Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Two Rockets Land In Baghdad's Heavily Fortified Green Zone; WH Official: Trump Weighed Striking Back At Iran After Missile Attack But Decided To Hold Off; Two GOP Senators Blast Administration After Iran Briefing; Feds Issue New Warning Of Terror, Cyber Treats Posed By Iran; Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) Is Interviewed About Tension Between Iran And U.S., Iran Briefing; Top U.S. General Says Iran Intended To Kill U.S. Troops, Differing From Anonymous Administration Officials; Differing From Anonymous Administration Officials; Interview With Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI); Iran Crisis Ignites Foreign Policy Debate Among 2020 Democrats; Iran's Real Firepower. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 8, 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: Our coverage on CNN continues right now. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Green Zone hit, new violence in Baghdad as two rockets fell just moments ago in the city Green Zone, that's home of the United States embassy 24 hours after the Iran's missile attacks on bases housing U.S. troops.

Striking back, new details of the tense moments following Iran's missile attack and how President Trump weighed immediate retaliation. Tonight we're learning how Iran let the White House know that it was done launching missiles.

Intel warning, U.S. officials fearing possible further Iranian aggression including terror attacks, cyber offenses, even assassinations by Iran or its proxies.

Iran's missiles, the twin attacks revealing only a glimpse of Iran's full capabilities which experts say include weapons with pinpoint accuracy that reach American interests far beyond the Middle East.

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

We're following breaking news. Iraqi military officials are now confirming that two rockets landed just a short time ago inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone which includes the United States' embassy. No word yet on who fired the rockets or where they came from. This comes just one day after Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

And tonight, CNN has learned that President Trump and his team have considered immediate retaliation for those attacks, but decided to hold off. And just moments ago following a briefing by the administration on Iran, two Republican senators emerge railing against what they heard with one calling it the worst briefing he has heard in years.

We'll talk about all of this with Congressman Will Hurd of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

But first, let's get to more on the breaking news. Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward is joining us from Erbil in Iraq right now.

Clarissa, first of all, what are you learning about these rockets that just hit the Green Zone in Baghdad?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, very initial picture that we are getting is that no casualties were caused by these two Katyusha rockets that landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone as you mentioned is where of course the U.S. embassy is also housed. There were sirens echoing across that part of Baghdad as those rockets went into that area.

It's important to underscore for our viewers, Wolf, that rockets landing in the Green Zone is not an uncommon phenomenon in Iraq, but at the same time in this context, obviously, this cannot be seen outside of all of the events that have transpired in the last 24 hours. And I think really underscores that while Iran's official reaction may be over, there may still be other unofficial reactions to come.

Again, we don't know who is responsible for this rocket attack, whether it was one of the Shiite militias that is in fact loyal to Iran, but certainly, this underscores the very real vulnerabilities that U.S. forces and also civilians are facing in Iraq.

Here in our hotel in Erbil we saw more than 100 U.S. military contractors, they have all been evacuated from places like Baghdad, also Balad Air Base, south of Iraq as well, really giving you a sense of just how real the concerns are, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget there are still hundreds, hundreds of American diplomats, military personnel, defense contractors, other Americans inside that Green Zone where the U.S. embassy is in Baghdad.

Clarissa Ward joining us. She's in Iraq right now. Be careful over there, Clarissa.

Let's go straight to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, what are you learning, first of all, about how this tense situation and how it unfolded over the last 24 hours or so?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, for now, President Trump appears to be turning down the temperature and welcoming what he sees as a decision from Iran to pull back from the brink of war, but a White House official tells CNN some consideration was given last night to striking back at Iran. Ultimately the decision was made to hold off until the facts came in. Still the potential for Iranian retaliation remains as the Trump administration is warning cities here in U.S. to be on alert for terror attacks and cyber threats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The day of the Iran fired missiles at the U.S. forces as retaliation for killing one of the regimes top general, President Trump defended his decision to de-escalate the crisis by holding back.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran appears to be standing down which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world. No American or Iraqi lives were lost, because of the precautions taken, the disbursal of forces and an early warning system that worked very well.

