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Ukraine Plane Caught Fire before Crash; Rep. John Garamendi (D- CA) is Interviewed about War Powers Vote; Prince Harry and Meghan Step Back. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:31:27]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Ukrainian investigators are looking into whether an anti-aircraft missile took down that Boeing 737 jet just minutes after it took off from an airport in Iran in the midst of those missile strikes. All 176 people on board were killed in the crash. This is just one of the possible theories investigators are discussing with Iran's aviation authority.

Also, new reports from witnesses say that they saw the plane on fire -- and here's some video showing that as well -- as it was plunging to the ground. It also changed direction. It seemed to be turning back towards the airport.

Joining me now, CNN international correspondent Scott McLean and CNN business editor at large Richard Quest with an enormous amount of experience on aircraft, crashes, et cetera.

Richard, I've spoken to a U.S. official who says that U.S. intelligence, as well, is taking a look at this crash to see what indeed brought it down. How seriously, in your view, are investigators taking the possibility that this was a missile?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Initially, they were not. Initially there was talk of an engine fire and the plane turning back. I would say -- the significance is the way the Ukrainians reversed themselves. They initially put out a statement after the crash saying no missile or no military activity. Then they withdrew that statement, which leads one to assume why? What did they know? Why did they not say anything more?

Now, you've got the Iranians who say they have located the voice and data recorder. They won't hand them over to the United States or tell us where they're going to be -- they're going to be read out. They are not giving any serious information about the state of the wreckage. Whilst at the same time, others are saying there are missile fragments.

Now, look, all of this is hearsay, second-guessing and speculation. If we look at the report which the Iranian investigators have just released in the last day or so, well, it doesn't really tell us much more. It is a recounting -- or an counting of the -- of what they found, the relative condition that it was in, but we're still waiting, Jim, for them to come up with any form of early prognosis of what they think that the result was.

SCIUTTO: Right.

QUEST: We don't expect a full-scale, it was this, it was this, it was this, but you might very well expect them to say there was damage or there was signs of fire from missile or explosives.

SCIUTTO: Well, if you look at MH-17 over Ukraine, that one took a number of months before there was a definitive answer.

Scott, you've been speaking to families. What are they saying about this? What are they demanding as this investigation begins?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, of the family and friends that we've spoken to, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who really believes that this was some kind of a mechanical failure. Most people here, despite the fact that they may have their normal complaints about airlines, as you do with any airline, they believe in the reliability of this aircraft, especially given the fact that it was built in 2016 and delivered straight to the manufacturer.

It's a pretty heartbreaking scene here. We've seen one by one people come in, colleagues, friends, family, to drop off flowers. The president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was here earlier today to add to this pile early this morning. These are the nine crew members who were aboard that flight. That's all but two of the 11 Ukrainians who were killed.

There was a pretty powerful moment here about an hour or two ago.

[09:35:02]

There was a woman here who stood here for about 20, 30 minutes sobbing uncontrollably because her son was one of the pilots, Captain Vladamir Gapenyanko (ph). And she was saying over and over again in Ukrainian, you know, why did you go? Who will visit me? And really pleading for any part of his body to come back, as is the tradition here in Ukraine.

And, remember, this is a national day of mourning in this country where 11 people were killed. But the bulk of the victims here are either Iranian or Canadian. Obviously it was a popular route to go from Tehran via Kiev on to Toronto. Many of the victims there were really bright, promising young students, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Heartbreaking for those families, no question. A lot of questions that need to be answered now.

Richard Quest, Scott McLean, thanks very much.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so, this morning, oil prices are settling as tension with Iran appears to be easing for the moment. But President Trump is touting a false claim. One he made yesterday that the United States is free, totally free, from the grips of Middle Eastern oil.

Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America's achieved energy independence.

We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Yes, it is true that the U.S. is now the world's top producer of oil. What is definitively not true is Trump's claim of total U.S. energy independence. The United States is still dependent on the Middle East for oil. Particularly dependent, by the way, on Saudi Arabia.

While crude oil imports from the Persian Gulf countries have dropped a lot over the last year or so, the U.S. still imports about 670,000 barrels from the region every day, as of October, just a few months ago. But not every barrel is really created equally. U.S. oil that is produced here, a lot of it is shale oil. It's very light. And because of our pretty old refinery system, you need to mix that with heavy crude from other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iraq to get it to work for your gasoline, for example. That is why those countries are still third and fourth respectively when it comes to daily oil imported to this country.

