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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) Says, Iran Briefing Insulting And Demeaning; Democratic Pressure Grows On Pelosi To Send Articles Of Impeachment; Ukraine Investigating If Anti-Aircraft Missile Defense System Brought Down Plane. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 9, 2020 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow.
In minutes, we're going to hear from House speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of a House vote today trying to limit the president's war powers with Iran. Democrats first halted this vote, changed their minds after they say a briefing did not justify the killing of Iran's top general.
Also a pair of Senate Republicans said the same thing, Senate Republicans, about their own intel briefing calling it insulting and inadequate.
SCIUTTO: And this just in to CNN Newsroom, a letter to the U.N. in which the U.S. justifies its actions against Iran as self-defense, saying they will take further actions if necessary, but also that the U.S. is ready to engage in peace negotiations with Iran, echoing what the president said yesterday in his statement.
Let's begin on Capitol Hill with the latest on a war powers vote coming up this afternoon. CNN Congressional Reporter Lauren Fox, what do we expect with that vote? But also, crucially, Pelosi is going to speak in about an hour now, could we hear her transmit those articles to the Senate or announce plans for sending them over?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's a big question this morning, Jim. All week long, we have been waiting to see whether or not Nancy Pelosi would transmit those articles of impeachment. Obviously, she's hearing some pressure from Democrats, even in her own caucus, some of those moderates who feel like they walk the plank on this impeachment question and yet it's still being held up with Nancy Pelosi.
Now, of course, today is a big day in the House of Representatives because there will be a vote on that war powers resolution. We expect that she will have the votes to pass it, there may be a couple of Republican defections in the House, but not many. Just some of the usual suspects who err on the side of thinking Congress should have more of a say when it comes to U.S. foreign policy abroad.
Now, in the Senate, there are even more questions about whether or not there will be enough votes when it comes to that for powers resolution that Senator Kaine has. Now, that say privileged resolution, we expect it will come up in the Senate. And yesterday, there was a lot of frustration about how that briefing was handled from some Republicans like Mike Lee and Rand Paul. Jim?
HARLOW: Lauren, talk to us about that divide a little more. Because I think the words used by Rand Paul and Mike Lee were striking. And, I mean, Susan Collins is sort of toeing the line, I think, what she just told you, but walk us through where this divide actually is among Senate Republicans.
FOX: Well, I think yesterday was a huge moment. What we heard from Mike Lee and Rand Paul echoes what we have heard from them in the past. But the language, like you said, Poppy, is very specific, very strong. I want you to take a listen to what they said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOX: And, of course, we're watching to see if there are going to be more Republicans who might err on the side of -- with the Democrats in voting for this War Powers resolution. Senator Susan Collins said she met with Tim Kaine earlier this week, she's weighing whether or not to support it. But until she sees final language, of course, she can't make a decision. But we'll keep you updated as we talk to more Republicans up here on Capitol Hill on where they are on this issue.
HARLOW: All Right, Lauren, thanks so much.
Vice President Mike Pence now joining the defense secretary and the joint chiefs chairman saying that their belief is that Iranians launched those missiles in an effort to kill Americans, which Iran successfully -- that is completely opposite of what others in the administration have said.
SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as always. Barbara, what does the Pentagon believe here? This is important. Obviously, if you launch missiles, they're dangerous, you have to accept the risk of hurting people on the ground. But the calibration of this response is important because, you know, the U.S. looks at that and says, okay, you know, how far did Iran want to go. And, of course, influences the decision how do you react to it. What does the Pentagon believe?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, around the Pentagon at the very top level, they do want de-escalation and that's what the White House wants, apparently what Iran wants. Everybody wants de-escalation, nobody publicly looking to go to war here.
So what you had yesterday was administration officials on background telling reporters as part of that de-escalation message that they didn't think the Iranians were out to overtly kill Americans when they launched that ballistic missile attack.
But the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Mark Milley, a combat veteran himself, had a very different military view, telling reporters that he believed Iran was out to kill Americans.
And then this morning we had Vice President Mike Pence also weigh in on it all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The ballistic missiles fired at American bases, Al Asad and Erbil, we believe were intended to kill Americans. We have intelligence to support that that was the intention of the Iranians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: So how is it that, thankfully, no American troops were killed in this missile attack? Well, a couple of things. The Iranians did in fact take the step of quietly warning apparently through the Iraqis that they were going to do something. So that was a signal warning to American forces on the ground that something was about to happen.