[17:05:21]

ACOSTA: In the hours after the Iranian barrage that struck military bases where U.S. forces were taking cover, the President and top advisers were huddling in the situation room awaiting words of casualties.

CNN has learned that there were some consideration given to striking back at Iran, but President Trump and his team ultimately decided against the counter attack after reports on the ground indicated there were no U.S. service members killed. That's despite the President's tweet days earlier, warning, "If Iran attacks and American base or any American, we will be sending some of that brand-new beautiful equipment their way and without hesitation."

During an address to the nation, the President tried to justify his move to take out the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

TRUMP: Soleimani's hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. He should have been terminated long ago.

ACOSTA: but he did not offer new information to back up his claim that Soleimani was on the verge of killing more Americans. Mr. Trump also attempted to blame former President Barack Obama for the crisis falsely claiming that the Iran nuclear deal some how paid for the missiles.

TRUMP: The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.

ACOSTA: The President is also claiming that he will block Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

TRUMP: As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.

ACOSTA: But Democrats say that the Iran deal would have accomplished that had the President remained in the agreement. SEN. TIM KAINE, (D) VIRGINIA: If we had stayed in the deal, we had enforceable action against Iran that they would never get weapons.

ACOSTA: The President also announce he would slap new sanctions on Teheran, but even some in his own party aren't sure that will bring Iran back to the bargaining table.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I think sanctions have actually pushed Iran away from the negotiating table and made it less likely to have a diplomatic solution. At this point, there are so many sanctions on Iran. I don't know what else we do to actually increase them.

ACOSTA: With federal law enforcement officials warning U.S. cities to be on alert for potential terror threats and cyber attacks carried out Iranian proxies. The administration is asking Americans to remain vigilant.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now during his remarks earlier in the day, the President also called on NATO to step up its involvement in the Middle East. The President who has repeatedly criticize the alliance in the past, spoke with the NATO secretary-general earlier in the day, the administration we're told was also leaning on other countries like Switzerland to act as a back channel during last nights violence.

Democrats, in the meantime, are complaining that the White House has yet to explain a coherent strategy on Iran. The President didn't mention one in his statement earlier in the day. But one thing is clear, after days of tension between the U.S. and Iran, it's not just Teheran that's backing away from war right now, Wolf, it's the President, too. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta at the White House.

Top officials on the Trump administration briefed members of the House and the Senate this afternoon. Reaction was mostly along party lines with some very huge exceptions.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, two Republican senators are railing against what they heard from this Trump administration official and that's very unusual.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, two Republicans who do from time to time break from party orthodoxy, you know, national security issues but are close allies of this President came out railing against this briefing arguing that it was -- in Mike Lee's words, one of the worst briefings he has had on a military issue in the nine years in serving in the Senate.

What these two Republicans, in particular, were concerned about were the administration official's contention that it did not to be a congressional debate over pushing forward on the military action in Iran, and also the suggestion that the existing authorities that were proven in 2002 that going to Iraq were sufficient to carrying out the attacks going forward.

Now even one, I mean, Mike Lee, I asked him whether or not he believed that the attack that the President should have authorized the attack that led to the killing of the Soleimani, and the top Iranian general and he said he was agnostic on that, because he said there was -- there was a lack of specificity about what actual planned attacks of Soleimani were that were under way, but nevertheless, they came out making it clear they were disappointed. And in the words of Mike Lee, the argument that Congress should not have a role was "un-American."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Probably the worst briefing I have seen at least on the military issue in the nine years that I have served in the United States Senate. To come in to tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran it's un-American, it's unconstitutional and it's wrong. That was insulting. That was demeaning to the process ordained by the constitution and I find it completely unacceptable.

[17:10:13]

I walked into the briefing undecided, I walked out decided specifically because of what happened in that briefing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now Democrats pushed the administration, I'm told, behind closed doors in both the House and Senate briefing to explain what the imminent nature of these threats were. Now, I am told that the administration suggested the attacks could be planned and issued happen within days while Soleimani was alive and those targets were in the region around Iraq not in the U.S. homeland.