So, while oil imports have gone down, a lot, and that's a good thing for this country's independence, foreign oil is still essential to us and what you do every day in the United States, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Facts matter, Poppy. Very important.

HARLOW: They do, especially when you're talking about such a volatile region that we do depend on for oil.

SCIUTTO: No question, and people see an immediate effect from this when oil prices rise, gas prices rise.

HARLOW: Yes, 100 percent. They do.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the House set to vote on the president's war powers today. New polling shows that a majority of Americans want the president's war powers limited.

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[09:42:04]

HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

Right now House lawmakers are gearing up to vote on a resolution that would limit the president's power for military action against Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for that vote to happen today. This is after lawmakers in both chambers received a briefing. With me now is Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Sir, thank you for being here.

Given the briefing, and I know some of it you can't share because there are parts that are classified, but given what you learned, what do you think the appropriate U.S. response to Iran would be?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, we are -- first of all, where we are after these incidents, tit-for-tat, escalation along the way and now, fortunately, de-escalation.

What we need to do now is to really stand back and develop a long term strategy with regard to Iran. That strategy that was put in place by the Obama administration, the joint -- JCPOA was disrupted, basically torn apart by Trump. We need to go back and try to figure out how to re-engage with Iran on the nuclear issue and on the other issues which need to be addressed. The missile issues, the disruption that Iran is doing. That requires engagement. That requires that we not march to war but rather back away from it.

HARLOW: Lest people forget, it is Congress, and Congress alone --

GARAMENDI: Right.

HARLOW: That has the authority to declare war.

GARAMENDI: Right.

HARLOW: Republican Senator Rand Paul called the briefing that they got, which I think is very similar to the briefing that you guys got, quote, an insult to the Constitution. Republican Senator Mike Lee says that, quote, I walked out without answers and being told that we shouldn't debate because it might be harmful.

Were you told that you shouldn't debate or ask too many questions because it might harm the United States?

GARAMENDI: We were not told that, but we were clearly told that they have it under control. The administration knows exactly what it's doing, and is obeying the law.

The fact of the matter is, that is not the case. It is certainly not under control. There's clear evidence that they don't know what they're doing. And there's also further evidence that they did not obey the law, that they were acting beyond the scope of power given to them. So here's what we --

HARLOW: On a legal ground, what is that evidence?

GARAMENDI: Yes. Well, the evidence -- they presented no evidence that there was an imminent threat.

HARLOW: Well, they're breaking the law, sir, because I mean you're essentially saying here the administration broke the law. GARAMENDI: Well, they used the 2003 or 2002 authorization to use force

against Saddam Hussein as one of the two factors. The other factor was an imminent threat. They were unable to present any evidence of an imminent threat. And, secondly, the 2002-03 AUMF, authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein, is totally irrelevant to today's situation with Iran.

[09:45:04]

So that's where I'm saying is with regard to that.

Now, what we intend to do today is to make it clear that they do not have authority to go to war with Iran to take further military action against Iran until they come to Congress and say, here's what we need to do and ask Congress for the authority to do it.

HARLOW: The real question becomes, can you get a veto-proof majority in the Senate for that? Even on the, you know, the Saudi intervention in Yamen resolution last year you had Republican support in the Senate but you didn't have a veto-proof majority.

GARAMENDI: Sure.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about the vote today.

GARAMENDI: Yes.

HARLOW: Your fellow congresswoman on the House Armed Services Committee, Liz Cheney, says this. Quote, the war powers resolution introduced by Rep. Slotkin dishonors every member of American armed forces by equating Iranian attacks against our men and women in uniform with U.S. action to kill the world's deadliest terrorists. She calls it a disgrace.

You serve with her. What is your response?

GARAMENDI: Yes. Well, she's wrong. Her dad was wrong to get us into the Iraq War. And it's just plain incorrect.

The fact of the matter is, that it is our responsibility. The 535 members of Congress in the Senate that must act to engage in a war. The president's action to take out a very, very bad, evil person, General Soleimani, was without legal authority.