But perhaps even more significant than that, the U.S. has ballistic missile warning capability. U.S. satellites pick up the heat signature of the missiles being launched, radars are able to track them to target, the U.S. had time to get its troops out of the way. That doesn't mean that the Iranians weren't able to kill Americans if the Americans had not been able to get out of the way. The Pentagon thinks that was the biggest help in their favor.
HARLOW: Barbara Starr, thank you very much for that reporting at the Pentagon.
So the Iranian regime says it was never intended to kill American soldiers, just a hit American military equipment. Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran.
It just is back and forth and back and forth. But you have some really critical headlines about what the regime is saying this morning.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Poppy. It does go back and forth all the time. We do actually have some new reporting coming from the Iranian side that seems to contradict some of what we heard there from Mike Pence and some other reporting that we have been hearing as well, at least from the Iranian perspective. This is coming from the head of the Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Forces.
And this is a very important commander here in Iran. He's the guy who is in charge of the troops that fired those ballistic missiles at those bases with the U.S. troops on them in Iraq. He is also the commander who is in charge of the unit that shot down the U.S. drone earlier this year, so certainly someone who is very much in the know about all this and certainly someone who is very high up also in the hierarchy of the Revolutionary Guard. And he says that the aim of Iran's strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq was not to kill U.S. troops, he says, but to hit America's military machine, as they say.
As a second part to that, which is probably more important, he also says that this is part of what he calls the beginning of a widespread operation to avenge Qasem Soleimani. So while that first phase of that operation may have ended, the Iranians said the strikes they conducted on those airbases in Iraq that those were over now, it certainly seems as though that is not the end of what they call their operation to avenge Qasem Soleimani. That apparently still is going on, at least according to this Revolutionary Guard, very high commanders. They're going to have wait and see what happens there.
There's also claim that he apparently made. This comes from a press conference, by the way, where he said that even though the aim was not to kill U.S. troops, he says that he believes that they did kill tens of people -- kill and injured tens of people. Of course, we've been talking about the fact that it is impossible for the Pentagon to keep that secret if, in fact, that happened. So there really is very little with no evidence to support that, guys.
HARLOW: Fred, thank you, for the reporting. We appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss, Colonel Peter Mansoor. He is retired U.S. Army Commander, also former aid to General Petraeus, of course, during the U.S occupation of Iraq.
Colonel, thanks for joining us this morning. No one has to tell you about Iran's capabilities. You were in Iraq at a time when Iran was supplying IEDs that killed hundreds of American soldiers there.
When Iran says that they will have harsher revenge going forward, what kinds of attacks should the U.S. be bracing for if not today or tomorrow, perhaps weeks or months down the line, in your view?
COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So I think the way you can look at this is Iran has overt response, which we just have seen, and then they will have a covert response. That could take the form of targeted assassinations around the world, it could take the form of cyber attacks against the United States. It could also take the form of attacks by Iranian proxies in the region against U.S. interests and U.S. personnel, starting with Iraq where the Shiite militias will no doubt want to avenge their own leader, Abu Mahdi Al- Muhandis, who was also killed in that drone strike. So this is not the end of Iranian retaliation. They needed to send a message to their own people that they were pushing back against America, but they also didn't want this to spiral into war, so they carefully calibrated the initial overt response against us.
HARLOW: Colonel, we had Mike Rogers on last hour. Of course, he was chairman of the House Intel Committee during both the Bush and Obama administrations, two administrations that opted not to take out Soleimani when they had the chance. And what he noted that I think is important is he said, look, when you're making that comparison, you need to know the calculation of this administration may have changed because he says that Soleimani was not moving.
He was not moving outside of Iran during those administrations, whereas now, of course, he had just landed at the Baghdad Airport, he was going to Damascus, et cetera, he was moving around, and that changes the imminence, perhaps, the necessity to take him out. If that's the case, what's your read?
MANSOOR: So there was also a political calculation. I was there during the surge in 2007-2008, President Bush made the decision to try to engage with Iran. He had Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus enter into negotiations with Iranian interlocutors trying to chart a peaceful path forward in Iraq. And killing Qasem Soleimani would have been counter to those negotiations.