But they did not lay out specifics about time frames or they did not even say that whether the ayatollah himself had approved of the planned attacks that had been planned by Soleimani raising concerns from the Democrats in particular that these attacks would may not have been carried out and that the risk to the United States was not worth it in going after the top Iranian general.

And Wolf, at the same time, Democrats in the House are planning to push forward tomorrow on a resolution to limit the President's authority in Iran. Expect a vote in the House to go down along party lines warning the administration that if he were to go forward his hands essentially would be tied and would not be able to carry on an endless military campaign against Iran. And those two -- or Mike Lee said that he would support a similar measure being pushed in the Senate side.

Tim Kaine of Virginia has his own companion measure and he told me earlier today, Wolf, that he plans to push ahead with that measure despite the apparent de-escalation of a military campaign against Iran. Democrats in the Senate and the House are pushing ahead to try to pull back in case the administration decides to go forward. Wolf.

BLITZER: And I'll speak in the next hour with Republican Senator Rand Paul. We'll get his thought because he wasn't happy with that briefing either. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's go to the Iranian capital right now. Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran for us.

Fred, we know U.S. officials are still concern about threats from Iranian proxies in the region. How was this all playing out where you are in Tehran?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that Iranians first of all are quite happy, Wolf, that the President has decided not to strike back after the Iran retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani.

The Iranians from the beginning have said that they were going to retaliate and they said it can end after that. And they wanted it to end after that, and not turn into a wider conflict.

The other big thing for the Iranians, iu think, was to show case the ballistic missile technology. You know, we talk a lot about Iran's proxy forces in the region, how dangerous they are to the U.S. assets there, but the Iranians have now shown that their ballistic missile technology which they developed here in Iran is dangerous as well. It can travel a long distance. It's very accurate and can, indeed, threaten American assets in the region from Iranian territory.

I wanted to read you one headline that I actually just found in Iranian media reads, "Trump's big retreat from the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran missile strike," that of course coming after President Trump's speech today where he announced that he was not going to retaliate. We also have already heard the supreme leader come out and call all this a slap in the United States' face.

Whereas the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif came out and said that Iran's actions with their ballistic missiles show that Iran does not want war. However, there are also Iranian official, also the foreign minister by the way, who are saying that people lead the fundamental issue between Iran and specifically the Trump administration has not been solved and that is the maximum pressure campaign which they believe keeps fueling those tensions between Iran and the United States, and of course, keep flaring up.

And the President, of course we know, has announced new sanctions just today against the Iranians. And the Iranian supreme leader came out and said that ultimately the goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to, as he put it, kick the United States out of this region, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, are the Iranian state media telling the people in Iran right now that the Americans were in fact killed in those missile attacks yesterday?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes, they certainly are. Some Iranian outlets are, not all of them are. But there are some outlet indeed who are saying that there were heavy casualties from these missile strikes. Obviously offering no evidence in contrary to what the United States is saying, and what the President said that there were no American casualties there.

In fact there was one outlet that said that up to 80 U.S. service members had been killed in that attack and more 200 had been wounded, again, all of this without any sort of evidence being shown. We actually asked some people in the street of Tehran, and none of them seemed to give that very much credence. We do find that the folks here in the country are quite well informed about what's goes on in world affairs. But certainly, there are some outlets who have said those kinds of things, Wolf.

[17:15:02]

BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Tehran for us, thank you so, so much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee and former CIA clandestine officer as well.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. And I know you, like all of your colleagues now have received a briefing, a classified briefing on the situation with Iran. Based on the evidence you saw, are you convinced that an attack from Soleimani was imminent against Americans?

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): I do. You had some very sophisticated consumers of Intelligence that talked about how credible this information was. There was a level of specificity. But I could go even further beyond this immediate threat. Qasem Soleimani has been a threat and key threat to the United States for a very long time, and taking him off of the battlefield has had a significant impact. It showed the Iranian regime that there is going to be consequences to their reign of terror.

And making sure that -- I know today that the replacement for Soleimani is looking over his shoulder, and other Iranian generals are double-checking, and thinking again about the decisions that they can ultimately make.