Now, where do we go from there? We go to reassert our power and to re- establish what the founding members of this government way back in the Constitution understood, and that is that a single person, the president, should not engage the United States in a war that it is so important, war so important, that it requires the Congress, the representatives of the people, to make the decision to enter into a war.

Fortunately, we are -- we've seen a de-escalation, both by Iran and by the United States, by the Trump administration, giving a pause, hopefully a long pause, and an opportunity for us and the American people to say, all right, it's so important that we will go to war with Iran or it is not and we will not enter into a war. That's our responsibility.

HARLOW: Congressman, I have 20 seconds left.

GARAMENDI: Sure.

HARLOW: We are hearing growing -- a growing chorus in your caucus from Democrats saying it's time for Speaker Pelosi to hand over the articles of impeachment. Is it time for Speaker Pelosi to hand them over to the Senate?

GARAMENDI: No. The speaker is absolutely correct. She needs to understand, we need to understand and, frankly, we need to use every lever that we have available to us to force the Senate to do a real trial, not a cover-up.

HARLOW: Congressman Garamendi, appreciate your time, as always. Thanks very much.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Important conversation there.

Other news we're following this morning, a royal family drama. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex say they are stepping back from their royal duties and into a whole new life. It's an announcement that has shocked many in Britain, and that apparently that shock includes the queen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:52:41]

SCIUTTO: He royal family in the U.K. has been shocked, rocked by a stunning announcement that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are stepping back from their royal duties. The announcement even more shocking because apparently they didn't tell the queen about it first.

HARLOW: Yes. Guess that didn't go over so well.

The couple posted on Instagram that they have been working to become financially independent and will split their time between the U.K. and North America.

How will that work?

Let's go to our royal correspondent Max Foster. He joins us from Buckingham Palace with more on all of this.

And, look, I mean, Max, remember when we heard Meghan Markle say in that interview a few months ago, you know, I'm not OK.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: It's emblematic of the fact that they -- she -- they have been struggling, she has been having a tough time. What can you tell us about how this came to be? MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, literally a dark cloud over

Buckingham Palace today, guys. I mean the rain has come out. It's absolutely miserable. It really reflects the mood actually within the palace.

So, two sides to this. The couple have been really frustrated for some time, external pressures from the media, invading their private life, they feel they have a right to a private life, so they're stepping back and saying that that gives us more reason to have a private life. But also the internal pressure, they haven't felt supported by the rest of the palace system, they don't feel they're valued by the rest of the palace system.

But, crucially, they learned about, you know, they really felt that the lack of freedom that their role allows them, they have great ambitions for the type of work they want to do and they're not able to do it. They're being held back from that, and they basically just had enough of it all and they've created effectively what is a manifesto, published it online about the type of public figures they want to be going forward. And they've created these hybrid roles where they carry out some duties for the queen, but they also have a private career earning private money, and that's the way they want to carry things forward.

So it comes out of a huge amount of frustration.

SCIUTTO: Does this mean that this will happen? I mean if the queen didn't get the OK first --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And her statement seemed to say, wait a second, I'm not sure that's going to happen, I mean, is it formal? Are we sure, maybe, could they even back off over time?

FOSTER: It's certainly not for sure. If you imagine, this is a family firm --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

FOSTER: And they all have roles within it. And the queen is the boss.

[09:55:02]

They're not saying, we're leaving, we're resigning, we're walking out. They're saying, we don't like the role that you've created for us. We like this new role. And this is it. And we're going to tell the whole world about it.

The fundamental problem is they didn't discuss it with the queen first, or with Charles or with William.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

FOSTER: And they can't get that role without their approval. So that's the issue here. And i's hearing from inside words ranging from "complicated" to deeply -- "deeply disappointing" to "upset." And you don't hear that sort of language from the queen's office ever. So actually the words she's probably using are a lot stronger.

SCIUTTO: Yes, anybody with a mom knows you probably want to run that kind of stuff by her first. And that's even when she's not the Queen of England.

HARLOW: There you go.

Max Foster, thank you very much for your reporting.

So, next hour, we could get some major news from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. One of the big question is, when is she going to transfer the articles of impeachment to the Senate. But, today, they're going to bring that resolution to the floor about limiting the president's war powers.

Stay with us.

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