Then you fast forward where Qasem Soleimani is directing Popular Mobilization Forces that are fighting ISIS, so we don't want to take out someone who is actually helping us fight our enemy.
It's only more recently when Iran is attacking U.S. interests directly in the gulf region, especially, in -- against shipping, against Saudi oil facilities and then finally a killing a U.S. contractor in Iraq that he becomes a target and, obviously, brazenly flying into Baghdad International Airport, and the opportunity presented itself to take him out.
SCIUTTO: Colonel, the president in a statement yesterday said that he's going to ask NATO to take on a bigger role in the Middle East. I wonder, in your view, is that in addition to U.S. forces there or is this a case of the president asking NATO to replace U.S. forces there, to lower the U.S. burden, which, of course, is something the president has repeatedly promised?
MANSOOR: I think the way the president looks at it is Europe is much more reliant on Middle Eastern oil than the United States, why should we be the only ones defending the region. And so he wants NATO to get involved. I think this is going to go over like a lead balloon in NATO headquarters. They already have enough on their plate to deal with an Eastern Europe and Russia and I see almost no chance of NATO getting involved in a serious way in the Middle East.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And we should note that NATO did, of course, get involved in Afghanistan after 9/11 and invoking Article V and in Iraq too, already some NATO countries.
Colonel Peter Mansoor, thanks very much to you. I'm sure we'll have you back on as we measure the consequences of this.
Still to come this hour, under pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set to speak in just a few moments. This as several Democrats now are pushing for her to hand over the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
HARLOW: Also, investigators looking at several theories of what could have taken down that relatively new Boeing plane in Tehran shortly after takeoff. Did a missile bring it down? That is actually being investigated this morning.
And researchers say hacking attempts out of Iran nearly tripled after the killing of Soleimani. Ahead, a closer look at this growing cyber threat.
HARLOW: All right. So minutes from now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak, this is as pressure is growing a little bit inside her own party, not from everyone, but from some more leading members to go ahead and hand over those articles of impeachment to the Senate, cue Washington Democrat and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith just this morning on New Day.
(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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash joins us now. So, Dana, is Nancy Pelosi hearing that pressure and will she act?
DAN BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she is going to have to act at some point soon and she is hearing that pressure. What's fascinating is the fact that we're now starting to see it bubble up in public from a pretty significant figure there in Adam Smith, the Armed Services chair.
But I'm looking at my texts here because I wanted to convey something that was really telling that I got from a Democratic House member this morning about the fact that there is frustration among not just Senate Democrats, they have been more public about it, but Pelosi's own House Democratic caucus, like, okay, we made our point, enough already, let's move on, let's move past this.
This member said people feel That way, but they're being more careful about being public because she, Pelosi, never forgets. People understand how things work in Pelosi's caucus. SCIUTTO: Yes, see the leadership challenge.
BASH: Yes. And my understanding is she's going to have some important meetings today with the key members of her caucus to talk about moving forward on impeachment. But she also has a big vote, and we have been talking about the War Powers resolution. So those two things -- she might not want to step on one with the other, but she might not have a choice.
HARLOW: On the War Powers resolution, the words used by Rand Paul and Senator Mike Lee are striking. It's not unheard of to have enough Republican senators side with Democrats to try to tie the president's hands. They did it last year with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but wasn't veto-proof majority. Do you have reporting how likely that is this time around, that there will be enough Republicans here to send a message to the president in the Senate?
BASH: Well, the math on this is similar to the question of whether or not there will be witnesses in an impeachment trial, and the math is a simple majority of 51. And what that means is assuming that all the Democrats vote yes, we want to pass this War Powers resolution and it actually is a different dynamic because it's a tricky vote for any politician, for any member of Congress, because you own it, you vote for it, you own it.
SCIUTTO: See Hillary Clinton in 2008, right?
BASH: Yes. I mean, this is -- and this is -- as we talked about earlier in the week, this is the reverse of that, this is pulling back the president's power with some caveats. But you already have two Republicans, as you said, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, saying publicly, we're not -- we're going to vote with the Democrats. So the Democrats, Tim Kaine in particular, who -- from Virginia, who is leading the charge on this only needs two more.
