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EARLY START

Missiles Hit Areas of Al-Asad Without Americans; Ukraine International Airlines Plane Crashes in Tehran; McConnell Won't Promise Impeachment Trail Witnesses; Top Facebook Exec: Yes, We Got Trump Elected; Oil Futures Higher. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 04:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

[04:30:04]

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

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

More than a dozen Iranian missiles fired at two targets in Iraq that house American troops -- al-Asad Air Base and at U.S. and coalition forces stationed in Irbil. U.S. and Iraqi sources say the strikes caused no known casualties.

JARRETT: If you ask the president what he thinks, everything is fine. He said so in a tweet.

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.

The president visited al-Asad Air Base in December of 2018 and had to say this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: As the strikes ended, Iran's foreign minister tweeted they

took and concluded proportionate measures. We do not seek escalation of 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's semi-official 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, Iran is threatening to attack within U.S. borders if America retaliates for last night's missile attacks.

JARRETT: All right. Our coverage begins with CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood live in Washington.

Kylie, good morning.

We know no known casualties. What else are you hearing in Washington?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So, a U.S. military official is telling CNN that the U.S. military had early enough warning of these Iranian ballistic missiles launches that they were able to sound alarms.

What that meant is that people were able to get into safe locations. Get into bunkers. That is one of the reasons that as you said at this point, there are no U.S. casualties as a result of these Iranian ballistic missile launches.

Now, however, this is an initial assessment. The Al-Asad base, the areas of that hit that were hit, were not populated by Americans. But we were told sources are still waiting for daylight for there to be a full assessment of what this attack really damaged, what it really resulted in. And that will come soon. We are expecting the Pentagon to brief the president an update on what happened overnight.

Now, when this attack did happen, it was Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, who were at the Pentagon. They spoke with senior Pentagon officials. They met with the joint chiefs. And they also updated senior congressional leaders as to what was happening.

They then went to the White House. They met with President Trump and the rest of his national security team. And then they returned to the Pentagon where they briefed Pentagon leadership as to what the discussions looked like with President Trump.

And we have seen a tweet from the president but we have yet to hear from the president himself. And we are expecting him to address the nation sometime this morning -- Laura.

JARRETT: Kylie, thanks so much.

ROMANS: As kylie mentioned, the only communication from the president so far, a tweet. All is well. What will he say this morning?

Let's bring in CNN's Jeremy Diamond -- Jeremy.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine, the president just hours after those missiles rained down on bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, well, he was striking this optimistic note. As you said, all is well was the message from the president last night in reaction to all of this. It was very much in stark contrast to the bellicose rhetoric that we heard from him in the five days while he waited to see what Iran's retaliation would indeed be.

Remember, the president had set that red line, warning Iran that it would face dramatic military response from the United States if, indeed, it struck not only Americans but American interests in the region, which seems to point to military bases, for example, that Iran hit with these ballistic missiles that house those U.S. troops. Despite that, though, it appears that the president may be potentially looking for an off-ramp. A senior administration official telling CNN now is the time for patience and restraint. So, potentially, the president's eyeing that off ramp.

[04:35:00]

But at the same time, though, we do know some of his more hawkish allies are urging the president for a tough response. We heard from the -- Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He was calling this Iranian ballistic missile attack an act of war against the United States.

Now even if the president is potentially eyeing this off ramp, we are seeing federal agencies in the United States taking precautionary measures. That includes the FAA which last night prohibited civilian military aircraft from flying over Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jeremy, thank you so much for that in Washington this morning.

JARRETT: Iran's telecommunications minister speaking further many Iranians with this tweet, get the hell out of our region, #hardrevenge. A senior Iranian official had told CNN the response to the death of General Qasem Soleimani would be military.

What does this all mean for the American presence in the region?

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live for us in Baghdad -- Jomana. JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura, U.S. forces

across this region on high alert this morning following that Iranian attack. The air defenses across the Middle East have been activated. In the hours after the missile strikes, we heard from a military official saying there were joint patrols, U.S. and Iraqi forces patrolling outside their bases. And also in the skies, they had drones and attack helicopters overhead, over U.S. bases housing U.S. forces here. Our team in Baghdad just a short time after that saw an AC-130 gunship flying over central Baghdad, that is where the Green Zone is.

And meanwhile, we've been seeing pictures emerging from the Iranian capital in Tehran where some people were out on the streets celebrating the attack, waving the Iraqi and Iranian flags, and that familiar chant of "death to America." So, there is a lot of concern. Everyone in a state of high alert, not just when it comes to military targets but also for U.S. nationals across this region.

We're hearing from the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan. They have put out a security alert asking U.S. citizens in that country to keep a low profile, to be in a state of high alert. They're also telling U.S. government employees in Amman to try and avoid going out of their homes today unless really necessary, saying this is out of an abundance of caution. And they're telling them to keep their children out of schools -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Jomana. Thanks for all that great reporting, as usual, there for us in Baghdad.

