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Trump Says, Iran Appears To Be Standing Down After Revenge Strikes; Entire House Being Briefed On Iran, Entire Senate Soon; Growing Belief That Iran Intentionally Missed Areas With Americans. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- a lot of news today.


Don't go anywhere. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN's special coverage of Iranian airstrikes on U.S. military interests in the Middle East, Iran retaliating after the U.S. killed its top military leader at the direction of President Trump.

President Trump addressing the nation just moments ago saying Iran appears to be standing down after launching at least 22 ballistic missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq. But beforehand, Iran warned Iraq, Iraq warned the U.S. and there were no Americans nor Iraqi casualties according to U.S. officials.

All morning, the world waited for the next move in the standoff between the U.S. and Iran teetering on the edge of war and striking a somber tone the president signaled a de-escalation of tensions.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world, the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.


KEILAR: Our correspondents are fanned out across the region, where they have covered the lead up to this moment as only CNN can. We are live now from Iran to Baghdad, to Washington, and let's begin now at the White House where Kaitlan Collins is live for us.

Kaitlan, you were in the room for the president's address this morning. He did not order a military response but Iran is not going unpunished for its missile strikes aimed at bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. Tell us about the president's next move. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. After for five days, the president threatened that the U.S. would retaliate if Iran did strike and attempt to hit Americans or any American assets. The president is now signaling that there is not going to be a military response in response to what Iran did with those missile attacks last night.

Instead, the president is saying he is going to pursue other options including imposing new sanctions on Iran.


TRUMP: As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.


COLLINS: Now, Brianna, the president said these sanctions are going to be powerful, but that's pretty much it. He didn't elaborate any further and we have not gotten details from Treasury about what those sanctions are going to look like, so we will let you know when we do.

But the other thing the president said he's going to do is implore NATO to get more involved in the Middle East, which, of course, is notable because there are questions about how exactly the president wants to go about that and because, of course, his frequent and repeated criticism of NATO in the past and now he is turning to them for help in this. But for right now, the president appears to be stepping back from escalating this further at least as far as it comes from a military perspective.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

And while President Trump says that Iran appears to be standing down, U.S. officials are still warning Iranian proxies remain a threat to the U.S.

Let's bring in Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, tell us what you've learned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, one of the reasons they're so concerned about the Iranian proxies is with General Soleimani dead, he had a capability to keep them under control. That was very well understood. Not clear now with him gone, whether his successor and the regime leadership can exercise the same control. So there is concern about what those proxy forces inside Iraq and indeed around the world, throughout the Middle East region may decide to do next.

One of the reasons this is so important is what we have seen over the last several hours is Iran and Iraq have communications about Iran launching these strikes. The U.S. was aware of the strikes were coming through messaging from the Iraqi government. It all worked. It was a lot of very coordinated messaging, in fact. And that helped get U.S. troops into safe locations, help this from not having U.S. casualties, not escalating.

But, indeed, behind the scenes, there was something else. The U.S. had its own high-tech intelligence early warning that the Iranians were about to launch these missiles. They knew ballistic missiles had been moving around. There were signs of them being fueled up. U.S. satellites overhead detected the heat signature of these missiles just as they moved off their launchers and then the intelligence was able to make some rapid calculations about what kind of missiles they were, the range, the trajectory, where those missiles might be headed.


That, again, was able to be the early warning that allowed the commanders to insure the U.S. forces were in safe areas when the impact came.

So there was a lot that happened here that worked well, if you will, as opposed to catastrophic outcome, but a lot of concern that next time around, if these more independent proxy forces launch any kind of attack, it may not be such an outcome. Brianna?

KEILAR: Definite fear. Barbara, thank you so much for that report from the Pentagon.

I want to talk now about how Iran is responding to the president's address. Let's bring in Senior National Correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen. He is one of the few western journalists on the ground in Tehran.

And, Fred, do you have a sense there of the reaction to the president's address?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Brianna, I think there's some positives and some negatives for the Iranians if they're taking away from the president's address.

On the one hand, of course, they'll be quite happy at the fact that the president has decided not to retaliate against Iran's retaliation.

One of the things we heard from several officials over the past couple of days, this includes the foreign minister, this also includes the senior adviser to the supreme leader, they said, look, after the U.S. killed one of Iran's top generals, the Iranians were going to respond. They told us they were going to respond militarily and they were going to respond against military targets. That's exactly what they've done.

They said afterwards they believed it was going to be done unless the United States, for its part, hit back once again, in that case, there would have been a further, much larger escalation. So the Iranians were essentially saying, we can keep it at this or we can make this escalation much bigger.

I think the other thing for the Iranians, especially this this retaliatory strike that they did that was important for them showcase, is the fact that their ballistic missile technology works, that their ballistic missile technology is accurate, and that it can be very dangerous to American military installations even pretty far away from Iran's borders.

The Iranians, from the very beginning, as these strikes were going on, on their part, acknowledged that it was Revolutionary Guard Corps that was carrying these out. That, of course, very important messaging here at home for the Iranians because, of course, Qassem Soleimani was such an important Revolutionary Guard figure.

