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Iran Fires Missiles At U.S. Troops in Iraq; Ukraine International Airlines Plane Crashes in Tehran; McConnell Won't Promise Impeachment Trail Witnesses; Top Facebook Exec: Yes, We Got Trump Elected. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Iran launches missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq. Is this the end or just the beginning?

CNN live this morning in Baghdad, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, and Washington.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.


It is Wednesday, January 8th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

And our breaking news this morning: Iran delivering the revenge it promised after president Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general. More than a dozen Iranian missiles fired at two targets in Iraq, targets that house American troops, Al Asad air base and U.S. and coalition forces stationed in Irbil.

The president visited Al-Asad in December of 2018 and said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq to prevent an ISIS resurgence and to protect U.S. interests. And also, to watch over Iran. We'll be watching.


JARRETT: U.S. and Iraqi sources say the strikes caused no known casualties. Iran's foreign minister tweeted they took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense. We do not seek escalation or war. But will defend ourselves against any aggression.

He now says it's, quote, up to the U.S. to come to its senses.

Speaking overnight, Iran's supreme leader said Iran gave the U.S. a slap in the face. Iran news agency shared this undated video of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER (via translator): If you hit, you get hit back.

They know this. They know that if they get themselves involved in a confrontation with us, they get entangled in a military way, they will get their feet trapped. They might harm us but they will harm themselves many times more and they realize that.


ROMANS: Iran is threatening to attack within the U.S. borders if America retaliates for last night's missile attacks. All this confronting Trump with the toughest test of his presidency, which he tried to put the best face on last night.

All is well. So far, so good. We have the most powerful and well- equipped military anywhere in the world by far.

He promised to make a further statement this morning.

Our coverage starts with CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood. She is live for us in Washington.

Good morning.

We now know what this initial revenge has been from the Iranians. What are they saying in Washington?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So a senior U.S. military official is telling CNN that they have early enough warning of these ballistic missile launches that they were able to able to sound alarms. That meant that people were able to get into safe locations, to get into bunkers. Now, the initial assessment, sources are telling CNN, is that these ballistic missile launches hit areas of the Al Asad base that are not populated by Americans.

Now, of course, however, they are waiting for daylight. Sources tell CNN that they can't have a full accounting of everything that happened until daylight comes and that should happen soon.

Now, when these ballistic missile launches occurred, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley were at the Pentagon. They immediately met with the joint chiefs, senior leadership at the Pentagon, and they discussed what was going on.

Now, they also talked to senior congressional leadership to explain to them what they were hearing about this missile launch, these missile attacks that were occurring on these Iraqi bases where U.S. soldiers are housed. Now, they then went over to the White House. That was Mark Esper, that was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There was also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was there, national security advisor Robert O'Brien. They briefed the president as to what was happening. They then returned to the pentagon. That's where Esper gave a series of briefings to senior leadership at the Pentagon about what had been discussed at the White House.

And we are waiting for more this morning. We know that President Trump is expected to address the nation.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Kylie, thank you so much for that. Keep us posted if you get any more information on response from Washington. Thank you.

JARRETT: Again, the only communication from President Trump so far, a tweet. All is well.

So what will he say this morning?

Let's bring in CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, what are sources telling you we can expect when the president addresses the nation later this morning?


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, the president struck an optimistic note last night, with that message, all is well. It was a stark contrast really to the bellicose rhetoric that we had heard from the president in the five days between the strike that he ordered killing the Iranian general and in retaliation.

Remember, the president set that red line, warning Iran of a massive U.S. military response if it took the steps that it did indeed now take. And that is because the president wasn't just talking about American casualties that would warrant a military response. He talked about any Iranian strike that would strike at U.S. interests in the region and that certainly would include military bases that house U.S. troops.

So, the question is will that bleed over? Will that optimistic tone bleed over into the president's remarks today? A senior administration official explaining the reason for restraint, said now is the time for patience and restraint. So that was certainly the mood among some officials at the White House last night.

But we know that the president is also being pulled in a hawkish direction by some allies including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who called the Iranian attack an act of war against the United States.

