous for the United States.

BLITZER: Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we're going live to Tehran and Baghdad. How are the leaders reacting to President Trump's warning that the United States is prepared to attack if Iran retaliates. We'll also hear from the top Iranian official who accuses the United States of state-sponsored terrorism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:45]

BLITZER: We're following major new developments in the crisis with Iran right now. CNN's Arwa Damon and Fred Pleitgen, they're both underground in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Fred, you're in Iran right now, you just sat down for an interview with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, what is he suggesting about a potential Iranian response?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister when we sat down, was still absolutely furious at the United States and at the Trump administration. He kept referring to the Trump administration as the Trump regime. He called the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani an act of aggression against Iran.

He said there would certainly there would be a response from the Iranian side, but he said that the response would happen on Iran's terms, and in Iran's own time. He also said that at this point in time, they're not in any rush to get that going.

He also called the targeted killing state terrorism on the part of the Trump administration. Let's listen into what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: This is state terrorism. This is an act of aggression against Iraq. And it amounts to the 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So there you have Javad Zarif with some pretty harsh words for President Trump essentially saying that President Trump is disregarding international law.

One of the things, Wolf, that I asked him is, isn't there is a giant potential right now for all of this to descend even further into the major war, and of course, would be catastrophic for this country, but potentially catastrophic for the entire region. He said that the Iranians continue to not want a war with the United States, but he also said that Iranians were ready if there was a war.

He also said that he also believes that the people in the region after the killing of Qasem Soleimani are absolutely enraged at the behavior of the United States. One of the things that he and other Iranian official, by the way Wolf, as well have been saying since the killing took place is they say they believe this could be the beginning of the end of America's presence here in the Middle East, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of that, let's go to Baghdad right now.

Arwa, President Trump says the U.S. pulling its forces out of Iraq would be the worst thing to happen to Baghdad. What more are you hearing about that mistaken U.S. letter that appeared to signal a withdrawal of American forces from the country?

[17:25:18]

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, almost certainly was the main topic of conversation when the Iraqi caretaker prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, was speaking to his cabinet. He was telling them how they did receive this letter that the text of the Arabic and the English did not matchup, so they sent it back and then received an updated version which was then disseminated to the relevant ministries and also sent to the Iraqi embassy in D.C. from the Iraqi government perspective at that point in time.

This was very much the U.S. signaling that it was beginning its withdrawal. Then Adil Abdul-Mahdi says they were shock to hear four to five hours later that this was all a mistake.

And this attitude, he said, is causing them to question how they were supposed to move forward in their relationship when these kinds of letters can get sent, and are they supposed to double-check with the U.S. each time it sends something that they think is official but aren't entirely sure about. And in response to the U.S. coming out to say, no, we are not leaving at this stage, we're not withdrawing.

These various Shia paramilitary groups who are backed by Iran are saying that if America doesn't leave, they're going to be starting this resistance front.

And look, Iraq is in an impossible situation. If U.S. forces do end up somehow staying, there is the very real threat that is posed by these Iranian-backed paramilitary group, the very same groups, most of them, Wolf, who fought against the U.S. when they were here during the U.S.-led invasion. That will be very destabilizing for this country. If U.S. forces leave given the threat that despite what President Trump says does still exist from ISIS, that is also potentially going to destabilize Iraq. So here there are no good options at the state.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a difficult, very difficult situation that's unfolding. Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, thanks to both of you for your terrific reporting.

Coming up, we'll keep a close eye up on Capitol Hill where the Trump team has been briefing House and Senate leaders. As we speak the heads of the intelligence committees are there as well.

Plus, on the strike that killed Iran's top general, is there convincing evidence that the killing averted an imminent attack against American diplomats and military personnel? [17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This afternoon, over at the White House, President Trump defended the U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian general and warned that the United States is prepared to attack Iran, quote, if we have to. Let's bring in experts to discuss.

John Kirby, I want you to watch precisely what the President said about his decision to authorize the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- what evidence you had that Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks against American targets. What can you tell us about what you knew prior to ordering the attack?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, number one, I knew the past. His past was horrible. He was a terrorist. He had an attack very recently that he was in charge of where we had people horribly wounded, one dead.

He was traveling with the head of Hezbollah. They weren't there to discuss a vacation. They weren't there to go to a nice resort someplace in Baghdad. There were there to discuss bad business, and we saved a lot of lives by terminating his life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And what do you think, does it sound like there's specific intelligence authorizing an -- that there was about to be an imminent attack authorizing the strike?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it certainly seems that way, Wolf. From everything we've seen from Mike Pompeo today and Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary, that the one driving factor, maybe not all of them but one driving factor, was a set of intelligence which indicated that there was some sort of attack imminent. Esper said within days.

But I also think the President made an important point there. There is a more -- there's a larger body of evidence about Soleimani and what he has done over the last 20 years and the American blood that's on his hands. And clearly, even if -- and I -- and this is where I am not even sure the imminent argument is all that relevant.