But they've shown that these missiles certainly are very, very capable, and I think that's something that they've been wanting to show in this retaliatory strike as well.

At the same time, of course, they wanted to keep all of this contained. It was quite interesting because Iran's supreme leader came out earlier and said this was nothing more, in his words, than a slap in the face for the United States.

For the Iranians, the long-term goal is to try and get the United States to leave this region. However, they also say that they don't want a full-on war.

I think one of the big negatives that the Iranians are going to take away is that the fundamental problem that the U.S. and Iran have or the Trump administration and Iran have at this point in time is the fact that the U.S. has left the nuclear agreement and a maximum pressure or maximum sanctions campaign or policy of the Trump administration, Brianna, and there, the Iranians certainly have seen that there are new sanctions that are going to be in place and they say that is going to make it very very difficult for any sort of softening of the positions between these two sides.

Of course, we heard the president. They're talking about wanting to speak with the Iranians, talking about maybe trying to jump-start some sort of dialogue. It certainly seems as long as that maximum pressure campaign is in place, it would be very difficult for the Iranians to do that. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Fred, thank you so much for that report on the ground in Tehran.

Let's go to Baghdad now, where Iran carried out its most brazen attacker against the U.S. in decades, really. Iranian ballistic missiles hit two military facilities where U.S. troops are based, Al Asad Airbase and Erbil Airport, in what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called a slap on the face to the U.S., as you heard Fred reporting there.

We have Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley in Baghdad live for us. How bad is the damage there, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the damage is almost non-existent. It didn't damage any equipment. The airstrikes didn't kill anybody. 17 missiles hit or landed close to Al Asad, two failed to detonate, another five in the northern Kurdish- held part of the country. And that has been greeted with some relief because of the tit-for-tat problem or danger of further escalation.

But, and it's a big but now, the two major Iranian-backed militia groups here have pledged to continue their campaign to drive the U.S. forces out of Iraq, maintaining the pressure on the central government, that its parliament will narrowly to demand that the Americans leave too.

The Shia groups here are saying they are going to maintain that pressure and that American troops will not be safe if they remain on Iraqi soil.

And what that does is raise the specter of the very widespread sheer resistance that was conducted against the U.S.-led coalition during U.S.-led coalition's occupation of Iraq, in which many thousands of people were killed very often with very sophisticated roadside bombs, in particular.


This technology and techniques of which were, of course, supplied by Iran.

But the key thing here is that it's not just up to Iran, this aspect, if the whole energy here turns into -- among the Shia militias and arguably this will be exploited by so-called Islamic State that remains extant in Iraq, if it turns into a campaign to drive foreigners out, there will be little the Iranians could do to stop it even if they wanted to, Brianna.

KEILAR: Sam, thank you so much. Sam Kiley, live from Baghdad, Iraq.

And underway right now, the Trump administration briefing all members of the House on the Iran conflict. I'll be speaking live with a congressman.

Plus, did the president's erratic style work in this particular standoff? We're going to discuss his response.

And what Iranian missiles about the capabilities and how advanced Iran has become?

This is CNN special live coverage.



KEILAR: Right now, members of the House are being briefed on Iran for the first time since Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi airbases where U.S. troops are stationed. That was last night. Thankfully, no Americans were hurt or killed in the strikes, now Iraqis either, according to U.S. officials. And the Trump administration believes that may have actually been by design, a way for Iran to show strength and capabilities without escalating tensions any further. CNN's Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live for us on Capitol Hill. Jeff, tell us how lawmakers are responding to this strike from Iran.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as House members are going in for that classified briefing right now, to learn what happened in the wake of the first attack last week, Democrats are asking some of the same questions. They are curious to know from this administration what the imminent attack was, what led to the assassination, in some of their descriptions but certainly not the administration's descriptions, of the top military commander in Iran.

But, certainly, some mixed response to the president's remarks this morning from the White House. Democrats that we've been speaking to certainly are relieved that there was no more escalation in the moment. But others are saying, look, it is still a risky move. But no question, Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans we've spoken to who talked to the president last night. They are praising his response. Take a listen to what Senator Mitch McConnell said earlier.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I spoke to the president last night. I'm grateful for his patience and prudence as he and his cabinet delivered in how to respond appropriately to the latest Iranian provocation.

As a super power, we have the capacity to exercise restraint and to respond at a time and place of our choosing.


ZELENY: So, so many questions here still, what led to the initial attack last week. There will be a Senate briefing this afternoon here as well, Brianna. Several presidential candidates are back here on Capitol Hill to learn more about that.

No question, this has awakened the foreign policy debate here with the results so far somewhat predictable here. But there is a measure of gratitude all around that there was no escalation at least so far from President Trump. Brianna?

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny live from Capitol Hill, thank you.

And after administration officials finished that briefing for the House of Representatives, they will then brief the Senate next hour here in about a little over an hour from now.

And I'm joined now by Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He will be in that briefing. He serves on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us at this key time, and let us know what you're hoping to learn in this briefing. SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Brianna, this will be the first opportunity for senators to understand was there in fact an imminent threat that led to the strike of General Soleimani and an Iraqi government official struck and killed in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi government. And so we'll be digging in to what was the evidence of imminent threat.

