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Iranian Commander Warns of Harsher Revenge to Come; House Set to Vote on War Powers Resolution Today; Democrats' Pressure Grows on Pelosi to Send Articles of Impeachment to Senate; WAPO: GOP Leaders Spar Over Adding House Members to Trump's Impeachment Defense Team; Ukraine Investigates Multiple Possible Causes of Plane Crash in Tehran. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Back from the brink. But this morning very mixed messages coming from the administration. Vice President Mike Pence joining Pentagon leaders in saying that Iranians launched strikes with the intention of killing Americans. That contradicts others in the administration who say the Iranians purposely missed with the intention of sending a message in effect.

HARLOW: Right. Very different scenarios now that the American people are looking at all of this as the House gears up to vote on limiting the president's war powers with Iran. It is a major shift after Democrats first halted that vote. They were going to wait until next week. Now this is coming. They say a briefing that they got didn't provide strong justification for the killing of Iran's top general. We will hear from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi next hour.

Also, a pair of Republicans in the Senate say their own intel briefing was not at all satisfactory. Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul calling it insulting, demeaning and inadequate.

SCIUTTO: Yes, remarkable criticism from within the Republican Party.


SCIUTTO: Let's begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, I understand you have new reporting this morning. Can you help clear this up in effect for Americans? What the intention, what the Pentagon believes Iran's intention was as opposed to what the White House is saying now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you say, yesterday, a number of administration officials were privately briefing reporters that they thought that Iran launched these missiles with no intention of killing Americans, that they were purposely aiming them at areas on these bases where Americans were not.

Late yesterday afternoon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, four-star, multiple command positions on front lines, had a very different military view of the situation, told reporters that he believed the Iranians were out to kill Americans. And then Vice President Pence weighed in this morning on that very point.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ballistic missiles fired at American bases outside in Irbil we believe were intended to kill Americans. We have intelligence to support that that was the intention of the Iranians.


STARR: So, look, you know, the Iranians are firing multiple ballistic missiles at great distances. Would they have the precision to fire at particular points where they were absolutely sure there would not be American troops? Probably not. That's a pretty far stretch. But a couple of things did happen behind the scenes.

The Iranians did give warning through third parties. That helps the U.S. know what was coming and U.S. satellites and radars picked up signs of those missiles being launched. That gave them enough time to move Americans out of the way. So that helped, but the general consensus is that the Iranians could not have really known that there would not be Americans that they might actually, you know, result -- it might actually result in casualties.

The damage assessment, in fact, is that the missiles hit, a helicopter was damaged. Tents were damaged where Americans might have been. Some runways were damaged. So these did not hit in just vast, open areas. A lot of concern that they get a good understanding of what the Iranians were really up to.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes, and Barbara, thank you for that. And there is great detailed reporting, your reporting on about exactly what went into the president's calculation not to strike back at Iran.

Barbara, thank you.

Let's get to our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen in Tehran.

Fred, what are we learning about the new threats coming overnight from the Iranian regime?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, new threats coming from the Iranians. And also some brand-new reporting that we just got here from the head of the Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Forces. And just to put that into context. This is the commander of the forces that both launched that ballistic missile attack at those bases housing the U.S. troops on it in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. He's also the commander of the forces that downed a U.S. drone earlier this year. And the big takeaway from what he said -- this was a press conference,

by the way, that just ended. He said that the aim of Iran's strikes against the U.S. targets in Iraq was not to kill troops but to hit America's military machine, as he puts it, and then he goes on to say, I think this is something that's really key. He said the strikes are the beginning of a widespread operation to avenge Qasem Soleimani.

So the Iranians are essentially saying, first of all, they didn't intend to kill U.S. forces. They wanted to hit American military hardware. And they're also saying that this operation to avenge Qasem Soleimani continues. The end of the first phase may be over but they're saying this is a long game and to expect further strikes in the not-too-distant future. So those are two pretty significant things.

He also goes on to say, and this is something that seems maybe a little bit contradictory on that. Without evidence, he also goes on to say the Revolutionary Guard believes that tens of people were either killed or injured in these strikes. Obviously, before that saying they didn't intend to kill Americans and then saying tens may be killed or injured. Not providing anything evidence. And of course we know that President Trump came out and said all Americans on those bases, in fact all people on those bases were actually accounted for.

Not sure whether or not this is some sort of trolling that the Iranians are doing there, but certainly they're saying two things. They didn't intend to kill U.S. personnel and they do intend to continue their retaliation, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we should note, the Pentagon would have to let Americans know if U.S. forces were killed there so no evidence of that.

HARLOW: That's a good point. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Fred Pleitgen in Iran, thanks very much.