Even if there wasn't, I mean, there's certainly enough body of evidence of what he has done and what he was capable of doing, even in just the last few weeks in terms of rocketing -- rockets -- rocket attacks on American bases, that he posed a legitimate threat in the region.

BLITZER: Shawn Turner, you used to work for the Director of National Intelligence. What do you think? SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I just

have to say, Wolf, that I do think there is some irony in the fact that the very same administration that has routinely disparaged the intelligence community and selectively disregarded intelligence is now saying that this attack was based on compelling intelligence.

But putting that aside, look, I know that there are growing calls for the intelligence behind this decision to be released so that people understand it. As John said, that there was a body of evidence there that would have suggested that there was an imminent attack.

[17:35:01]

I will tell you, speaking as a former intelligence officer, you know, I'm loathed to support a scenario in which we kind of routinely call for a public airing of the intelligence behind a president's national security decisions.

I think that for the intelligence community and for -- really for the public, that kind of pulls the intelligence into the political fray way too much.

Unfortunately, though, I think, in this case, because the President has kind of a reputation here of playing fast and loose with the facts and he doesn't have a lot of credibility, a lot -- a track record of honesty, it may be the case that there is no choice for this administration but to air the intelligence.

I just hope that, as John pointed out, that when they do, that that intelligence is compelling.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But, Shawn -- go ahead.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. But, you know, intelligence -- and Dana and I were just talking about this. After weapons of mass destruction, there is no slam dunk anymore in terms of intelligence. People have to understand that, and I think they do understand that.

But this is precisely what happens in an administration that lies. And so, they don't get the benefit of the doubt many times from the American people.

And so, unfortunately, they may be required to do what Shawn says they shouldn't be required to do, which is tell the whole story. Because you have a public saying why did you this, and you have a public that doubts the veracity of the President himself.

BASH: They do, but I -- you know, it's hard for me to imagine -- and Shawn can tell me if I'm wrong, and you, too, Admiral -- that with this kind of operation, they had to have some serious human intelligence that they don't want to burn.

And it might just not -- it might not just be the U.S. It's very likely partners in the region and around the world who helped to get that information. And so, it's hard to see that. But what is happening right now or what seems to be ending right now

is really, really critical because, in a bipartisan way, this is the system that is set up as the safeguard.

These Democrats and Republicans, this so-called Gang of Eight, who are getting the briefing right now, they are the ones who can be trusted with the information and should be able to say yay or nay as to whether or not this was legit.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by because there's a lot more that's developing even as we speak. Was Iran's General Soleimani just days away from launching new attacks on U.S. targets? I'll speak with a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. That's next.

[17:37:27]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Trump says Iran's General Qasem Soleimani was planning a very big and very bad attack and that the United States saved a lot of lives by killing him. House and Senate leaders, as well as the heads of the Intelligence Committees, are being briefed right now.

We're joined by Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a key member of the Intelligence and Oversight Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So let me get your reaction to what we heard from Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He says Soleimani was caught red-handed planning additional attacks against U.S. diplomats and military personnel, that the intelligence evidence was persuasive. Do you believe him?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't comment on the specific intelligence, but I don't see the intelligence supporting that conclusion. I don't see the intelligence supporting the conclusion that the plotting is going to stop or that American lives are going to be saved. I think that, instead, our action may blunder us into war.

BLITZER: I know you've seen some of the intelligence already that's made available, and you're going to be getting a formal briefing tomorrow with several of your colleagues. As of right now, was the attack, was the strike justified?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: As of right now, I still have a lot of questions. We have seen some evidence. I'm hoping that the administration comes forward with more.

I'm very concerned that the administration would classify the whole notice that they provided under the War Powers Act. That, in itself, is concerning because it just raises suspicions about why, why they don't want to provide information that they believe justifies this very important action and the killing of Soleimani.

BLITZER: Let's turn to impeachment while I have you, Congressman.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sure.

BLITZER: John Bolton, the President's former national security adviser, he was in the room for a lot of the key events related to Ukraine. He now says he's willing to testify at the Senate trial if he is formally subpoenaed. The Senate doesn't call for his -- if the Senate doesn't call for his testimony, do you want him to testify before the House?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, as you know, we tried to bring him into the House. First, we started with Cooperman (ph) -- Kupperman, his deputy. And then, Mr. Bolton made all the noises that he was going to litigate this thing as long as it possibly would take so he wouldn't come before the House. So, at this point, I think it's only appropriate that he be subpoenaed in the Senate, and then he come and testify.

As you know, he is an incredible -- incredibly crucial fact witness, as Fiona Hill said. He called conditioning military aid on launching an investigation of Joe Biden an illicit drug deal. That's how he felt about it. And he is an important fact witness we need to hear from.

