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Iran Defies Trump With Retaliatory Missile Attacks; 2020 Democratic Senators To Be Briefed On Iran; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Discusses Trump Administration's Belief Iran Intentionally Missed Areas With U.S. Troops. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 8, 2020 - 07:30   ET

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


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[07:33:07]

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Iran does anything that they shouldn't be doing they're going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, that was President Trump yesterday, threatening Iran amid the escalating tensions in the Middle East. So how do voters feel about how the Trump administration has explained its actions vis-a-vis Iran?

Politico's Tim Alberta writes, "Almost every Trump voter I met in 2016 said it was time for someone to run government like a business -- efficient, responsive.

This is an underlying failure of Trump's presidency. The government is a mess. No CEO could keep their job amid such chronic turmoil and dysfunction. Will he?"

Joining me now is Tim Alberta. He's the chief political correspondent for Politico and the author of "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump."

Tim, to be fair, when you wrote that tweet you were responding specifically to his Pentagon memo -- or memo from a general to the Iraqis saying that the United States were suggesting withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country. And then the Pentagon said it was a mistake.

The president criticized that the memo existed. The president had to backtrack on threatening targeting cultural sites in Iran. It's that type of activity you were specifically commenting about.

But talk a little bit more about what you see as the chronic turmoil and dysfunction. TIM ALBERTA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN CARNAGE: ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE REPUBLICAN CIVIL WAR AND THE RISE OF PRESIDENT TRUMP": Well, yes, John, and that's just the most recent example of it.

I think, obviously, you go back to the opening days of this administration with infighting within the West Wing over whether to respond to crowd size at the inauguration and how that sort of produced this -- these very memorable exchanges within the administration. Interagency exchanges over who was tweeting out that President Obama had larger crowd sizes. And the president ultimately sending out his press secretary to lie to the American people 24 hours into office.

[07:35:00]

You go about a week later and the travel ban that was announced about the handful of majority Muslim countries. And that executive order was signed by the president with no advance notice, no interagency coordination with DOJ, with DHS, with the State Department. Nobody knew it was going.

You had the people who are in the highest-ranking positions of the U.S. government who are supposed to be handling and implementing and sort of dealing with the nuances of how you approach such a strategy, how you implement it effectively, how you communicate between departments and make sure that on the ground, people understand what they're doing.

Instead, you have mass chaos, mass confusion, people stranded at airports and on airplanes all over the world. Nobody in the TSA knows what to do with any of these people.

You go to health care a few months later, with the president -- after the legislative failures -- to respond to the Affordable Care Act -- sort of waiving unilaterally -- you know, signaling that he might strip health care from millions of people.

And obviously, the situation at the southern border producing the longest shutdown in government history -- 35 days during which nobody in government had any idea what was going to break this impasse. There was no real negotiation between the parties at the -- at the table.

So this has been sort of an underlying theme of the entire administration, which is that most of the folks -- even folks in the West Wing who are loyal to the president -- at the end of the day, they will tell you -- they'll leave work and say geez, what just happened? We have no idea how to make sense of any of this.

BERMAN: Our friend Ron Brownstein writes that the ultimate verdict from voters might come down to whether they look at all of this. And he was specifically talking about the actions with Iran.

But it certainly translates in everything you were talking about, whether they view the president as impulsive or decisive. If it's impulsive, meaning he makes decisions on snap judgments without thinking it through, that could hurt him politically. Decisive, the opposite.

How do you see it?

ALBERTA: You know, as always, Ron is a lot smarter than me and I think that's a good framing for it.

And to be clear, John, the president, himself, does not shy away from that labeling of impulsive. He owns the fact that he is impulsive. His bet is that people respect or at least, in some cases, some of our -- some of our enemies -- foreign enemies -- that they -- that they are fearful of his impulsiveness.

So when you look at this showdown with Iran, there is this theory in the White House that there is a certain level of deterrence achieved by the known impulsiveness of this president.

Now, obviously, when you get to domestic issues, such as the president tweeting --

BERMAN: Right.

ALBERTA: -- out that transgender people are going to be banned from the military or whatever it might be, that impulsiveness has had serious consequences, and I think they could adverse consequences for him politically.