Lauren Fox, she's on Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren, the House are going to take up a vote today on limiting the president's war powers. That will be this afternoon. I just want to -- given that you have Republicans now questioning the administration's cause for war here, the intelligence, et cetera, is there any chance that the Senate might also pass this resolution or does it stop in the House?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question at this point, Jim. And I will tell you that essentially what we expect in the House is potentially a few defections. That's according to one Republican source I talked to this morning who said you can expect the normal players, people like Thomas Massey of Kentucky who's more libertarian minded when it comes to war powers to vote with the Democrats perhaps on this issue.

But in the Senate, that's the big question because, remember, after yesterday's briefing, there was a lot of frustration about what they heard from the administration. Here's what Mike Lee and Rand Paul had to say after that briefing.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): To come in and 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.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): The Constitution said the power to declare a war was to be given to Congress. They specifically did not give that power to the president. I didn't learn anything in the hearing that I hadn't seen in a newspaper already and none of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.


FOX: And of course, the question here, Jim, is whether or not there are going to be more Republicans who come out and say essentially what we heard from Lee and Paul yesterday. I should note that they've been in this place for a long time, since they've come to Capitol Hill. They've argued essentially that Congress needs more of a role when it comes to the American foreign policy abroad. So that is a position they've held for a while but of course it will be interesting to see if Romney or Collins or others come along -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Lauren Fox, thanks so much for the reporting.

Joining us now to talk about all of what we've just learned, Mike Rogers, former House Intelligence chairman, and Kelly Magsamen, she served on the National Security Council for President George W. Bush and President Obama.

Nice to have you both here.

Chairman Rogers, let me begin with you, just your reaction to the frustration we heard from both Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul. You say the administration is obligated to start working with Congress more but also say that Congress needs to act more like adults when it comes to national security. Are you concerned with the rhetoric and the way they're saying it or are you concerned with what they are saying?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Not necessarily what they're saying. I have -- I was one that also believed the AUMF had long reached its expiration date. Under Obama, I was working with a group of members to try to get the AUMA reauthorized and to try to make sure that Congress had an active and important role in that process. So I do think Congress walked away from that responsibility since 2002.

So we do need some AUMF, but doing it for political purposes to say, I don't like the president so I'm going to not let him do X or Y is not a way to conduct foreign policy or national security. And I can tell you this. As a chairman of the committee who got the most sensitive information and then I would go to these briefings that were broader with more members, clearly they had necked down or at least not given the most sensitive information to this group of members, and they were always frustrated.

So I understand their frustration and I think what Chairman Milley was saying is that that information that allowed them to -- that allowed them to make the decision to do the strike was exquisite, meaning it was very, very sensitive. Meaning it probably came from places that any discussion around that information might disclose how they got it is my best guess from everything that I'm seeing and hearing today.

SCIUTTO: Kelly, you have disconnects, well, frankly contradiction from the administration as to what Iran's intention was here. You have some in the administration saying listen, we think Iran intentionally missed. And there were a lot of communications in advance of this attack which would seem to back that on up. To say, hey, get out of the way. We're about to fire. But then you hear Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today say the opposite.

Have a listen, then I want to get your reaction.


Oh, I'll quote it. "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.

I mean, it matters, does it not, what their intention was because then that gets to the administration's decision not to retaliate?


SCIUTTO: Why this contradiction coming from the administration?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER BUSH AND OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Listen, I think it's reasonable to expect that the Iranians when they fired ballistic missiles were intending to hit something. I think that it's very likely the case that the Iranians did expect some sort of casualty damage on our side. But I think it's really important to understand that right now it feels a little like the administration is taking a bit of a victory lap.

I think it's very premature. I think that we are in it for the long haul. I think the Iranians will unfold their reactions to the Soleimani killing over time and they're going to do it in more deniable ways. So I'm a little concerned that we have sort of declared victory and everything is fine now. So --

HARLOW: So Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney who serves in the House Armed Services Committee has this take, Chairman Rogers. Quote, "The War Powers Resolution just introduced by Congresswoman Slotkin dishonors every member of America's armed forces by equating Iranian attacks on our men and women in uniform with U.S. action to kill the world's deadliest terrorist. #disgrace."

You know, I just wonder if you think that lost in that message is the fact that he was not just a terrorist, which he was. Right? On the official U.S. list, et cetera. But also a leader, a government leader in Iran. And that is the key distinction, and there's a reason why the -- you know, the Bush administration and the Obama administration -- Kelly, you served on the NSC -- didn't take him out when they had those opportunities. What do you think of what Congresswoman Cheney is saying here, Chairman Rogers?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, to me, this feeds into this whole narrative about these members need to be adults when it comes to national security. If you are on one team and you're saying it was all wrong and it was terrible and we're going to tell you why it's terrible, we're going to tell the world why it was terrible, I don't think that's very helpful.