ROMANS: A senior Iranian official, formerly the chief nuclear negotiator, appearing to troll President Trump. He tweeted an image of the Iranian flag. You might recall the president, President Trump tweeted an American flag the night the U.S. airstrike killed Soleimani.

This back-and-forth show of force could be a potential off ramp for both countries. Iran can claim it took action to defend itself, while President Trump can point to they lack of casualties. But even if Iran's military stops there, more retaliation is always possible to proxies or cyber attacks.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Beirut.

Is it possible, Nick? Or what's the probability that this is the harsh revenge that Iran vowed to deliver, but they want to end it there? They don't want loss of life, that this could have been worse, they wanted to make their point internally to the United States but stop at this point?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Look, I think a lot of this really depends on how Donald Trump reacts when he wakes up this morning. Remember, he's not always been consistent when it comes to military endeavors. He said in a lengthy speech that he would win in Afghanistan. Now he's talking to the Taliban or trying to get a deal out of them and seems to be on point of withdrawing yet more troops. He seemed disinterested in Syria but launched air strikes against the

Assad regime there after using chemical weapons. So this morning may depend on his mood. Last night, he seemed buoyed by the fact there were no casualties.

Did Iran calculate? That will be the case, extremely hard to tell. Most likely launching the attacks at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning was not designed to kill as many Americans as they could.

Most Americans, most likely then would have been in their sleeping quarters, they're reasonably well-protected, concrete walls, and Iran would probably have known the early warning system could have spotted the missiles incoming, and that would perhaps giving Americans a chance. It seems to have occurred to reached better cover.

So is this an Iranian miscalculation? Have they thought they might kill Americans, failed to do so, and ended up looking weak on the world stage? Is this a sign like moderates, like Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, who you read a tweet from there, seek de-escalation, overtly saying that's it, that's our retaliation?

[04:40:01]

This back-and-forth has concluded, here is the off ramp that frankly both Tehran and Washington want because they don't want to end up in a protracted conflict. Donald Trump not ahead of re-election. Iran, not at a time of crippling economic sanctions and unrest.

Or are we possibly seeing this as Iran's big flourish on the world stage to say, look, here is our revenge, and then as many anticipated they would do and have still promised to do, saying they will kick the U.S. out of the region? Will we slowly see their proxies in a more covert way take revenge, perhaps a little more lethally in the months ahead? That to me seems the more likely situation.

But it is still strange to see Iran's officials using internal media to suggest it's been more damaging than it has been and suggest a victory a slap in the face and say more crushing damage could follow when it appears nobody's been hurt in this attack.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Beirut, thanks for that analysis, Nick.

JARRETT: All right. Much more ahead on the strikes by Iran targeting U.S. troops.

Plus, just moments after the strikes, a Ukrainian Boeing jet airliner goes down in Tehran. Richard Quest has what we know, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:45:20]

JARRETT: Breaking overnight, both black boxes have been found from Ukraine international airlines plane that crashed in Iran killing all 176 people on board. It happened in Tehran, but there is no suggestion that the crash is linked to hostilities between Iran and the U.S. The Boeing 737 heading for Kiev went down just two minutes after takeoff.

Let's bring in CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, another 737 goes down. Any reason to be concerned here? What do we know?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Non the 737 front. I can see why we would draw comparisons with the max or anything like this. This was a 737 next generation, an 800 series, tried, tested in the fleets of many airlines around the world, thousands of them up there.

And no, until we know more details about this, I would say that this is not going to be a Boeing issue, a plane issue. We'll wait and see, of course, until we get final details.

But on this particular incident, a very nasty one, the plane had just taken off from Tehran. It was barely 8,000 feet or so in the air. Just a couple of minutes into the flight. And the pilots are reporting technical difficulties.

They didn't report a mayday, but these technical difficulties, some say they saw an engine on fire. Others say that they saw the aircraft on fire. We just don't know.

Whatever was the technical difficulty, it meant the pilots were unable to continue to control the aircraft and, sadly it crashed.

It's not surprising, Laura, when you look at the pictures the ferocity of the fires that followed on. This was a plane that was fueled from mid-length range, Tehran to Kyiv, and barely -- and had barely taken off.

JARRETT: And, Richard, just to be crystal clear, this happened in Iran hours after it launched missiles at U.S. military bases. But these two incidents are not related, at least from anything we've seen thus far, correct?

QUEST: Let me clarify the answer I'll give you, so far. Now, Ukraine put out a statement from its embassy saying there was no rocket or missile attack. That statement has been withdrawn. We don't know why.

So far, there is no evidence to tie this in with any of the military action that we've seen overnight so far.

JARRETT: All right. Richard, thanks so much. See you soon.