We have to remember that these Iranian generals are not interested in becoming martyrs. They want to live a long life. And I'm sure this has given in pause about leaving Tehran or the safety of Iran. And we should respond to attacks and potential attacks on our facilities, on our people, on our allies.

I've been in the embassy that was hit by rockets and I've been in an embassy that was almost overrun in my previous life in the CIA and we should be making sure that we're sending a message to our diplomatic staff and our military that we're going to protect them when this does happen.

BLITZER: But at the same time, and you just heard law makers from both parties, I have some very sharp criticism of the briefings they've been receiving today. You heard Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah calling it, in his words, the worst briefing I've had in a military issue in my nine years in the Senate. Those are his words. Rand Paul also, not very happy with what he heard. I'm going to be speaking with him later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So, how do you -- you emerge saying it's all good and they emerge saying this was a disaster?

HURD: Well, it's two separate briefings, but I believe it was the same individuals. I'm sure the details were the same.

And here is my belief, Qasem Soleimani was the head of the most well- armed and well-equipped terrorist organization in the world, and this is what happens to the heads of terrorist organization. It was not like we hit him in the middle of Tehran, he was in Baghdad. He wasn't transmitting through Baghdad to go to Barbados on vacation. He was there in order to work with their proxy elements in to order to attack further Americans, in order to attack our allies.

And I do not believe that if terrorist gets to hide behind the uniform of their country, you can't hide behind that. You are still a terrorist. And so if this was an attack in Iran, I think we'd be having a different conversation.

I don't think that anybody is interested in a World War III or an attack inside the country of Iran. And so I think that's where some of these debates are. I think having a debate is healthy, making sure that our men and women in the military understand that we're thinking about these views of great American power, and that we're putting them in harm's way or having these kinds of debates. So I think that maybe where the difference of debate is.

But ultimately, I believe taking Qasem Soleimani off of the battlefield was a good thing. And what we are seeing is a continuation of what the Army War College when they did a study, I believe it was at the end of 2018, when you look at Iranian behavior, and there's no consequences, they're not seeing consequences, they continue to escalate activities in a place like Iraq.

And now what we see in their response with the 15 missile launch into Iraq last night, this was I think a further data point to show that they are going to change their behavior. In part, I believe this was a attempt -- a face-saving attempt by the Iranian regime.

We know that -- and you talked about it in the previous segment, Wolf, about how the Iranian state media is claiming, I think it was 80 Americans were killed. We know that is a lie. We know that didn't happen. And so they're showing pictures of the launches and they're using information operations with their own people.

I think the next step is now, we need to be working more with our European allies to have them join this maximum pressure campaign to continue to put pressure on the Iranian, to try to make them become a normal country.

BLITZER: You know we're getting some important new information coming in, Congressman, as we're speaking from our Pentagon correspondents, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, let me read to you what they are now telling us and we'll get your reaction. The top U.S. general made clear Wednesday night that Iran meant to kill U.S. troops in the ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq.

[17:20:07]

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters Wednesday and I'm quoting him now, "I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That's my own personal assessment." That's General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

And they point out, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne that Milley is delivering a very different message from what some other administration officials have flooded that Iran deliberately tried to avoid killing American personnel at those two Iraqi bases. What do you think about that knowing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley is clearly a very, very serious guy?

HURD: Look, I think General Milley is concerned with his troops. I think what we do know is that our troops are, you know, are dealing in a dangerous world, and that the Iranians have the ability to launch those kinds of attacks. So, some of the intelligence questions we should be asking is were we going to be able to see those attacks in advance and could have potentially done something in advance?

I think that's a broader conversation that Congress could ultimately be in. And, you know, what was the interest and the plans and intentions of the Iranian regime when they did those missile launches last night. So one thing we do know, our men and women are in dangerous situations, we should be protecting them.

And we also know that you now have the Shia militias that are, in essence, proxy forces for the Iranians, that they have capabilities independent of the Iranian regime. But I also think that they are questioning the commitment of the Iranian government and to their activities in Iraq.