BERMAN: I think one of the underlying themes of the Democratic campaign -- and they haven't talked about it very much -- is the idea of exhaustion. That somehow voters will be exhausted with the Trump presidency and could turn on the president.

Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado -- he actually ran on this most overtly, suggesting that he would be boring. But I think the Biden campaign, to an extent, is relying on that also.

Do you see that as a theme, and is that a concern inside the Trump campaign?

ALBERTA: It is a bit of a theme. I don't know that anyone has been as explicit as Sen. Bennet was. He, very memorably, said look, if you elect me president you can -- you can rest assured that for a week or two at a time you won't hear anything about the White House, right. You won't even know that I'm president half the time, which is one way of putting it, obviously.

But there are other Democrats in the field who are sort of making that same argument, like look, everybody just needs to take a nap and sort of chill out for a minute because this is just too much happening on a daily basis. Nobody can keep up with this.

I think the more effective message for some of these Democrats though, John, to our earlier conversation, might just be this idea that look, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, there is an issue of core competence here. Is the government being run in an effective, responsive, competent way?

And I think it's very difficult, even for the president's staunchest defenders, to say that yes, that is the case when you look at the historic amount of turnover within the administration. I mean, how many high-ranking cabinet officials and chiefs of staff will leave in the first --

BERMAN: Yes.

ALBERTA: -- 36 months of an administration -- some of them going out the door and speaking retroactively about that dysfunction within the White House -- before voters finally take notice of it?

The thing is, John, we haven't really heard Democrats hitting on that theme, specifically. I wonder if they will.

BERMAN: Joe Biden, actually in the last 24 hours, has begun to use the word incompetence. It will be interesting to see how much he leans on that with Iowa less than a month away.

Tim Alberta, always an education here for you. Thanks so much for being with us.

ALBERTA: Thanks, John.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John.

This afternoon, Congress will be briefed on the intelligence behind the missile strike that killed Iran's top general.

[07:40:00]

How are the presidential candidates responding to the military action in the Middle East?

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CAMEROTA: Five Democratic presidential candidates will be briefed today by the White House on Iran. One of them, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, held a rally in Brooklyn yesterday. She was joined by former candidate Julian Castro.

And, CNN's MJ Lee is here with more. Hi, MJ. Tell us what we need to know about their -- this dynamic duo now.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the Iowa caucuses are just around the corner and foreign policy is suddenly front and center in the 2020 Democratic primary. Several senators in the race will be in Washington today where they will be briefed on Iran.

One of those senators, as you said, Elizabeth Warren, was here in New York City last night. She was campaigning with Julian Castro, the former Housing secretary who endorsed Warren just this week after ending his own White House campaign.

[07:45:02] Just moments before that event began last night in Brooklyn, the news of the missile strikes in Iraq was breaking. Both Castro and Warren addressed the situation.

At the top of their remarks, Sen. Warren calling this a sober moment and offering prayers for U.S. military personnel. Here is what she said.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But this is a reminder why we need to deescalate tension in the Middle East. The American people do not want a war with Iran.

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LEE: So there's no question that the situation in the Middle East has injected some uncertainty into the 2020 race just as some voters are preparing to make some last-minute decisions on who to support for president.

BERMAN: All right, MJ. Thanks very much for that.

LEE: OK.

BERMAN: We've got some new CNN reporting in moments ago. There is now a growing sense within the Pentagon that Iran intentionally missed areas with U.S. troops when they fired ballistic missiles at those bases inside Iraq. So what will we hear from the president when he addresses this shortly?

Stay with us.

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[07:50:20]

CAMEROTA: Breaking news.

Trump administration officials say there is a growing belief that Iran's missile strike on two Iraqi air bases last night intentionally missed areas populated by U.S. forces. That suggests the attack was meant to send a message to the U.S. but not cause casualties.

Joining us now is Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Good morning, Alisyn. How are you?

MANCHIN: I'm doing well. So many Americans, though, are waking up this morning feeling rattled, obviously, about what happened last night.

MANCHIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: How do you assess this Iranian missile strike? MANCHIN: You know, I've thought about this an awful lot and it's very concerning, it's very serious, and it's very dangerous what's happening right now. The world is very unstable -- not just the Middle East but the entire world. They're looking for that leadership.

I've said this before, Alisyn. To be the only superpower in the world takes more than just super military might, it takes more than just super military or super financial promise, if you will. It takes super diplomatic abilities. This is when this has to kick in now.

The world is looking for this type of leadership, they're looking for stability, and we're the ones they always have turned to. We've got to show that now. We've got to be able to sit down and work through this, but show through military might that we're serious, and I think that's been shown.

CAMEROTA: And does that mean --

MANCHIN: Now --

CAMEROTA: I mean, Senator, just -- does that mean that President Trump should do nothing today or should he retaliate somehow?

MANCHIN: Oh, no, no. I'm not saying --

CAMEROTA: I mean, just what does it look like?

MANCHIN: No, I'm not -- retaliation is not -- if they're sending a signal out that hey, we've shown and we've saved face with what they have done -- there was no casualties -- American casualties. We knew there was going to be an imminent strike of some sort. We have no causalities. Thank God for that.

Think about the families. Think about the military people we have on the front lines right now. Should they not be our first and foremost because they're in -- they're in harm's way immediately on the front lines? We've got to think about that also.

But with that, we have to be determined not to leave that area and be run out of the area. We can't just turn tail and run, that's for sure. The stability of Iraq, the stability of the Middle East depends on America having forces that basically can help direct and bring some calmness, and some -- also, some stability to that area and us leaving is not going to do that.

CAMEROTA: So -- but how do you want to see President Trump respond today to the missile attacks last night?

MANCHIN: I think, basically, the president -- President Trump can say that we're serious about this.

There's no doubt about Soleimani. There is no mourning in America for Soleimani. There should not be.

This man was a horrible terrorist. He supported terrorists from his early days in 1979 being a college student, all the way up to president -- worked his way up to the number-two man in the -- in the Iran regime if you will.

It showed the support that he has. It showed, basically, the massive pouring and mourning that went on for his death. We should understand that and recognize that.

But also, we should be resolved enough now to start saying we are serious about this. We're not going to allow people attacking and killing Americans -- plotting to kill.

I'm anxious to see the meeting today that we have at 2:00 with the top brass, if you will, to find out what the imminent threat was and why it was -- why it was necessary for us to what we did in such an open way to send --

Were we sending a message that we did it the first time to where we've hit such strikes such as this and then went on and took credit for it and bragged about it? I don't know. I want to find out about that. It's concerning.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, on that note, Congresswoman Jackie Speier has seen that intelligence. She calls it, after seeing it, an epic foreign policy blunder. She said that it was not persuadable; it was too vague.

If you find that -- if what you see today is not persuadable, what do you do then?

MANCHIN: Well, Iran has never been on the front. I mean, this is one of the first times that they've taken this frontal (ph) and taken credit for it. They've always used proxies before and I would assume they still have their proxies, and there might be proxies they have no control over. So if we think this is one and done, I think oh, shame on us for not being prepared.

Anything can happen now in any parts of that world, and especially that part of the world in the Middle East. So I would -- I mean, to see something in Syria, to see something in Iraq and Afghanistan or any of the areas that are troubled right now -- or the Middle East as we know it.

So I'm not prepared to say they're one and done -- they've send their message and everything's fine and hunky-dory. That's not it at all.

And I want to find out what is the end game? What are we preparing for and what are we assuming might happen, and what are we prepared to do about it?

CAMEROTA: And what do -- I mean --

MANCHIN: Hopefully, we'll find that out today.

CAMEROTA: Well, I -- maybe you'll find out today. But, I mean, for everything that President Trump has said, do you know what the Trump administration's strategy is with Iran? MANCHIN: No.

[07:55:00]

CAMEROTA: What do you think the end game is?

MANCHIN: No, I do not and we have not been told. We should be but we haven't been.

The thing I've said is this. The president has the responsibility to protect our country and every citizen in America -- everyone. That's his responsibility.

So if there's an imminent strike, he has that authority and responsibility to do something. He did what he thought -- I guess what he thought was right in the way to handle that.