Now, even if we are seeing some of those tensions potentially cooling, we do know that this is, nonetheless, a pretty tense and uncertain situation in the Middle East. And we are also seeing as a result of that, the Federal Aviation Administration issuing a prohibition last night barring civilian aircraft from operating over Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf -- Laura. JARRETT: All right. Well, we wait to see what kind of tone he

strikes later this morning.

Jeremy, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Iran's telecommunication minister speaking for many Iranians with the tweet: Get the hell out of our region. #hard revenge.

A senior Iranian had told CNN the response to the death of General Soleimani would be military. So what does all this mean for the American presence in the region?

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live in Baghdad for us -- Jomana.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, U.S. forces across the region are on high alert. Air defenses have been activated across the Middle East. A military official here telling us that in the hours following that Iranian attack, U.S. and Iraqi forces were patrolling outside their bases.

Also, drones and attack helicopters flying overhead over these bases housing U.S. forces here in Baghdad. Our team saw an AC-130 gunship flying over central Baghdad. That, of course, includes the Green Zone.

And, you know, while the Iranians have said they concluded their retaliation, still everyone is on high alert. They're not only concerned about military targets, military installations. We have seen the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan, in an unusual, rare kind of security alert, security warning telling U.S. citizens in that country to keep a low profile and out of an abundance of caution, telling U.S. government employees in Jordan to try and avoid leaving their homes today for anything that is nonessential and that includes keeping their children at home and not going to school, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jomana Karadsheh in Baghdad for us. Thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: A senior Iranian official, formally the chief nuclear negotiator, appearing to troll President Trump. He tweeted out an image of the Iranian flag and you may remember President Trump tweeted an American flag the night the U.S. airstrike killed Soleimani.

The back-and-forth could be a potential off-ramp for both countries. Iran can claim it took action to defend itself, while President Trump can point to a lack of casualties.

But even if Iran's military stops there, more retaliation is possible through proxies or cyberattacks.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Beirut.

And, Nick, I know your position is this obviously was aggressive, but could have been worse. NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, certainly

given the time of night this attack was launched and the fact that it was launched against U.S. military facilities that have for a number of days be on high alert, that early warning systems, that have missile defense systems like looking after them and, frankly, that time of night, U.S. troops usually concentrated in sleeping quarters and those are protected often by a lot of concrete structures. Even if the early warning system, as it does in this case, does give them enough time to get to better cover.

So, frankly, the Iranian technology had to be pretty pinpointed to guarantee it would cause U.S. casualties at that time of night. So, something of a gamble frankly in firing those missiles. Remember, when they attacked the Saudi oil facilities, some of those missiles fell short. So, not always 100 percent with Iran's arsenal here.


So, was this possibly an empty move by Iran designed to cause a bang, frankly, allow its leaders to posture a little bit and then step back saying they have retaliated? Possibly. We know Iran's supreme leader said he wanted to see military to military over confrontation with the United States in response, surprising I think to come who thought Iran versus the United States, well, Iran would automatically lose against the largest military in the world, who spent as much as everyone else combined.

So this may be a moment, perhaps, where Iran misjudged the situation and perhaps military looks a little weaker than it would prefer. Or it's more likely possibly it is designed to be that big, open show of retaliation played different domestically. There are Iranian media reports suggesting it was way more successful than we're hearing from more reliable sources.

But two outstanding questions. Do we see some other kind of retaliation when the U.S. is less ready in the weeks and months ahead, perhaps covert using proxies or allies in the region? And what does this do to Donald Trump's mindset? He could still wake up and feel slighted by everyone's response, and order some kind of a retaliation like he pledged?

Or he may see this whole week ramshackle frankly as his administration's messaging has been all over the place, regardless of you feel about the logic of taking out Qasem Soleimani, he may consider this week a success and that could inform his judgments in the time ahead and bring us to yet more crisis like this?

JARRETT: Great analysis as always. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Also breaking overnight, Ukraine International Airlines plane crashes in Iran killing all 167 passengers and nine crew members. While this happened in Iran, there's no suggestion it is linked to the hostilities between Iran and the U.S.