ROMANS: All right. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he'll move ahead passing rules for president Trump's impeachment trial. No negotiation with Democrats. The Democrats wanted a commitment to witnesses and more documents up front. McConnell says he has enough Republican votes to set rules based on

Bill Clinton's 1999 trial. Back then the question of whether to call witnesses in the Senate, that was put off until after each side presented its case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

JARRETT: The Justice Department reversing course on Michael Flynn. It no longer supports leniency for President Trump's former national security adviser, and it's recommending he serves up to six months in prison. In a new court filing, prosecutors argue Flynn has backed away from his cooperation deal and, quote, behaved as though the law does not apply to him. Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

ROMANS: All right. The Strait of Hormuz, oil prices in focus as tensions with Iran escalate. We'll take you around the world to markets. CNN Business, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:59]

ROMANS: All right. How are global markets reacting to Iran's strike on U.S. bases in Iraq? Taking a look at oil prices, no surprise there. Gains pretty much across the board except for natural gas.

A critical condition focal point is the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point for oil flow. The only pathway for oil moving from the Persian Gulf to ocean shipping routes around the world.

CNN's emerging markets editor, John Defterios, spoke with the energy minister for the United Arab Emirates. He's the first oil minister from OPEC to speak since tensions flared last week.

And, John, I'm really interested to see how well markets sort of absorb these tensions, kind of feeling that, you know, the president of the United States doesn't really want high moving into an election year. Maybe that's a further constraint on further escalation.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Yes, and, in fact, we don't want to see tit for tat. That's the message here in the Middle East, Christine. In fact, these UAE ministers, the third largest player within the OPEC cartel.

I thought the market response of interesting. We spiked up when the missile attacks hit. Then we had the stabilization.

[04:55:01]

And the minister told me at an event here in Abu Dhabi that the key to stability going forward is that -- you can and must protect the Strait of Hormuz because handles one-third of all sea-borne traffic.

Here's Suhail Al Mazrouei more this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUHAIL AL MAZROUEI, UAE OIL MINISTER: I'm not doubting that because the Strait of Hormuz is not only important for us, it's important for the world economy and it's important to the whole -- to the whole supply chain and Iran understands that. If that supply is cut, I can assure you, every country in the world will be impacted. And the world economy cannot sustain another $100 oil prices and another huge spike.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEFTERIOS: That's again the oil minister from the UAE with a threat of $100 in oil. I think that's a message to the U.S. here to protect the Strait of Hormuz going forward, Christine.

But it's been a tumultuous year. We had tanker attacks here off the shores of the UAE, pipelines hit in Saudi Arabia, the big refinery. Now even a threat to neighboring Dubai which is a global tourism destination and also a regional financial center.

People are on edge. They hope this is a measured response from the Iranians.

ROMANS: Yes. All right. John Defterios for us in Abu Dhabi -- thanks, John.

From banks to the power grid, companies are scrambling to make sure they are protected from a cyberattack from Iran. A reminder that Iran has more than ballistic missiles in its arsenal. Experts say universities, fuel pipelines, telecom networks, and water supply could be some of the targets.

We have seen an attack from Iran before. In 2013, the Iranians were able to hack a dam outside of New York City and gain control of the floodgates. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security told companies to close any old or weak portals to the wider Internet and to scan for where they need software patches.

JARRETT: Boeing says it will recommend pilots receive simulator training before flying the troubled 737 MAX jet again. Boeing's earlier man was to provide additional training on a tablet. The 737 MAX has been grounded since last March following those two fatal crashes. Boeing announced last month it was halting production of the jet.

Plans for simulator training will likely delay the plane's return to service even more now.

ROMANS: All right. To Australia now, at least 24 people charged with intentionally setting bushfires in Australia. More than two dozen people have died so far in the fires. Officials now confirm December was the driest and warmest on record in Australia.

Millions, millions of animals are dying. The total number could be as high as a billion. Right now, the government has signed off on shooting 10,000 camels. These animals are desperate to find water, and they are posing a danger to aboriginal people.

Lending a hand to the ladies of the Australian Islamic Center in Victoria, they drove more than four hours with supplies, even cooking breakfast for 150 firefighters. Elton John donated $1 million during his concert in Sydney.

JARRETT: A top Facebook executive says the social media site helped Donald Trump get elected in 2016, and it could happen again in 2020. This comes from an internal memo by Facebook vice president, Andrew Bosworth, a Hillary Clinton supporter.

He says he Trump campaign's use of advertising tools was key to the victory writing. 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.

ROMANS: Bosworth credits Brad Parscale, the digital director for Mr. Trump's 2016 campaign, and now the campaign manager for 2020.

He also spells out his objections to any form of intervention. He writes this: 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.

JARRETT: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: 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, London, and Washington. We've got this covered.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Wednesday, January 8th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Big 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 that house American troops, Al Asad Air Base and at U.S. and coalition forces stationed in Erbil.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

END