I think there's places for that in Congress to have those conversations. And same the other way about questioning people's patriotism because they have differences of opinion. I never think it's a good idea. But facts matter. And this is my point about being adults. When that talking point comes up, well, the Bush administration said no and the Obama administration said no, and I was there for both of those.


ROGERS: It was never -- I have a cold today. I can't talk. Qasem Soleimani --


ROGERS: -- never left Iran. He never, never engaged the way he's been engaging in the last few years. And we saw it at the last piece of the Obama administration where he was supplying, getting the Houthi rebels in Yemen armed and trained to try to cause some insurrection there. And so remember, the details change along the way. So you can't say well, they didn't do it then because of X and today the circumstances have changed.


HARLOW: Well, that's an important point.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

ROGERS: He was much more active and he was in Syria planning operations. He had participated in the planning of the operation that killed an American just several weeks before that. And so those facts matter. And I think it's hard for people just to come down and say yes or no and I don't like the president, that's my decision or I love the president, that's my decision.


ROGERS: None of that is an adult conversation about what the threats are.

SCIUTTO: Well -- well, speaking of adult conversation, we should note that Elissa Slotkin's husband is a retired Army colonel. He was an Apache helicopter pilot. They met in Iraq and one of their children also serves in the military. So to say, you know, disrespectful to the military.

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Also doesn't seem to have a lot of basis.

But, Kelly, if I could just --

ROGERS: My point exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- as you before I go. So you say it's not over. Iran has enormous capabilities. What kinds of things does the U.S. have to be on alert for now, not just today but in the coming weeks and months from Iran?

MAGSAMEN: Well, certainly I think that they're going to look for an opportunity potentially to target, you know, senior American military official, possibly a diplomat for either kidnapping or killing. You can potentially see cyberattacks. I think Director McCabe was on earlier speaking about the potential for that. So the Iranians have many tools at their disposal. Of course they have proxies around the region. Both Hezbollah and also within Iraq.

So their main goal right now is to put pressure on the Iraqi government, I think, also to push us out of Iraq. So they're playing a much bigger strategic game than what we're playing. What we're right now is a very tactical game.


MAGSAMEN: And I think it's very dangerous.

SCIUTTO: Kelly Magsamen, Mike Rogers, thanks to both of you. We're sure we'll be talking about this in the coming days and weeks.

Still to come this hour, pressure on Pelosi. Now members of her own party say it is time to hand over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Will she budge? Will it happen this week?

And Ukrainian investigators are now looking into the possibility, an alarming one, that an anti-aircraft missile brought down a plane in Iran killing 176 people. This video shows, you see it there, that plane on fire as it came to the ground.


HARLOW: And forget Brexit, the headlines today all about Megxit. No, I did not make up that word, Jim did -- no, the British "Tabloids" did. Prince Harry and Meghan announcing their intention to step back from their royal duties. What does that mean and why wasn't the queen informed? We're live in London.


HARLOW: Welcome back. Pressure seeming to mount on house Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send over those two articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pressure even from some and some leaders in her own party. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.


SCIUTTO: Well, in a little over an hour, she's going to be at that podium there, possible she announce it then? Rachael Bade; CNN political analyst and congressional reporter for "The Washington Post", and CNN legal analyst Michael Gerhardt.


Michael also testified which you know before the House Judiciary Committee during last month's impeachment hearings and in the Clinton impeachment. So, a little bit of experience there. Rachael, just on the Hill at this point, what are you hearing about when Nancy Pelosi is likely to send over the articles to the Senate?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Listen, right now, it's a lot of speculation. I mean, a lot of people thought she would do it on Monday and then she sort of held out. It's clear that she's holding increasingly a losing hand here. I mean, Pelosi didn't have a lot of leverage to begin with, but now as more and more Democrat come out and say it's time to send the articles over to the Senate, she's really losing leverage, and you know, this is really undercutting her case.

I think it's pretty telling that Adam Smith told CNN this morning that he was also of the mind that it was time to move on because --

HARLOW: Yes --

BADE: House members, in particular, rarely speak out against Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They just don't do it. And to see Smith, the chairman in her own leadership team push back against her, that's really significant.

HARLOW: I think that's a great point, Rachael, right? And we've heard sort of similar sentiment from Angus King who is independent but caucuses with Democrats, from Joe Manchin, you name it. Michael, I wonder what you think Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the house gain from waiting.

MICHAEL GERHARDT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: Well, they obviously gained some time. And I am not sure what else they've gained. I think they were hoping for some leverage, I think hopefully maybe to put some pressure on the president to see what he would do next. Perhaps, put some pressure on McConnell, perhaps give the Senate Democrats some opportunity to come together and put some extra pressure on those swing Republicans.