And we have to remember why are we seeing increased activity by the Iranians in Iraq. It's because the Iraqi people were sick and tired of a Iranian puppet as the prime minister in Iraq. And they stood up and they protested and the prime minister said he would step down, and now in a caretaker area.

So the Iranians are concerned about losing control of the country. The Shia militias are concerned that, you know, their biggest backer could be potentially waffling. So this is still a tricky situation but -- and this is why we need to make sure that we're working with our allies among this issue.

BLITZER: Yes. And I'll just leave you with this because I know you got to run, Congressman. General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says there were no U.S casualties, because the U.S. military had early warning various tactics, they took defensive measure, procedures.

"We took sufficient, defensive measures that were -- that as a result, there were no casualties to U.S. personnel, coalition personnel, contractors or Iraqis." It's not because the Iraqi -- the Iranians wanted to avoid U.S. casualties, it's because the U.S. military was smart enough and had early measures to avoid U.S. casualties. An interesting development indeed.

We'll continue to follow up on that. Congressman Will Hurd, thanks so much for joining us.

HURD: Always a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And stay with us for more on the late breaking news that's developing rockets hitting inside heavily fortified green zone areas in Baghdad. That's the home of the United States embassy in Iraq, where there still hundreds of Americans.

Plus, more on the House Democrats new push to limit President Trump's war powers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:45]

BLITZER: All right, this is just in to CNN. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley now says Iran did, repeat, did intend to kill U.S. troops with its missile strike last night at two Iraqi military bases that house a lot of Americans. And that clearly differs very much from what we're hearing from other Trump administration officials.

Let's bring in our experts to discuss. Admiral Kirby, you're one of the experts. General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said this, "I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel." That's clearly his assessment.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, and that matches what military official in Baghdad told me last night, their initial assessment after the strike were exactly that. In fact, the word was used -- the words used to me was meant to kill and they were pushing back on this idea that there was some sort of deliberate intention by the Iranians not to hit American troops.

Either way, obviously, it's good thing that nobody was hit, nobody was hurt, they had enough time as this military official told me to get people into the bunkers and to get them to safety. It doesn't -- I don't know that this statement by Milley is going to change the outcome though from a diplomatic perspective. It does look like both sides have now stepped back and I think, you know, that's an encouraging sign.

BLITZER: Now, ballistic missile, short range ballistic missiles fire from western Iran, towards the Al Asad Air Base about 200 miles. Are the Iranian ballistic missiles that precise that if they wanted to, they could hit an area of the Al Asad Air Base where there aren't Americans as opposed to an area of the Al Asad Air Base where there are a lot of Americans? Are the Iranians that precise?

KIRBY: Their ballistic missile program has advanced quite a bit over the last few years. It is not as advanced as so many other countries. They still have a long way to go when it comes to precision. And ballistic missiles are not by design cruise missiles. They're not design for that level of specificity. So they're not going to hit a corner of a building, like they were able to hit the Aramco oil facilities.

But Al Asad is a huge base, and so it is feasible that these missiles could have been targeted for a section of the base. But, you know, you're not going to be able to get much precise than a general area.

BLITZER: We're showing, Gloria, some satellite images of where those missiles hit, but there's some significant statement from General Milley.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well it is. You know, you can't have it both ways.

[17:30:00]

And what the administration was saying before this was that the Iranians, effectively, were so afraid of our retaliation that they were precise in where they wanted these to go to not -- to not hurt American soldiers.

We are now learning because of the early warning system, et cetera, that people were able to go to ground and find safety, and that that was not the case. That, in fact, it was their intent to hurt Americans.

And that if that had occurred, I think you'll have to ask the question, then what? Would we be at war? That was the President's red line.

I would also argue that his red -- his red line was attacking our air base, but that red line seems to have moved for him. But then, what? So you can't have it both ways. You can't have two stories.

You can't say that something was imminent when it was not imminent, that the -- you know, Soleimani was going to attack imminently. And now, in this briefing in the Congress, the members seemed to come out and say, no, it's not. So, Americans, what do you believe?

KIRBY: And we should note, I think, Milley went on to say the intel analysis is still not done.