BLITZER: Yes. The President, earlier today, said he doesn't know why he would be called, Bolton. He says he doesn't know anything about what was going on. The President sort of dismissed Bolton's role in all of this.

But as you know, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, says he has the votes to start the Senate trial without agreeing on procedures for witnesses or documents with the Democrats. So what has Speaker Pelosi accomplished by withholding these two articles of impeachment?

[17:45:09]

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think that it's only appropriate for her to wait to see what the rules are before she sends it over. I think that pressure is building on McConnell from the President to start this trial ASAP so that he can get total exoneration, in all caps, as soon as possible.

But the trial can't begin, obviously, without the articles of impeachment being sent over. So I'm hoping that there are some senators on the other side who join with Democrats to call for these witnesses as a part of the initial rules that are devised.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see if McConnell can make sure that that doesn't happen, but we'll watch it closely. Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thanks so much for joining us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, a new warning on the threat posed by Iranian hackers. Could retaliation for the killing of that powerful Iranian general take the form of a destructive cyberattack here in the United States?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:01]

BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. government is raising the alarm, warning Americans that Iran could retaliate against the United States with a seriously disruptive and possibly even very dangerous cyberattack.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Brian, what are you hearing from experts?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're hearing tonight that cyberattacks from Iran could come in many forms and could, in some cases, cause physical harm to Americans. We've spoken with some prominent cyber detectives who are especially concerned about possible Iranian hacks of American infrastructure like power grids and water supplies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security warning American businesses and companies that operate infrastructure like power grids and water supplies to be on heightened alert. A retaliatory strike from Iran for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani could well come in the form of a crippling cyberattack.

ANTHONY FERRANTE, FORMER FBI CYBER COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT: We've already seen chatter on the dark web and increase in activity -- of malicious activity emanating from Iran.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say America's power grids, fuel pipelines, water supplies, and telecom networks are enticing targets for Iranian hackers. If those systems are attacked --

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They could disrupt services. They could turn things off. If they wanted to, they could probably interfere with the gas pipeline.

TODD (voice-over): Natural gas flows could be redirected; explosions could occur, experts say. The treatment of sewage and water could be harmed, causing people to get sick. Communications could be hacked, slowing down first responders.

The Department of Justice says Iranian hackers got into the computer system of a dam outside New York City in 2013. And cyber sleuths warn tonight of Iran's capability to attack American banks, businesses, transportation systems.

JOHN HULTQUIST, CYBERSECURITY EXPERT, FIREEYE: Bus and train services rely on it on an administrative layer where you process tickets and do routing and things of that nature. You're not going to stop -- you're probably not going to stop the bus or the trains, but you may be able to stop them from being able to administer their services and run them efficiently or effectively.

TODD (voice-over): In recent years, U.S. officials say Iranian hackers breached the networks of several American banks, attacked a Las Vegas casino, and they wiped the computer servers of Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company, Aramco.

LEWIS: They were able to probe the pipelines, the oil refinery machinery. They erased the data on 30,000 hard drives. That's amazing. Irrecoverable.

TODD (voice-over): Iranian hackers have made huge strides in recent years, analysts say, honing their so-called asymmetric capabilities against the U.S.

Tonight, we've learned of an ominous threat from a security company that tracks foreign adversaries online. One of its experts says Iran has developed a specific capability in cyber espionage: to track important people for possible assassination.

HULTQUIST: They've got a surveillance capability where they have been slowly digging into telecommunications providers, airlines, travel providers. And they're using that to track very specific individuals.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Cybersecurity experts say Iranian hackers likely cannot penetrate really tough targets like the CIA or the NSA or tech giants like Google or Amazon. But they point out most companies in the U.S. are not as good as those entities at protecting themselves, so some major American corporations and companies that operate infrastructure could be very vulnerable tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: How good are Iranian hackers, let's say, Brian, compared to Russian or Chinese hackers?

TODD: Wolf, we're told that the Iranians are not quite up to the level of the Chinese or the Russians yet but that they are putting a lot of resources into their capability. They are improving their capabilities.

They're using students, they're using private companies, and they are practicing constantly, we're told. One expert told us that Iranian hackers basically tried to breach Israel's infrastructure maybe two or three times a month. So they're constantly at it.

BLITZER: All right, that's very, very worrisome. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, President Trump says he is prepared to attack Iran if necessary. Will his administration reveal any evidence pointing to an imminent threat that led to the killing of the Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani?

[17:55:08]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, suffer consequences. With American forces on

high alert, President Trump says the U.S. is prepared to attack if it has to and warns that Iran will be suffering the consequences if it does anything it shouldn't.

Intel briefing. Key lawmakers get a look at the intelligence behind the decision to take out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as critics question whether the provocative killing was really necessary.

[17:59:58]

Days away. Administration officials defend the intelligence, calling it persuasive and insisting they were forced to kill Iran's top general because an attack on Americans was imminent.