We also are going to be digging into the second question, which his, since Iraq had objected to the United States taking these strikes on Iraqi soil, they don't want Iraq to be be the coliseum where the U.S. and Iran battle each other. What is the follow-on consequence? The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel American troops.

Will American troops leave if that happens? A predictable effect would be to embolden Iran and embolden ISIS, could make the regions less safe, could be counterproductive. And so we're going to be digging into that question as well.

KEILAR: Has Iran already become the coliseum where this is playing out?

KAINE: In an odd way, you're right. What Iraq wants is the ability to be stable in its own country. It doesn't want to be the avenue of a geopolitical war between the United States and Iran.

And you've seen in recent weeks, just basically since Christmas, an Iranian militia, an Iraqi militia connected to Iran, striking an Iraqi base, killing an American contractor. Then you saw the U.S. take multiple action against multiple sites in both Iraq and Syria, killing two dozen Iranians. Then you saw Iran participating and encouraging the protests at the American embassy in Baghdad and then the strike of Soleimani and then Iranian response last night.


My point to my colleagues is this. The framers of our Constitution understood war and they understood escalation. And they believed the antidote to escalation is deliberation, deliberation by Congress. And that's why on Friday the 3rd, I introduced a resolution that will get a privileged place on the Senate floor where I can compel a vote about the question of whether the president should be able to wage war on his own or whether he should have to come to Congress if he wants to wage war against Iran.

KEILAR: Were you encouraged by what the president said in his address by his not ratcheting up the rhetoric further towards military counter-retaliation and do you think these sanctions that he's putting on Iran are appropriate?

KAINE: There were aspects of the speech that I thought were just falsehoods. As a general matter, the tone of both the Iranian response last night and the way the U.S. military is viewing that response, and the president's language this morning suggests some prudence and some desire by the U.S. and Iran to focus on de- escalating. And I think Congress can play an important role in that. So the takeaway, my main takeaway from the speech is it seems like, on both sides, because the U.S. and Iran have been engaged in hostilities against each for the last 18 months or so, and now inflicting battlefield casualties, one against the other, it seems there maybe is a step back from that, and that's a positive. We need to do what we can to bring about a de-escalation rather than a foolish rush to another war.

KEILAR: You mentioned falsehoods. I suspect one of the ones you're talking about is the president's claims that money released by the Obama administration as part of the Iran deal actually paid for the missiles that Iran used against U.S. military targets last night. Is that true?

KAINE: The president has often said the U.S. gave money to Iran. That's not what the deal did. In fact, the president has never shown that he understands anything about the deal. There was money that was Iran's money that had been frozen that was released. But that's not the U.S. giving Iran their own money.

Another thing the president said, the opening line, Iran will never get a nuclear weapon as long as I'm president. The Iran nuclear deal in the first paragraph the first page said Iran will never seek to purchase, acquire or develop nuclear weapons. So we had them agreeing forever that they'd never get weapons and now President Trump, which is saying they're not going to get weapons for the next year-and-a- half. No.

If we had stayed in the deal, we had enforceable action against Iran that they would never get weapons. The president, by blowing up diplomacy, has led to great chaos in the region and that's why we're at the brink of potential war right now.

KEILAR: Do you think -- and at this moment, I think, it does feel there is an exhale, including coming from Capitol Hill that we are where we are. But do you think this is the end of Iranian retaliation for the killing of Soleimani or do you expect farther out, we are going to perhaps see engagement change or there to be other ramifications from the targeted killing?

KAINE: Very hard to predict, but I do not believe this is the end of escalation activities conducted by both the U.S. and by Iran.

Remember, we were within seconds of a U.S. airstrike against Iran in June that the president called off at the last minute, and then there was a little bit of de-escalation. But we were back with both Iran and the United States doing military attacks on the other and inflicting casualties within the last two weeks.

We would be foolish to think that this moment of exhaling is a permanent state. I think the only way we will provide some permanence is if Congress reasserts the notion that we're not going to war without a vote in Congress. And the resolution that I have basically says, a president can't take us to war on its own.

We can always defend ourselves against imminent attack. But other than that, if we're to be at war with Iran or anyone, it should have to be based on a debate and vote in Congress. That's what's fair to our troops. It's not to send them into harm's way, to risk their life and their health and see bad things happen to their friends based on the say-so of one person, this president or any person. It's only supposed to happen if Congress has a debate and says, this is in the national interest.

KEILAR: Senator, thank you for joining us, Senator Tim Kaine.

KAINE: Absolutely, Brianna.

KEILAR: Iran sent a warning before launching those ballistic missiles. So was this more about Iran flexing its military muscle than actually harming American troops?

Also in Iran, a passenger jet plummets from the sky just minutes after taking off. This killed everyone on board. We'll tell you what we're learning about the crash.


KEILAR: Trump administration officials say there is a growing belief that Iran's missile strike on two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces intentionally missed the areas populated by those American troops. Officials say this actually -