BORGER: Right.

KIRBY: And he's willing to wait for it to come in to see exactly what happened.

BLITZER: Well, let me -- BORGER: But it's a different story.

KIRBY: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. Nia, what do you think?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think Americans, rightfully, are going to have a lot of questions about this. This is an administration not known for being that truthful.

Donald Trump, himself, has often questioned the intelligence, talked about a deep state. So he doesn't have a real record, I think, of believability when it comes to big issues as well as small issues, so we'll see how -- where the American public falls on this.

You felt like, today, in his speech, he was outlining, essentially, a kind of three-pronged strategy -- militarily -- a military strategy, an economic strategy, and a diplomatic strategy.

He seemed to put the military strategy somewhat on the back burner and say, listen, we have a lot of weapons, we don't necessarily have to use them, and really kind of relied on the economic sanctions. And maybe even diplomacy. His sort of last words about peace if Iran wants peace was somewhat hopeful.

But I think this idea that they actually were, in fact, going after American targets there and looking to kill, I think, changes a bit of the story and complicates it.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Jamie, you're getting some new information on deliberations inside the Trump administration on how to handle this crisis.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So we had a sense of some of this, Wolf, but what I was told today is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has played a critical role.

He was the person who brought the case to President Trump, he was the one who wanted to take out Soleimani, and that he was really the point person in crafting all of this.

I just want to read to you from an inner circle source familiar with Pompeo and the situation. The source said he is the one leading the way. It's the President's policy, but Pompeo has been the leading voice.

And I was also told by the same source that, quote, taking out Soleimani has been Pompeo's mission for a decade, that he has told friends and colleagues that he really did not want to retire from public service before Soleimani was taken off the battlefield.

And just finally, that Pompeo really got everyone on board. He had Esper, Milley, Gina Haspel of the CIA, Robert O'Brien, national security, that there really was not much dissent about this, Wolf. BLITZER: Clearly, Gloria, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, former

CIA Director, former member of Congress, West Point grad, he really did seem to be coordinating so much of this.

BORGER: He did. And you know that he is the first among equals with the President of the United States. The President respects him, and he listens to him.

And you can tell, building on what Jamie is saying, from the fact that Pompeo has been the face of this --

HENDERSON: Right.

BORGER: -- that Pompeo has been out there briefing everyone, appeared on all the Sunday shows, that he is owning this.

And that the fact that Republican -- that even Republicans were upset today about their briefing shows you that Pompeo has a lot of work to do because, now, Republicans are going to vote for this War Powers Resolution.

So because it was Pompeo's dream to get Soleimani on --

HENDERSON: But --

BORGER: That's a laudable goal, I would say.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BORGER: But is that a foreign policy?

BLITZER: And you heard Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah say --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- the briefing he got from the administration, it was the worst on a military issue he's heard in nine years.

BORGER: Nine years.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. I want to bring in Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.

She's a member of the Armed Services Committee, also the Homeland Security Committee. She previously worked for the CIA and the Defense Department as an analyst specializing in Shia militias.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Hi.

BLITZER: Let's talk about something very, very sensitive. Your War Powers Resolution is expected to head to the House floor tomorrow. First of all, tell our viewers what this will accomplish.

[17:35:06] SLOTKIN: Yes, well, it's pretty simple. It's basically saying to the

President, to the country, to everyone in Congress that we should, as a body, be discussing and debating if there is even the risk of us going into war with Iran.

And I'm glad that the events of past, you know, 48 hours seemed to have been, for the time being, settling out. But I think it's extremely important that we, as a country, if we're going to either intentionally or accidentally slide into a war, that we have a debate about that.

So this is a resolution that I put forward today, and it is making its way through the Rules Committee. We'll vote on it here in the House after some debate tomorrow.

And then, the important thing is it's intended to force a debate in the Senate as well so that we have both Houses having this national conversation.

BLITZER: As you know, the President, in his remarks earlier today, he clearly signaled a de-escalation with Iran. Why is the War Powers Resolution, as a result, still necessary?

SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I mean, what's going on -- gone on the past week is certainly escalatory, but let's not forget that a lot of this has been going on tit-for-tat from both the Iranian side and from us for eight months now.

So, for me, you know, it's great. I'm happy -- as someone who has a stepdaughter in the military, a son-in-law whose unit is in Iraq, I mean, I'm definitely happy that things are escalating.

But sometimes, you know, when tensions are this high, you can end up getting into an unintential (ph) -- unintentional spiral.

BLITZER: Yes.

SLOTKIN: And I just wanted to put the marker down and be very, very clear, just because we're past this moment doesn't meant that Congress has a right to abdicate its responsibilities.

BLITZER: You're happy things are de-escalating as opposed to --

SLOTKIN: Yes, sorry.

BLITZER: -- escalating.

SLOTKIN: Pardon me. Pardon.

BLITZER: You've just received a classified briefing along with your colleagues when it comes to Iran. Did the Trump administration provide sufficient evidence that it acted in response to an imminent threat when the President ordered the killing of Soleimani?

SLOTKIN: Well, I can't get into the details of a classified briefing. I will just say it was important that these folks came up to Congress and talked to us about it.

I think there's a lot of follow-up that came out. A lot of members were interested in getting more of the specifics and the details of the intelligence.

Those are things we've asked for. I expect we will get them, or at least that's my hope. But I just can't go into details of what was discussed inside the meeting.

BLITZER: You served three tours in Iraq as a CIA analyst. What questions do you still have about the administration's actions?

SLOTKIN: Well, I mean, for me, you know, I think that if you know Iran -- and I think we've even had some indications from senior leaders in Iran today -- this is not necessarily their one and only response.

And I think, certainly, as someone who spent three tours in Iraq, it is extremely likely that we're going to see additional retaliatory attacks from Shia militias using Iranian weapons against our forces and our diplomats in Iraq. And we need to be prepared for that.

And I want to understand not just how we've gotten through these last few days, but what's your strategy, right? They have the pressure campaign. They talk about it a lot.

They talked about it today, but it was hard to understand, you know, how do you know you're succeeding and not just escalating us into something that's more and more dangerous? I want and still feel like we are owed concrete specific details on strategy.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you so much for joining us. And thanks so much for your service while you were in Iraq, appreciate it very much.

SLOTKIN: Thank you.

Coming up, the Iran crisis ignites a new debate among the 2020 presidential candidates. How would they handle Iran and who is qualified to be Commander-in-Chief?

[17:38:44]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Iran crisis is shaking up the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, turning foreign policy into a major front burner issue.

Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is joining us now from Capitol Hill where the crisis has forced some senators off the campaign trail. What are you hearing, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. There were -- the senators who normally spend their time in Iowa and New Hampshire were back in Washington, attending one of those classified briefings about the Iran strike.

Now, many said it did not resolve their questions about the imminent threat the Trump administration has talked about, but it also raised something else: what are their plans for their foreign policy?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): A new Commander-in-Chief test tonight for Democratic presidential candidates as the crisis with Iran sparks the first robust foreign policy debate of the campaign.

Senators still in the presidential race stepped away from the campaign trail, returning to Capitol Hill for a classified briefing and to raise sharp questions about President Trump's Middle East strategy.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to believe that war is the last response, not the first response.

ZELENY (voice-over): It's been more than a decade since a full- throated foreign policy debate unfolded inside the Democratic Party. Senator Bernie Sanders believes it's high time to have that discussion.

He and Joe Biden are on a collision course with Sanders seizing on Biden's 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war. But Biden is embracing his foreign policy experience, dismissing Sanders and training his sights on Trump.

[17:45:05]

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump's short-sighted America First dogmatism has come home to roost.

ZELENY (voice-over): The politics of foreign policy are always complicated but even more so with Trump who, after days of saber rattling, suddenly talks about de-escalation with Iran.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran appears to be standing down.

ZELENY (voice-over): Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Michael Bennet also attended the Iran briefing. After, Warren said officials offered no evidence of an imminent threat; Booker calling it wholly unsatisfactory.