He does not have the right to take us to war -- that's Congress. And any administration -- any president that believes they can do that and overstep their boundaries, it's not in the Constitution. It's not who we are as a country.

So we're all in this together, Mr. President -- Democrats, Republicans. It's not about politics, it's about our country. I like my president but I love my country and that's what we're talking about.

CAMEROTA: Senator, I want to ask you about what's happening with the Senate impeachment trial. You have called for a fair and impartial trial in the Senate. That's what you want to see. Is that what you think you are going to get?

MANCHIN: Well, Alisyn, let me just say that the president has been very open in saying that hey, I can't get a fair trial in the -- in the House. It's controlled by the Democrats. I'm not going to get a fair trial. I want a fair trial, he says.

I want to make sure he gets a fair trial in the Senate. How do you expect us to have a trial -- how do you expect me, as a juror, to make a decision and to be able to vote one way or the other if I don't have witnesses and if I don't have evidence at all?

And they're trying to say now whatever the House did, we'll work with that. Well, the president just said that's not fair.

Make sure if we have a person such as John Bolton who had firsthand information that wants to testify -- and I can't see how anybody, Democrat or Republican, cannot vote to have John Bolton testify, whether a deposition or whatever, under oath, so that we have the evidence firsthand. That's what I want to see. And if we don't get that, then it's sham of a trial.

CAMEROTA: So if you don't hear from John Bolton, it will not be a fair trial?

MANCHIN: I don't see how it can be. The person next to the president, the person up close and personal that has firsthand information -- everything now has been pretty circumstantial.

I know in a court of law basically -- in a trial, if you will -- an impeachment -- we've always heard prosecutors say they could -- they could have a ham sandwich be indicted. Well, this is not a ham sandwich. This is the most serious thing that any of us can do.

And if you don't take this responsible -- if it's not serious, then shame on all of us. And if you don't want to see the evidence to make an intelligent, informed decision, then you don't intend to have a trial whatsoever.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that Nancy Pelosi should withhold the articles of impeachment until she's guaranteed that there will be witnesses?

MANCHIN: I don't think -- no -- not now, I don't. I think -- I would never second guess what Speaker Pelosi -- her intent and what she's doing. I think she's working in the most prudent manner that she possibly can.

But I think now that John Bolton has come forward, if that has helped this to happen then we should move on. I think it's time to turn the articles over and let's see where the Senate can take it. And hopefully, we will have a trial with witnesses.

And they want to go through their first step and that first step is saying that we're going to handle this the way the Clinton impeachment was handled. This is completely different. We never sit down as a group right now. We've not gone into the -- to the old Senate chambers and sat down as 100 members, of colleagues, as Americans, not Democrats and Republicans teaming up and picking sides. We've not done that to find out how we conduct our self in the most civil manner -- so that's not been done.

So if you're comparing this to what they did back in 1999, completely different.

But on the other hand, if you want to go there first and then we have the vote on OK, now do we hear from John Bolton and whoever else who had firsthand knowledge to make sure that the president said he's innocent, let's find out and make sure that we do it the right way.

CAMEROTA: We only have 10 seconds left. If there were a vote today in the Senate to acquit or convict President Trump, from what you've heard thus far -- from what came out of the House -- how would you vote?

MANCHIN: I don't know how you could even take a vote today with what we have right now -- how you could take a vote and not having the evidence and the witnesses in front of us, I don't know how you could do it.

I think it's a sham of a thing. I think it's basically just where the public is saying see, I told you it was all about politics. Let's do it and do it right. Let the public and me have transparency be the -- be the rule of the day. That's what really should happen.

So it would be speculating to say anything along that lines until I see the -- see the facts and that's what I'm wanting to see.

CAMEROTA: Sen. Joe Manchin, we really appreciate you coming on and covering all these topics. Thanks so much.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Alisyn. Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: OK, our breaking news continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, good morning and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, January eighth. It's 8:00 in the east and we do begin with major breaking news.

President Trump is set to address the nation this morning after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. This is new video from Iranian media supposedly showing a launch of those missiles from western Iran.

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