He met with Susan Collins and really tried to explain to her and convinced her to vote yes. Get Susan Collins and one other and then you have 51 votes, which, yes, is vetoable. The president -- they can go to the president's desk, he can veto it, but, wow, what a message on something that we haven't seen Congress talk about in a while.
SCIUTTO: And Poppy reminded me earlier that the Senate has been willing to go against the president on issues of war and military action when you look at, for instance, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
We just heard from Lindsey Graham on the Hill speaking about the intelligence that led up to the Soleimani strike. I want to play that and get Dana's response. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Does the administration not have the duty to disclose some of what they know specifically when you come to Congress? SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The way we found this out, we'll never tell anybody, because it was magical and we're not going to compromise it.
REPORTER: Senator, you said on Hannity last night that the Senate --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Magical. He says the intelligence there, clearly, the White House told him apparently or it seems how they found out about this. I mean, is it to seem Mike Lee, Republican in particular, because Rand Paul will often differ on military action abroad, a libertarian kind of approach, but seemed like so livid after that paltry intelligence briefing. How significant is that and what do you think Lindsey Graham t Talking about here?
BASH: Well, first on the Mike Lee thing, he was livid about not getting enough information, but he was also livid, even more livid about the way that the administration was treating Congress, as if it didn't matter, stop asking questions, you know, don't question us, don't even suggest that we don't know what we're talking about. And that's why he stood up and said, I'm out of here and somebody said publicly.
On the magical intel, I mean, look, both of you, particularly you, Jim, I mean, you've covered this full time for many, many years, there is an argument to be made to protect sources and methods. But there is also post-Iraq War, a very fine line --
SCIUTTO: And this president has revealed intelligence before. He declassified intel for the Nunes memos and, by the way, he shared classified intelligence with Russians in the Oval Office, so --
BASH: I don't think we can say enough -- state enough the richness of a president relying on intel after spending three years trashing American intelligence.
SCIUTTO: Irony is --
HARLOW: Dana, can we get to your point earlier about Pelosi remembers, right, why are more in the House sort of loath to come out and disagree with Republicans on this? So, Adam smith, again, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, just reversed his stance on Twitter, Yes. This just happened a minute ago. Let me read you his tweets, if we can pull them up or if not, I'll just read them.
Quote, I misspoke this morning. I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial. If the speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision.
I am concerned Senator McConnell won't have a fair trial. I'm with the speaker. We should do everything we can to ensure he does. Ultimately, I do want the articles sent to the Senate for the very simple reason I want to the impeachment process to go forward.
SCIUTTO: Did he get a call from Pelosi?
HARLOW: It seems like a pretty clear answer this morning. It was this question to him, he couldn't have been more clear.
BASH: Look, you guys -- you know Adam Smith, he's a very serious guy. He actually is not somebody who is on T.V. a lot.
BASH: He appeared to say what he thought. Maybe he misspoke when it comes to conveying that publicly, and, yes, it -- we don't know what happened behind the scenes, but if it wasn't the speaker, somebody called and said, hi, remember that you are the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, you like that role, right? You want to keep that role, right? Maybe it wasn't the speaker, but people I'm sure were reminding him, maybe even in his own staff, who knows.
SCIUTTO: Interesting. As you said, Pelosi remembers. Dana Bash.
BASH: Nice to see you both.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.
Investigators are looking at several possible causes now of the deadly Ukraine Airlines plane crash over Iran, including this disturbing theory that it was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile. We're following these developments and we'll have more.
SCIUTTO: Ukrainian investigators are not ruling out the alarming possibility that it was an anti-aircraft missile that took down a Boeing 737 in Iran that killed 176 passengers.
HARLOW: It is stunning that that's even being contemplated. It's one of multiple possible causes being investigated this morning. This comes as new reports from witnesses say the plane was on fire before it crashed to the ground. As you can see, you see that ball of flames in the air plunging to the ground.
The plane also apparently changed directions as it turned back toward the Tehran Airport.
SCIUTTO: With 176 passengers and crew.
CNN Business Editor At Large Richard Quest is with us.
Now, Richard, as you look at this in again, it is early, but how seriously are investigators taking the possibility that this was not --