But so far in the campaign trail, Democrats have spent more time talking about their opposition to Trump's foreign policy --

TRUMP: We are finally putting America first.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- than devoting time outlining their own view of America's place in the world.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump has taken us to the brink of war. ZELENY (voice-over): It's an open question whether voters will value

experience or be moved by promises of judgment from rivals like Pete Buttigieg, who often touts his military background.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I remember what it's like to be on the inside of one of those airplanes taking you into a war zone like so many troops are heading into theatre right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So we are indeed about to have a fulsome foreign policy debate inside the Democratic field, Wolf, that has been, since the 2008 presidential campaign when opposition to the Iraq War contributed to the rise of Barack Obama and, of course, complicated the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

So look for the next month for sure, perhaps beyond that, as this escalates for there to be a foreign policy discussion.

Of course, that will continue -- will start next week in Des Moines, Iowa at the final debate before the voting begins, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny reporting.

A quick and important note, join me and my colleagues from CNN and the Des Moines Register as we moderate the final Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses.

The CNN Presidential Debate in partnership with the Des Moines Register, next Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, why Iran's missiles are really capable -- what are they really capable of? Experts say the attack showed only a fraction of the country's real firepower.

[17:47:11]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, the Joint Chiefs' Chairman, General Mark Milley, says he believes Iran did intend to kill American service members with its twin missile attacks, and that puts him at odds with some Trump administration officials who think Iran deliberately avoided American casualties.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, as disturbing as these attacks were, the only hint at what Iran is really capable of doing, they have some serious firepower.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Indeed, they are capable of doing much worse. We have new information tonight on Iran's missile program. A capability that is sophisticated, growing, and getting increasingly dangerous, especially for American service members in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, a U.S. official tells CNN the U.S. military had a high-tech early warning that Iran had launched short- range ballistic missiles toward bases where U.S. troops were stationed. Heat signatures picked up by U.S. intelligence satellites.

But analysts say that information should not tamp down warnings about Iran's missile capability.

THOMAS KARAKO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Iran has the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East. They have put a lot of investment and efforts in developing missiles like this.

TODD (voice-over): Analyst say Iran has hundreds of short and medium- range ballistic missiles in its arsenal, developed rapidly with help from the old Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.

Iran has a sophisticated shorter-range missile, the Shahab 1, with a range of up to 200 miles. But its arsenal also has the capability to reach targets, not only in the Persian Gulf and Israel but also areas where some of America's other close allies have their capitals.

KARAKO: In terms of what they have demonstrated, kind of the Shahab 3, the Ahmad, this is something that's going to give them potential to reach into a good bit of Europe.

TODD (voice-over): And the Iranian Missile Divisions under the command of the Revolutionary Guard have perfected what experts call terminal guidance pinpoint accuracy. And that doesn't apply just to ballistic missiles.

In last September's strike on Saudi oil facilities attributed by U.S. and Saudi officials to Iranian cruise missiles and drones, which the Iranians denied, each target seemed to have been hit in the same spot.

KARAKO: They did so with, you know, some considerable accuracy, hitting these domes, this fuel, exactly where they wanted.

TODD (voice-over): That capability brings some jarring possibilities if America's tensions with Iran escalate because of the target-rich environment of American forces within missile range of Iran's arsenal.

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The United States has a very robust presence. Almost 60,000 forces -- Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the United States Army -- are located in this region.

If they wanted to, and almost with very little warning, the Iranians could strike any one of these locations. They have the capability.

TODD (voice-over): Just as chilling is the deadly potential payload Iran's missiles could bring if they strike American targets.

KARAKO: Right now, they've got conventional high explosives on them. In principle, they could put chemical or perhaps even a nuclear weapon on them should they get that one day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, does Iran have the capability that North Korea is so close to having, a long-range ballistic missile that could reach the United States?

Missile experts say the Iranian regime probably does not have that capability yet, but they're hard at work on it, racing to develop the fuel and launch technology to be able to wield that threat -- Wolf.

[17:55:03]

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Very disturbing.

There's breaking news next. Rockets strike Baghdad's Green Zone. We're going live to Iraq and Iran. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:09]