The Boeing 737 headed for Kiev crashed just two minutes after taking off from an airport in Tehran. According to Iran state news agency, the plane experienced technical difficulties. The Boeing 737 had been in service just for three and a half years. No relation to the Boeing 737 MAX, which remains grounded.

Ukraine International Airlines has now suspended flights to Tehran until further notice.

JARRETT: Well, much more ahead on the strikes by Iran targeting U.S. troops.

Plus, Mitch McConnell ready to start an impeachment trial without a deal on how to proceed with Democrats.

Stay with us.



JARRETT: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is moving ahead passing rules for President Trump's impeachment trial with no negotiation with Democrats. The Democrats wanted a commitment to witnesses and more documents up front. But McConnell says he has enough Republican votes to set rules based on Bill Clinton's 1999 trial. Back then, the question to call witnesses in the Senate was put off until after each side presented its case.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We have the votes. Once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution, essentially, the same, very similar, to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described as a -- maybe a phase one.


JARRETT: Now, McConnell says Republicans won't act until they get the two articles of impeachment from the House. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Tuesday, called for McConnell to immediately publish rules for a Senate trial before she will send over the articles.

ROMANS: In competition, the Super Bowl won't just be on the field. Both President Trump and billionaire Democratic Michael Bloomberg are dropping an estimated $10 million each for 60-second TV ads. The Trump campaign reserved the air time in December. Bloomberg's campaign says he is buying an ad mainly to get under Trump's skin.

A lot more ahead on Iran's strikes in Iraq.

Plus, the top Facebook exec says the company helped the president win the last election and history could repeat itself, but why could surprise you.


[04:22:25] ROMANS: Boeing says it will recommend pilots receive simulator training before flying the troubled 737 MAX jet again. Boeing announced last month it was halting production of the jet. The company's recommendation for more intensive training will likely further delay the plane's return to service.

The 737 MAX was grounded since last March following two fatal crashes. The decision is a departure from Boeing's previous decision proposing an additional training session that pilots could complete on a tablet.

JARRETT: President Trump signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, authorizing emergency help after yesterday's earthquakes. Most of Puerto Rico remains without power this morning. At least one person is dead with dozens of homes and structures in ruins. There is growing fear more homes could collapse now.

Among the famous locations destroyed, the famous Punta Ventana stone arch landmark there. It was one of the island's most iconic treasures and a major tourist destination.

Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn expected to speak out today on the circumstances that led to his becoming an international fugitive. Ghosn skipped his $14 million bail in Japan where he faces charges of tax fraud and corporate self-dealing and fled to Lebanon.

Ghosn says the Japanese justice system, which boasts a 99 percent conviction rate is rigged. Japanese prosecutors have issued a warrant for his wife Carole Ghosn, for apparently giving false testimony. A family friend says they're trying to intimidate her husband into silence.

ROMANS: Quite a story. The great escape from Japan there.

All right. A top Facebook executive says the social media site helped Donald Trump get elected in 2016 and it could happen again in 2020. This from an internal memo from Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth, a Hillary Clinton supporter. He says the Trump campaign's use of advertising tools was key to Trump's election.

Bosworth writes: He didn't get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I've ever seen from any advertiser. Period.

JARRETT: Bosworth credits Brad Parscale, the digital director for Mr. Trump's 2016 campaign and now the campaign manager for to 2020. He also spells out his objections to any form of intervention writing: As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I'm confident we must never do that, or we will become that which we fear.

Interesting, he's a Clinton supporter, right?

ROMANS: Yes, it is. And it just shows you the power of social media and those online platforms.

JARRETT: Absolutely.

ROMANS: All right. Iran vowed to retaliate and it did. Missile strike the overnight on U.S. bases in neighboring Iraq. The president will speak this morning.


Will hostilities cool? Or is this the beginning?


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: Iran launches missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq. Is this the end? Or the beginning?

CNN live this morning in Baghdad, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, and Washington.

Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour here in New York.

ROMANS: All right. Our breaking news this morning, Iran delivering the revenge it promised after President Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general.