Those few Republicans that might have broken away in favor of witnesses. It's hard to see at least visibly whatever the speaker may have gained at this point. She certainly got a lot of attention for it, and at this point, maybe the other thing I would just point out she might have gained is we have had revelations since she began to hold the articles.

Revelations in the news that have hurt the president, more information --


GERHARDT: About what's been going on in the administration, but actually fortifies the Democrats' case and undermines the Republicans' opposition.

SCIUTTO: And you also, Rachael Bade, have a witness raising his hand now, John Bolton saying he's willing to testify. Of course, he was blocked from testifying as well, the senior administration officials by the president during the house impeachment. That was quite a moment. Does that put pressure? Are you hearing that Republicans -- maybe is the right question, are feeling pressure from that to call witnesses during the trial?

BADE: Yes, I mean, I think that Republicans especially moderate Republicans are still going to be grappling with this question of whether to bring in Bolton in a couple of weeks. It's certainly increased pressure on them to agree with Democrats to do this. But I just want to go back to this point about, you know, Pelosi holding the articles and news reports that have showed new revelations.

Bolton coming forward, I mean, these sort of things were going to happen regardless of Pelosi holding the articles. I know that Democrats right now are sort of pointing to them, saying that there was sort of a logic behind the strategy, and that you know, somehow these events are related. But the reality is, they're really not.

I mean, Bolton was going to do this anyway in terms of coming out and saying, he was -- he's open to testifying in the Senate. He didn't just do that because Pelosi was holding the articles. And --


BADE: "The New York Times" was going to write anyway on FOIA information that they received --

HARLOW: Right --

BADE: Over the break. So, you know, it's kind of -- you know, it looks like the Democrats are looking for a justification for a strategy that privately a lot of them feel was a failure.

HARLOW: Rachael, just briefly, your reporting overnight is really interesting because for all the people that think the White House and Mitch McConnell are in lockstep on how this whole thing is going to proceed, you have some reporting on a rift within the party about how, you know, this should go. Should there be defense members of the president's team from house Republicans or not? BADE: That's exactly right. We're hearing from -- well, both sides

right now. There's this sort of inter-party turf war that's going on where you have house Republicans, people like Jim Jordan who think that they could do a good job defending the president in the Senate. Now, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the house, he's been arguing to Trump personally that Jim Jordan is good on TV, Trump knows that. Trump loves Jim Jordan and he knows the facts of the case that the Democrats have built against the president really well.

But Mitch McConnell; the Senate Republican leader has been telling Trump that he shouldn't be thinking of the trial as a made-for TV moment. That people like Jim Jordan could actually repel moderate Republicans like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski who want to see sort of a different strategy instead of this sort of no-holds-barred, go after Joe Biden, go after Hunter Biden, go after the whistle-blower. They don't want to see that strategy. And they're worried that could hurt --

SCIUTTO: Right --

BADE: The Republican --

HARLOW: Yes --

BADE: Unity in the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Michael, how -- when this trial starts, how soon and how would there be a vote on calling witnesses? How would that process work?


GERHARDT: Well, the first thing that would happen is once the Senate receives the articles, then the Majority leader would convene the Senate, probably not in a closed session as Trent Lott did during the Clinton impeachment, but he'll convene the Senate, and at that point, they'll take a vote on overall procedure, a basic framework for proceeding.

Clearly, that framework will not include a requiring or calling witnesses, and then a second topic will come up. That's the topic of witnesses, and there will be a separate vote on that. That's going to be the critical one of course. Whether or not they need new witnesses is open to question. There's a lot of evidence the house already had.

But keep in mind during the Clinton impeachment, house Republicans who pushed for and voted for Clinton's impeachment said they didn't need more evidence. They were going to impeach him, and then the Senate's job, they said was to do a trial, hear evidence. Well, now, they're switching positions.


GERHARDT: And part of the problem with their switching positions now is, it looks to be part of a cover-up of the president based on all these new revelations. SCIUTTO: Yes, there's a lot of position switching between how the

last impeachment went and this one --


HARLOW: That never happens --


HARLOW: In politics. Rachael Bade, thank you, Michael Gerhardt always good to have you. So, back to the tragic news of that plane crash. More than 24 hours after the plane crashed and killed all 176 passengers on board, the crash happened in Tehran shortly after takeoff. Ukrainian investigators are looking at whether an anti- aircraft missile could be responsible, that is actually among the possibilities. We'll follow those developments for you.

SCIUTTO: We are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street as well. Stocks set to rise at the open, oil prices have now settled after the -- those 24 hours of tension in Iran. We'll see how traders react to the tentative trade truce as well between the U.S. and China. Chinese government says the Vice Premier will lead an official delegation to Washington on Monday to sign what the president has described as a phase one trade agreement.

The president said he will travel to Beijing at a later time to start talks on what he has referred to as phase two.